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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
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.
Best Budget: L'Oréal Paris Sublime Luminous Body Bronzer
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.
Best for Fair Skin: St. Moriz Instant Self Tanning Mousse
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.
Best for Medium Skin: Banana Boat Summer Color Self-Tanning Lotion
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.
Best for Dark Skin: Bondi Sands Aero Aerated Self Tanning Foam
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.
Best for Dry Skin: Australian Gold Instant Sunless Tanning Lotion
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?
Best Gradual: Bondi Sands Pure Gradual Tan Milk
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.
Best Natural: Sun Bum Natural Browning Tanning Lotion
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.
Best Towelette: Jergens SOL Self Tanning Towelette Wipes
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).
Best for Face: Almay Healthy Glow Foundation Makeup + Gradual Self Tan
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.
Best Spray: Neutrogena MicroMist Airbrush Sunless Tan
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.
Best Scented: Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tan Liquid
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.
Best Fast-Drying Formula: Tanologist Express Tan Self Tan Mousse
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.
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
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.