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You may not know it, but using a self-tanner is one of the only safe ways to get a bronzed glow. Unlike exposure to UV rays and tanning beds, self-tanner doesn't cause damage to the skin, so you can still achieve your desired look without risking your skin's health. That's why they're widely recommended by skin experts, including celebrity aesthetician and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar.
“Using a self-tanning product at home decreases your exposure to premature aging, sunburn, and skin cancer caused by the sun and tanning beds,” she says. “They contain an FDA-ingredient called dihydroxyacetone, commonly known as DHA, which temporarily tans the outermost layers of your skin.” Because of this, exfoliating your skin before application is key – whether that’s shaving, using a loofah, or applying a refined body scrub. When applying a self-tanner, it’s best to use a mitt to ensure even coverage (and to prevent your palms from darkening).
Ready to glow? Ahead, discover the best self-tanners out there.
Best Overall: Coco & Eve Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Foam
This tropical-scented formula is packed with powerful anti-aging ingredients, like raw virgin coconuts and lotus flower, to firm and hydrate your skin. With three shades, you can choose your level of tan—whether you want a boost of glow or a deeper bronze.
Best Gradual: Vita Liberata Fabulous Self-Tanning Gradual Lotion
If you want more of a gradual effect when it comes to your tan, this lotion is perfect for you. The moisturizing formula applies like a regular body lotion and develops between 4-8 hours for a natural glow. The best part? It doesn’t transfer onto fabrics, so your sheets stay white even after application.
Best for Fair Skin: St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Mousse
The trick to tanning fair skin is building up your color. This water mousse makes it easy to do just that—simply apply (no rinse needed afterward) and wait 4-8 hours for the color to develop. Continue to reapply—and moisturize in-between—to get your desired result.
Best for Dark Skin: Bondi Sands Aero Aerated Self Tanning Foam
Ideal for deeper skin tones, this ultra-dark foam adds a natural bronzed tan over a dark base. The formula boasts ingredients like vitamin E and jojoba oil for intense hydration, which can help prolong your tan.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Avène Moisturizing Self-Tanning Silky Gel
“This formula is non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, so it’s great for those with sensitive skin,” says Aguilar. Plus, it features soothing and moisturizing ingredients like the brand’s iconic thermal spring water and sunflower seed oil.
Best for Face: St. Moriz Advanced Pro Formula Tan Boosting Facial Serum
Mix a few drops of this tanning serum into your daily moisturizer and massage into your skin for an instant glow. The formula does its work throughout the day, delivering a natural tan that you can easily adjust when reapplying—simply add more or less drops to your routine.
Best Instant: Nu Skin Sunright Insta Glow
With a blend of avocado oil, vitamin E, and low-odor DHA, this lightweight gel builds a natural-looking tan within 30 minutes. Because the formula is no-drip, it applies evenly and smoothly without streaks.
Best Odorless: Loving Tan 2 HR Express Self Tanning Mousse Medium
Swipe on this glow-inducing formula for a natural tan after two hours—without the unpleasant chemical smell. Before application, remember to exfoliate and moisturize your skin for an even, streak-free tan.
Best Wash-Off: L'Oreal Makeup Summer Belle Makeup
Need a temporary glow boost? Swipe on this liquid luminizer for a radiant, bronzed finish that feels lightweight and looks natural. The subtle shimmer isn’t overpowering, and because the formula is sheer, it blends well into the skin.
“Depending on the self-tanner brand, you can reapply within 3-7 days,” suggests Aguilar. Her two biggest tips to keep your tan and your skin in perfect condition? “Moisturize your skin with a hydrating body lotion and always protect it with sunscreen.”
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.