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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 kind we’re talking about doesn’t involve subjecting yourself to the sun’s harmful UV rays, so there’s no skin damage—the only tan that’s a safe tan is one that comes out of a bottle. With these top self-tanners, you can treat your skin the way you should on the beach, which is slathered in SPF while sitting under an umbrella. And you’ll still look like a bronzed goddess.
Though self-tanners used to have a bad rap, they’ve come a long way. Sticky, stinky formulas that leave you looking orange with streaks and blotches, and smelling like your tan is fake, have been replaced with fool-proof, innovative formulas that deliver a glow that looks and feels natural—not like a Cheeto. 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.
No matter if you’re looking for a subtle golden glow or as if you just came back from a beach vacay, there’s a self-tanner out there for you that doesn’t break the bank. These are the top drugstore self-tanners.
Best Overall: Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer
This multitasker is the ultimate twofer: it doubles as a moisturizer and is packed with antioxidants like vitamin E. To ensure the most natural finish, it’s available in shades for two skin tones: Fair to Medium and Medium to Tan. The light, clean scent doesn’t have fake tan vibes. Use it at least once a day to see some color in about a week.
Best Budget: L'Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Serum
Get a sun-kissed glow with staying power: use this serum three days in a row for a tan that lasts up to two weeks. The lightweight formula feels more like a body lotion than a tanner, making for easy application that goes on smooth. Not only is the finish even and streak-free, but it has a very subtle shimmer to give your skin that extra glow.
Best for Pale Skin: St. Moriz Instant Self Tanning Mousse
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 a golden glow. The guide color shows you where to apply, making it easy peasy, and the mousse formula is simple to work with. Just be sure to use the applicator mitt to avoid staining your hands. The tanner includes olive milk and vitamin E to nourish skin.
Best for Olive Skin: Banana Boat Sunless Tanning Lotion
This smart formula features self-adjusting color, so it knows exactly what shade you need and the control is in your hands. The tinted oil-free lotion makes it easy to see where you’ve already applied to avoid streaks, leaving a golden brown glow once it dries in just minutes. Plus, it’s infused with aloe and vitamin E to moisturize skin.
Best Gradual: Nivea Sun Kissed Radiance Gradual Tanner & Body Lotion
When you build color over time, that tends to bring more natural-looking results. That’s exactly what the Nivea Sun Kissed Radiance Gradual Tanner & Body Lotion does. You’ll never have to worry about taking it too far with your color, which will look even and streak-free. The skin-boosting formula is infused with ginkgo extract, grape seed oil, and Hydra IQ technology that moisturizes skin for up to 24 hours.
Best for Face: Almay Healthy Glow Makeup + Gradual Self Tan
Talk about innovative! This 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 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. It’s available in three shades: light, light/medium, and medium.
Best Natural: Sun Bum Natural Browning Lotion
There are no icky ingredients in this natural, vegan, and cruelty-free formula. This tanner moisturizes while bringing a nice color and works by accelerating the sun-triggered tanning process in your skin. It contains carrot seed oil, coffee, vitamins C and E, organic coconut oil, aloe vera leaf juice, macadamia nut seed oil, and papaya fruit extract to nourish skin while doing its job.
Our writers spent 5 hours researching the most popular drugstore self-tanners on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 25 different self-tanners overall, screened options from 15 different brands and manufacturers, read over 25 user reviews (both positive and negative) and tested 5 of the self-tanners themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.