13 Drugstore Self-Tanners for a Bronze Glow Sans UV Damage

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We’ll give you the bad news first: Summer only lasts three months out of the year. But here’s the good news: You can still get a tan all year round. Even better, the bronze glow we’re talking about doesn’t involve subjecting yourself to the sun’s harmful UV rays, so there’s no skin damage.

Quality self-tanners are sitting right in your local drugstore, and they've come a long way from sticky formulas that leave the skin looking streaky and orange. This new wave of self-tanner delivers a glow that looks and feels natural. Plus, they've got loyal followings from tons of users who rave about their effectiveness. There are plenty of ways to get a sun-kissed look too, from mousses to serums to sprays to lotions, so you can pick whichever suits your skincare style.

To make sure you stay in the loop, we tapped celebrity tanning expert Kristyn Pradas and rounded up the best drugstore self-tanners you can find.

Best Overall: Jergens Natural Glow Self Tanning Daily Moisturizer

4.8
Jergens Natural Glow Sunless Tanning Lotion

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Looks natural

  • Available in two shades

  • Skin feels soft and hydrated

What We Don't Like
  • Not Byrdie Clean

Who else recommends it? Cosmopolitan, Allure, and Southern Living all picked Jergens Natural Glow Tanning Moisturizer.

What do buyers say? 87% of 8,600+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

A cult classic, this multitasking gradual self-tanning lotion is the ultimate twofer: It doubles as a moisturizer and is packed with skin-loving antioxidants like vitamin E. It not only imparts a buildable, natural-looking glow in as little as a week when used daily, but it also leaves the skin soft, supple, and radiant. Plus, to ensure the most natural finish (read: no orange tinge), it’s available in two shades to flatter a range of skin tones: Fair to Medium and Medium to Tan.

Type: Lotion | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 2 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Budget: L'Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze

L'Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze

Amazon

What We Like
  • Color is deep and vibrant

  • Skin feels soft and hydrated

  • Gives a subtle shimmer

What We Don't Like
  • Not Byrdie Clean

This sunless tanner from L’Oréal Paris truly does it all. It builds a natural-looking glow in as little as a week while providing an instant illuminating effect thanks to light-reflecting micro-pearls. Plus, the formula is quick-drying and infused with vitamin E for added antioxidant and hydration benefits. The best part of all? It costs less than ten bucks, deeming this one a true drugstore gem.

Type: Lotion | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 1 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Fair Skin: St. Moriz Instant Fast Tanning Mousse

4.6
St. Moriz Professional Instant Fast Tanning Mousse

Ulta

What We Like
  • Applies easily and smoothly

  • Available in two shades

  • Develops quickly

What We Don't Like
  • Strong scent

Key Ingredients

Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin and oil often found in anti-oxidant blend topicals or moisturizers. It also helps soothe the skin and protects the lipid barrier.

Sure, it’s understandable that those with pale skin would be wary of self-tanners, but there’s nothing to fear with this convincing formula that leaves behind a natural golden glow. The color guide shows you exactly where to apply, making application a breeze, and the mousse formulation is so easy to work with. Plus, it's infused with olive milk and vitamin E to nourish the skin. Just be sure to use the applicator mitt to avoid staining your hands.

Type: Mousse | Application Method: Mitt | Shades: 2 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Medium Skin: Banana Boat Summer Color Self-Tanning Lotion

Banana Boat Summer Color Self-Tanning Lotion Deep Dark Color

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Can be applied often

  • Hydrates

  • Builds deep color

What We Don't Like
  • Not Byrdie Clean

Key Ingredients

Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skin care products) is made up of 99.5% water.

This smart formula from Banana Boat features self-adjusting color, allowing you to control the shade of your tan (thus, making the whole process stress-free). The oil-free lotion is tinted, making it easy to see where you’ve already applied in order to avoid streaks, leaving behind a golden brown glow once it dries in just minutes. Plus, it’s infused with aloe and vitamin E, making this formula extra moisturizing. While the color is self-adjusting, it does create a deep, dark tan that's best suited for medium skin tones or deeper.

Type: Lotion | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 1 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Dark Skin: Bondi Sands Aero Self Tanning Foam

5
Bondi Sands Aero Aerated Self Tanning Foam

Walgreens

What We Like
  • Builds deep color

  • Dries quickly

  • 3 shades available

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

This ultra dark tanning foam from Bondi Sands is ideal for those with darker skin tones looking to create a deep, even tan. “It’s great because the mousse formula dries extremely quickly and it has a color guide,” says Pradas. “It’s also sulfate-free, paraben-free, and silicone free,” she adds, which we agree is a major plus. The formula also smells like summertime, which we’re definitely not mad at. In addition to ultra dark, it’s also available in a light/medium shade and a dark shade, so there’s a formula for all skin tones.

Type: Mousse | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 3 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Dry Skin: Australian Gold Instant Sunless Tanning Lotion

Australian Gold Instant Sunless Tanning Lotion

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Skin feels hydrated and smooth

  • Smells great

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like
  • Product can be a little runny

Have dry skin? Look no further than Australian Gold’s Instant Sunless Tanning Lotion. Formulated with a balance of self-tanning ingredients and hydrating skincare, it creates a natural bronze while leaving the skin smooth and soft. A special hydrating complex of kakadu plum, vitamin C, and shea butter deeply moisturizes and protects the skin, preventing fading and extending the life of your tan. It also contains skin-softening maka extract and vitamin B, while caffeine helps to energize and improve the overall appearance of the skin. Did we mention it also has a delicious tropical scent?

Type: Lotion | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 1 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Gradual: Bondi Sands Pure Gradual Tan Milk

Best Gradual: Bondi Sands Pure Gradual Tan Milk

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Color looks natural

  • Recyclable packaging

  • Dries quickly

What We Don't Like
  • Color is not very dramatic

Building your color over time tends to bring more natural-looking results, and that’s exactly what the Bondi Sands Pure Gradual Tan Milk does. The dual action formula hydrates as it develops a natural-looking tan, but it still absorbs super fast so you can get on with your day. Moisture-retaining hyaluronic acid and reparative vitamin E keep the skin soft and smooth, while vitamin C helps to boost your skin’s overall radiance. Also nice: It uses ethically sourced ingredients and is packaged in 100% recyclable plastic.

Type: Lotion | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 1 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Natural: Sun Bum Browning Lotion

sun-bum-browning-lotion

Courtesy of Sum Bum

What We Like
  • Hydrates

  • Vegan

  • Applies evenly

What We Don't Like
  • Not for acne-prone skin

Key Ingredients

Carrot seed oil is an essential oil, which has antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties

There are no icky ingredients in this natural, vegan, and cruelty-free self-tanning lotion, which Pradas considers her drugstore go-to. “It’s a bit more gradual than instant, and I love that,” she says. “It’s super hydrating and the color guide allows for the perfect color. It also smells great.” This tanner moisturizes while creating gorgeous color and works by accelerating the sun-triggered tanning process in your skin. It’s also jam-packed with skin-loving ingredients, such as carrot seed oil, coffee, vitamins C and E, organic coconut oil, aloe vera leaf juice, macadamia nut seed oil, and papaya fruit extract, all of which work to nourish skin while doing its job.

Type: Lotion | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 1 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Towelette: Jergens SOL Self Tanning Towelette Wipes

Jergens SOL Self Tanning Towelette Wipes

Amazon

What We Like
  • Convenient and easy to use

  • Hydrates

  • Large size

What We Don't Like
  • Not eco-friendly

Swipe on these self-tanner towelettes from Jergens SOL and you'll be set with a sun-kissed (and streak-free!) glow for days. Formulated with an active tanning ingredient that's derived from natural sugars, coconut water for extra hydration, and passion fruit essence for a lovely scent, these towelettes are truly pleasant to use—plus, they're large enough that you never feel like you're running out of formula before covering your body (which can be a deal-breaker).

Type: Towelettes | Application Method: Towelettes | Shades: 1 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Face: Almay Healthy Glow Foundation Makeup + Gradual Self Tan

Almay Healthy Glow Makeup & Gradual Self-Tan

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Works gradually

  • SPF 20

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a little thick

This innovative foundation gradually tans your face while you wear it. Even before your tan has set in, it brings a flawless faux glow with medium coverage that seamlessly blends into the skin. The tan lasts for up to three days after you wear the foundation, and wearing it for at least three consecutive days will build up your color. Pradas is a fan of this formula for the fact that it’s gradual enough to be worn daily and because it contains SPF 20 to protect you from the sun.

Type: Liquid | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 3 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Spray: Neutrogena MicroMist Airbrush Sunless Tan

Neutrogena MicroMist Airbrush Sunless Tan

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Easy to apply

  • Dries quickly

  • Develops gradually

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a little splotchy

There has seriously never been an easier self-tanner to apply than Neutrogena's MicroMist. "It's so easy to reach all areas of your body," says Pradas, who counts this one as another favorite. "The formula dries very quickly, leaves no residue, and also has a color guide for a fool-proof application." It comes in two colors, from medium to dark intensity, so you can choose the most natural fit for your skin tone. And because it's a mist, the color is delivered evenly and can be built up to deepen as desired. "Just be careful of spraying your walls when you're spraying your back!" warns Pradas.

Type: Mist | Application Method: Hands or mitt | Shades: 2 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Scented: Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tan Liquid

fake-bake-self-tan-liquid

Courtesy of Fake Bake

What We Like
  • Applies smoothly

  • Smells great

  • Not streaky

  • Mitt included

What We Don't Like
  • Could be more long-lasting

This liquid tanner from Fake Bake delivers super natural-looking color payoff without all the gross stickiness associated with self-tanning lotions. It comes with a built-in color guide so you can see where you’re applying as you go, ensuring a foolproof, streak-free tan come four to six hours. The fast-drying and transfer-resistant formula also smells like a tropical paradise, which is never a bad thing.

Type: Mist | Application Method: Mitt | Shades: 1 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Fast-Drying Formula: Tanologist Express Tan Self Tan Mousse

Tanologist Self Tan Mousse

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Goes on clear

  • Develops deep color

  • Hydrates

  • Made with organic extracts

What We Don't Like
  • Can feel a little sticky

Not a lot of time to wait around for your self-tanner to dry? Check out this quick-drying mousse from Tanologist. The water-to-foam formula is clear, meaning it won’t transfer onto your clothes or sheets, and you can either wash off after two hours for a subtle glow or leave on overnight to max out your tan. It also brightens, softens, and hydrates the skin thanks to a yummy blend of pink grapefruit, goji berry, juniper, while root and resin extract smooth and tone the skin.

Type: Mousse | Application Method: Hands | Shades: 3 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Final Verdict

When it comes to the very best in drugstore self-tanners, we’re giving top honors to the cult-classic Jergens Natural Glow Self Tanning Daily Moisturizer. The gradual formula builds beautiful, natural-looking color while keeping the skin hydrated and nourished. We’re also big fans of easy-to-use formulas, which is why the Neutrogena MicroMist Airbrush Sunless Tan is a must. Because it’s a mist, it makes reaching all areas of the body a breeze. Plus, the buildable formula is quick-drying and won’t leave behind any sticky residue. Lastly, the Bondi Sands Pure Gradual Tan Milk is a must-try for anyone looking to build up their tan for a more subtle effect. It doesn't hurt that it’s packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid and antioxidants vitamins C and E to keep the skin smooth, bright, and healthy.

What to Look For in a Drugstore Self-Tanner

The Formula

First and foremost, Pradas stresses the importance of choosing a self-tanner formula that’s right for your skin type. “It shouldn’t only be determined by your preference,” she says. “If you have oily skin, you’ll want a formula that dries quickly and leaves no residue, so I would avoid any cream- or oil-based self-tanners. Instead, opt for a mousse or a spray, as these formulas absorb quickly.”

In the case of dry skin, she recommends reaching for something more hydrating, like an oil- or cream-based formula. “Dry skin will absorb self-tanner in every crack that may not be visible to the eye, and once the tanner hits those dry areas, you could notice a snake skin-like appearance,” she warns. “Using a hydrating formula will help prevent the tanner from settling into lines while moisturizing, leading to a more even tan.”

The Shade

According to Pradas, equally as important as the formula is picking the right shade of self-tanner. “Knowing the shade you want and what shade you are picking is very important,” says Pradas. “Read the labels! Some products may say ‘dark tan’ and ‘one-hour tan’ on the same label, however you may need to leave it on for four or more hours to get a dark tan,” she says. Additionally, she says that some products may be labeled as “dark” but will take consistent use for five days in order to achieve a dark tan.

She also recommends reaching for medium formulas if you’re on the paler side. “If you’re a newbie to tanning and have fair skin, avoid using dark tanners for the first time,” she says. “Test your skin with a medium shade instead and learn how your skin takes to the tanner. Everyone develops slightly differently, and every product has a different development process time.”

The Development Time

Pradas also recommends choosing a product based on its development time, paying attention to whether it’s a regular self-tanner, which she points out typically gets to work in about six to 12 hours, or a gradual formula. “If you want color in one shot, then use a regular self-tanner,” she says. “If you’re looking for something more subtle, then choose a gradual tanner, this way you get darker little by little with every application.” Of course, for those who really don’t want to wait, there are express formulas that can tan you in as little as an hour or two.

FAQ
  • Which self-tanner is best?

    We love the Jergens Natural Glow Self Tanning Daily Moisturizer because it is natural-looking, hydrating, and comes in two shades for lighter or darker results. This affordable drug store find contains antioxidants and vitamin E and provides a buildable glowy bronze look.

  • Is self-tanner good for your skin?

    Self-tanners can be good for your skin if you choose ones that provide additional skin-loving benefits such as moisturizers, antioxidants, and vitamins. Some self-tanners double as moisturizers for your skin, so you can save time while nourishing and protecting your skin.

  • How long does self-tanner last on skin?

    Self-tanner can last a week to 10 days, depending on the product you choose and how you prep and treat your skin before and after use. Exfoliating and cleansing your skin before applying a self-tanner will help it last longer. Avoiding harsh soaps, hot water, and chlorine will preserve the tanner.

  • How quickly does self-tanner work?

    Many self-tanners work right away to impart color onto the skin and begin to change the skin color on a deeper level after a few hours. Usually, the DHA in self-tanners will be fully effective within six to 10 hours.

Meet the Expert

Kristyn Pradas is a Los Angeles-based airbrush tanning artist and the founder of Pradas Glow. You can find her work showcased in various ad campaigns and publications, and her celebrity clientele includes Ariana Grande, Ashley Graham, and Bella and Gigi Hadid. She’s also been featured on The Real Housewives of New York City.

According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any self tanners from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at contact@byrdie.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP. 

 How We Researched

To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. 19 Best Drugstore Self-Tanners and Products to Achieve a Glowy Fake Tan. Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/g38795754/best-drugstore-self-tanner/

  2. The 21 Best Self-Tanners For a Natural-Looking, Healthy Glow All Year Round. Allure. https://www.allure.com/gallery/self-tanners-under-20

  3. The Best Drugstore Self Tanners for a Natural Glow. Southern Living. https://www.southernliving.com/fashion-beauty/skin/best-drugstore-self-tanners

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