Summer is approaching, but a quick glance at my pasty, un-glowy skin would say otherwise. It happens every year—a war between what I know to be true (sunscreen will stave off health risks and wrinkles) and what I can't help but think anyway (a nice tan looks so good). So what to do? Rather than bake all day in the sun and worry about the aftermath, I continue to slather on SPF 50 and invest in a few great self-tanning products. This year, a slew of newbies launched in different textures (water, balm, and sheet masks) with promises of no scent and no mess. Naturally, I had to find the best.
Below, I and my fellow Byrdie HQ editors review the best and the newest self-tanning products.
"When St. Tropez released a brand-new product—a sheet mask you use for five to 10 minutes that gradually tans you over the span of the next few hours—I was intrigued. I'm a sucker for sheet masks, and the claim seemed almost too good to be true. No mousse, mitt, or wipe required—just five minutes of my time.
"I got my hands on one of the limited samples and, of course, tested it out immediately. The two biggest things I learned? Remember to wash your hands after applying the mask (rookie mistake, I know) and definitely make sure to blend the serum from the sheet mask onto your eyelids. Otherwise, you'll have a lovely sun-kissed glow but also look like you've tried to do a cut crease with white eye shadow. Not exactly the most flattering look.
"After using it, it did look like I had a healthy glow. I didn't smell that self-tanner scent, and it didn't get on my sheets. I really think this mask is a game changer—it makes it so easy to look like you have a nice tan. Watch the full results in our video of the process." — Faith Xue, editorial director
"I'm such a die-hard St. Tropez fan that I had low expectations for this mousse. Brand loyalty is important to me, especially when I find something that works really, really well. However, Cocoa Brown's offering sells out like crazy, so I wanted to give it a shot and see what all the hype was about.
"I was pleasantly surprised at the mousse consistency (not as wet as St. Tropez—more… fluffy?), and I love the thickness and plushness of the tanning mitt. It was extremely easy to apply (I was done in about five minutes), and the color developed right away.
"You're technically supposed to wash it off in an hour, but being the night owl that I am, I applied it at 11 p.m. and didn't feel like showering at midnight, so I slept in it. The next morning when I showered, however, I felt like a lot of it came off, and I wasn't as tan as I hoped. I reused it the next day, slept in it again, and showered, and I noticed the color had built upon itself. Moral of the story: If you're hoping for a deep bronze, apply this mousse a few days in a row to build it up, because one use may not be enough. The color you'll get, though, is natural, believable, and anything but orange." — Lindsey Metrus, managing editor
"To be quite honest, this product is somewhat revolutionary. A self-tanning product that doesn't look brown and gloppy is rare and, in my book, a welcome change. It just feels like a chicer experience overall. But, does it work?
"I sprayed a liberal amount onto my skin (it's a mix of purified water, vitamins B, C, and E, raspberry seed oil, and natural tanning actives). It's meant to 'illuminate and hydrate' your skin while delivering a golden, natural-looking tan. After I saturated my skin in the stuff, I used a tanning mitt to blend it lightly around my body in circular motions. You could even use a regular towel in a pinch. What I noticed first was how quickly it dried—leaving my skin not at all sticky or gross. After about three hours, I started to see my new tan peeking through, and it was fully formed after four.
"I couldn't be more impressed by this product (how do they get it so clear?). Admittedly, I self-tan a lot, and this clear water takes the cake. I'm tan, glowy, and hydrated with absolutely no mess and even less drama." — Hallie Gould, senior editor
"I'm a sucker for anything coconut, so when I heard about James Read's new tanning balm formulated with organic coconut oil, I was in. Apparently, it's the ultimate skincare treat—a deeply nourishing, melty coconut oil mixed with a hint of self-tanner for a super subtle result.
"I followed the directions and, using the spatula provided, continued to stir the balm until it was thick and creamy. Once that was done, I started at my ankles and worked my way up, applying in circular motions. After about eight hours, a tan sheen showed up that was super subtle but perfect for my beginning-of-summer legs. I continued to add to it over a week and wound up with a really gorgeous, natural-looking tan. For those looking to go dark, this is not for you. It's a really luxurious, hydrating product that finishes with a slight bronze. No need for moisturizer post-tan either." — Hallie Gould, senior editor
"The epitome of simple yet efficient—this self-tanning mask bronzes your skin while you sleep. To start, I applied a thin layer of the formula on clean skin, and I blended it into my neck, hairline, and chest (kind of like contouring). I used it for three consecutive nights, per the instructions, and found a new, slightly tanner finish each morning.
"What's more, the mask incorporates skincare as well, blending black currant seed oil to condition your skin and oat kernel extract to reduce any redness. My skin felt super soft and looked really glowy, so that’s a win. I did notice a little transfer to my pillow, but just a touch. It came out in the wash and is good as new. Here, I review the rest of Charlotte Tilbury's summer launches." — Hallie Gould, senior editor