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If you have fair skin, you certainly shouldn't have to risk burning yourself to a crisp in the sun just to get a little color. Sunburns (and tanning beds, for that matter) are out and self-tanners are wholly in.
The good news? Self-tanners have come a long way in recent years, and there are several covetable options on the market that can help enhance your skin with a healthy, natural, non-orange glow—from lotions and sprays to mousse and drops.
We tapped James Read, self-tanner expert and founder of James Read Tan, to find the very best self-tanners out there for fair skin. Keep scrolling for our picks.
Best Overall: St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Mousse
This St. Tropez mousse is one of the most sought-after self-tanning products for fair skin, both because of how naturally it develops and how beautiful its color turns out. This cult-favorite product is a clear mousse that applies easily to the skin, dries quickly, and allows you to get dressed and go about your day with no hassle. As Read points out, it's also great for applying at bedtime since its clear formula won't transfer onto your sheets. "And it's super hydrating due to added vitamins," he adds. Over time, you'll see the color develop in a natural, subtle way. Plus, there are no messy streaks, it won't transfer, and it doesn't smell like pure chemicals.
What Our Testers Say
"It will give your skin an even, vibrant, streak-free look." — Leigh Weingus, Product Tester
Best Mousse: Isle of Paradise Light Self Tanning Mousse
A newcomer on the scene, Isle of Paradise has made waves in the tanning community for their large line of effective products. A primary aim of this lightweight, whipped tanning mouse is "no orange tones," and it absolutely delivers. Not only is it color-corrective, but it's chock full of hydrating avocado and chia seed oils to keep your skin healthy. Even so, the quick-drying formula disappears into the skin instantly, sans stickiness, streaks, or smells. Safe to use on the face and body, it's free of formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, and sulfates and is 100% vegan and cruelty-free.
The more your skin stays hydrated, the better your tan will look and last. Be sure to apply nourishing body creams, oils, or lotions on a daily basis so skin looks smooth and supple and your tan is extended to its full potential.
Best Drops: Tan-Luxe The Body
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.
Tan-Luxe's self-tanning formula can be used with any moisturizer you like, so you don't have to sacrifice your usual routine. Just a few drops of this formula, which contains raspberry seed oil and Vitamin E, is all it takes to turn a regular body cream into a tanning cream. Plus, it's totally customizable—the more drops you use, the darker the tan will be. This is perfect for people with fair skin who want a slight tan but are worried about overdoing it.
Best Oil: COOLA Organic Sunless Tan Dry Oil Mist
This sunless tanning dry body oil is the perfect product to use when you want a light and natural glow that isn't too permanent—it only lasts up to three days. The formula features a nourishing blend of argan oil, vitamin C, hibiscus, and chamomile extract, while an Ecocert-approved DHA derived from sugar beet helps the skin tan naturally sans sun. The result? A beautiful, healthy glow that looks totally natural. Also nice: The vegan formula features a delicious pina-coco scent to cover up that typical self-tanner smell.
Best for Face: James Read Tan Click & Glow Tan Drops
Those with fairer skin have to be more careful of self-tanners that are too orange, especially when it comes to the face. That's where gradual formulas come in to play, like these buildable tanning drops from Read’s eponymous line. They allow you to customize and build up your tan over time, sans any unexpected orange tinge. Just mix up to four drops with your favorite moisturizer or serum, mix together in the palm of your hand, and voilà—instant glow. The formula is also infused with antioxidant-rich vitamin E to protect the skin, as well as aloe vera and hyaluronic acid to hydrate, plump, and smooth. Note, it’s best to apply these drops two to three times a week in order to maintain or build up your color.
Best Drugstore: Jergens Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer
As far as drugstore self-tanners are concerned, Jergens formulas are tried-and-true staples. We love this option, which is designed for fair to medium skin tones, because it's super easy to use. Just apply it on wet skin in or out of the shower, wash your hands, and pat it dry before getting dressed and going about your day. Because the clear and transfer-proof is quick-absorbing, there's no waiting around for it to dry and or any fear of it staining your clothes. Plus, it won't leave any streakiness behind—just a beautiful, natural glow.
Best Budget: Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner
This wallet-friendly pick from Alba Botanica is particularly great for fairer skin tones, as its non-streaking, quick-absorbing formula provides subtle, buildable results rather than an instant full-on deep tan. It only takes three hours to develop, and reviewers note that it leaves behind a natural looking glow without any hints of orange. The formula is also infused with shea butter, sweet almond oil, and safflower oil to deeply nourish and hydrate the skin, leaving your skin super radiant and healthy. And for the price? You really can’t go wrong.
Best Splurge: The Organic Pharmacy Self Tan
This self-tanner from The Organic Pharmacy is on the splurgy end of the spectrum, but its formula makes it totally worth it. First, it naturally tans the skin sans sun using a sugar beet-derived DHA, and second, it’s brimming with nourishing goodness. Aloe vera, coconut oil, jojoba, shea butter, and essential oils work together to hydrate the skin and help it retain moisture, all while strengthening its natural barrier. The result? Deliciously soft, glowy skin. Plus, it’s free of fragrance, sulfates, and gluten, and it's certified organic, making it a top choice for sensitive skin types, as well.
Best with SPF: Supergoop! Healthy Glow Sunless Tan Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
Many self-tanners give you a sun-kissed glow but don't actually protect you from the sun. That's not the case with this two-in-one Supergoop spray, which delivers broad-spectrum SPF 40 protection and a buildable, long-lasting tan. Plus, with ingredients like hydrating and anti-inflammatory vitamin E , and vitamin B5, you can even use this product instead of your moisturizer on days when you want to look bronzed AF.
Best Scent: Omorovicza Glam Glow
Jojoba oil is a natural oil produced from the seed of the Chinensis plant, a drought-resistant shrub native to southern Arizona, California, and Mexico. It mimics natural sebum and conditions and seals moisture in the skin without clogging pores or exacerbating acne.
A Byrdie favorite, this award-winning citrus-scented self-tanner gives an all-over natural glow for your face and body overnight in just one application. Unlike other self-tanners, it also smells absolutely divine. Formulated with jojoba oil and shea butter, it nourishes and hydrates skin for an even application on the body that looks natural. Suitable for all skin types, you'll love the way your skin looks and feels, and everyone else will too.
Best Gradual: Tan-Luxe The Gradual Illuminating Tanning Lotion
This body oil-lotion hybrid tans the skin gradually, which makes it especially perfect for those with paler skin. In just an hour, it creates a subtle glow that leaves the skin looking naturally sun-kissed, never orange. Its formula is also super hydrating, thanks to skin-loving ingredients like raspberry seed oil, vitamin E, and aloe vera. Also nice? It reduces the appearance of cellulite via the brand's proprietary Cellutone Complex. TL;DR: For a soft, natural glow, reach for this product.
Best Towelettes: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pad for Body
If you like the idea of a one-step application that's clean and easy, the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pads are perfect for you. Each individually-wrapped towelette comes prepped and ready to give an even all-over tan for face and body. "These are great, as they refresh your skin as well as give you a natural-looking result," says Read. Formulated with the brand's cult-favorite Alpha Beta peel ingredients with active vitamin D, each treatment will subtly exfoliate while providing a bronzy glow in that develops in just an hour. Plus, clean-up is a total breeze.
Best Gel: Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel
If you prefer the texture of a gel self-tanner over mousse or lotion, this express self-tanning gel from Clarins is the perfect solution. It's lightweight, non-oily, and easily absorbs into the skin for a perfect, flawless finish and glow. "It's super hydrating and great for people who want an instant tan in time for a night out," says Read. "The color results are very natural." Apply liberally, wash hands, and let the color begin to form all while feeling silky and smooth.
Scared to use your bare hands? Self-tanner can easily transfer onto your palms if not washed off immediately after application. To prevent any darkening on your palms, wear latex gloves when applying self-tanner all over your body, then remove them when finished and apply the tanning product to the tops of your hands only. This will keep your palms color-free.
Best for Sensitive Skin: M-61 Hydroboost Body Butter Gradual Tan
Seeking a sun-free glow but have sensitive skin? Look no further than this self-tanning body butter from M-61. The formula is dermatologist and allergy tested and omits skin-irritating ingredients like fragrance, dyes, parabens, phthalates, and gluten. What it does contain are powerhouse anti-aging ingredients (see: peptides, plankton extract, vitamins B5 and E, and hyaluronic acid) touted to deeply hydrate, improve firmness and elasticity, and even reduce the appearance of cellulite. Best of all, the formula is gradual, allowing fairer skin types to build up their tan to the perfect shade without the risk of turning orange.
Best Deep Tan: Tarte Brazilliance 2HR Express Deep Foaming Self-Tanner
Achieving a deep sunless tan that doesn't look orange can be tough, especially if you have fair skin. Fortunately, with this self-tanning mousse from Tarte, you don't have to worry about that. Just apply it in the comfort of your own home, sit tight for two hours, and rinse to reveal a dark but natural-looking tan. Plus, ingredients like aloe leaf juice, jojoba seed oil, and coconut oil leave the skin soft and smooth.
When it comes to self-tanners that won’t turn fair skin orange, we’re giving top honors to the St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Mousse. The color is natural and subtle, and we love how quickly the clear formula dries, allowing you to apply on-the-go or wear to sleep without fear of transferring. Finding a good formula for your face is just as important, and the James Read Tan Click & Glow Tan Drops are a must. The gradual formula makes it easy to build up a beautiful and natural looking glow, plus it’s chock full of skin-loving ingredients. Finally, we can’t get enough of the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pad for Body. These innovative towelettes are easy to apply and provide an even tan, all while subtly exfoliating and smoothing out the skin.
What to Look For in a Self-Tanner for Fair Skin
If you have fairer skin, Read suggests opting for formulas that are customizable, allowing you to either initially measure out your level of tan or gradually build up your color over time. “Tanning drops, express tan formulas, or gradual tan formulas are great, as you can measure your glow and decide your own level of tan,” he says. “I would advise you to start light first, and then build it up. Less is more.” By going this route, you’re less likely to go overboard and end up with a tan that’s either too dark or too orange.
Exfoliating prior to applying a self-tanner is crucial, which is why it’s also important to find a self-tanning formula that’s hydrating. This will not only enhance your overall glow by replenishing moisture to freshly exfoliated skin, leaving it soft and supple, but can help prolong the length of your tan, too.
2-in-1 Face Formulas
When it comes to the face, Read suggests using products with 2-in-1 formulations that double as skincare. Drops, serums, and lotions are best for building up color gradually (and avoiding a tan that’s either too orange or too dark), while ingredients like hyaluronic acid and antioxidants will pack in the skin benefits, leaving you with a natural-looking tan and a healthy, radiant glow.
Meet the Expert
James Read is a self-tanner expert and the founder of his own eponymous line of self-tanning products, James Read Tan.
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 email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.