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Since minimalism is usually the look for summer (bronzer and foundation are suffocating in the soupy weather), consider adding self-tanner as you pare down your beauty routine in the warmer months. You get the lovely, bronzy glow on your skin without the sun damage, and products especially formulated for the face even include anti-aging ingredients, making your summer beauty look that much more carefree.
But if you’ve been reluctant to try the notoriously finicky product in the past, we don’t blame you. Traditional self-tanners usually require diligent maintenance, careful exfoliation beforehand (to prevent streaks) and rub off, more likely than not, on your sheets. Self-tanner’s primary ingredient, DHA, is responsible for the infamous gym sock smell many self tanners have.
A few standout formulas, however, claim to avoid all of the above while leaving a natural-looking glow. Whether you're looking for a serum that nourishes your face as it tans, a travel-friendly option, or a drugstore lotion that doesn’t turn you orange, there is a self-tanner out there for your needs. Read on to learn about the best self-tanners you can buy now.
Best Overall: Coola Sunless Tan Dry Body Oil Mist
This lightweight Coola body oil mist is easier to use than the St. Tropez mist, according to reviews. The Coola formula doesn’t require a mitt for application, nor does it rub off on your sheets. The mist leaves an even, natural-looking tan that lasts about three to four days, but it’s also good for maintaining an existing tan. It also dries down quickly after you mist it so you’re not waiting for hours for the self-tanner to dry. As far as scent, the mist smells faintly of coconut and shea butter. Since it’s a dry oil, it moisturizes your skin overnight if applied before bed. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free.
Best Drugstore: Jergens Natural Glow Daily Skin Moisturizer for Body
If you’re a self-tanner junkie, this was probably your first tanning product. And for good reason: The Jergens self-tanning moisturizer is ideal for beginners. The easy-to-use lotion comes out of a pump dispenses that keeps application as neat as possible.
Reviewers noticed results after a day, and said the moisturizer results in a natural-looking, buildable tan. The consistency is much thicker than other tanning products, so one reviewer recommended mixing a pump of the Jergens moisturizer with your regular lotion to help it absorb. Use the lotion when you’re right out of the shower, while skin is still damp, to help the color come out evenly. Applying every other day gave the best results for most reviewers.
Best for Face: Coola Sunless Tan Anti-Aging Face Serum
A self-tanner and serum for your face in one bottle, this Coola self-tanner contains nourishing ingredients like argan oil, hyaluronic acid and plant stem cell cultures to even out skin tone, hydrate and plump up the skin as it develops a healthy-looking tan. It’s also easy to use: the serum “melts” into the skin, and its pump bottles requires less effort than a spray can. You can mix two to three drops into your usual moisturizer for a subtle color, or spread directly on your face for a deeper tan. The resulting color doesn’t skew orange. But, it doesn’t have SPF, so it won’t replace your sunscreen.
Reviewers recommend exfoliating beforehand, as you would with any self-tanner, to avoid patchiness and texture. According to reviews, the serum doesn’t clog pores and results in a healthy glow if applied before bed. It also didn’t leave a smell, so you can apply and sleep comfortably in the formula. It’s also paraben-free.
Best for Travel: Kate Somerville Somerville360 Self Tanning Towelettes
Self-tanners that come in aerosol cans can be a logistical challenge when flying. Luckily, these Kate Somerville self-tanning towelettes come in compact, bright yellow packets (about eight towelettes per sachet). You can slip the wipes into your makeup bag or suitcase, and the towelettes work just as well as conventional self-tanners. They’re also formulated for your face and body. In addition to DHA, the self-tanning ingredient, the Kate Somerville wipes contain tea extract to soothe skin. The only drawback is the size of the towelettes, but you can cut them to make them less unwieldy and store the surplus in a Ziploc, per reviews. Reviewers also recommended using the wipes in circular motions for an even, natural-looking tan. The color takes a few hours to develop, but the formula itself dries quickly with no streaks.
Best Gradual: Jergens Wet Skin Natural Glow
This works much more slowly than the other self-tanners on the list (the color develops over about a week), but like the original Jergens lotion, doesn’t leave streaks or rub off on clothing or sheets. The application is easy: lightly dry your skin so you’re not dripping wet out of the shower, rub on the lotion, then pat dry with a towel. The smell, according to reviewers, is actually pleasant.
Best for Acne Prone Skin: Tan-Luxe The Face Illuminating Self-Tan Drops
This self-tanner comes in a dropper bottle and is available in two shade ranges: light/medium and medium/dark. You can mix this “tanning concentrate” in with your serum, face oil, or cream moisturizer to convert it into a self-tanner. One to four drops should be enough to see results, but you can also add more. For best results, use every other day and blend it down your neck like you would with foundation, to avoid a harsh line. Reviewers said the drops didn’t cause breakouts, even on oily, acne-prone skin. The scent isn’t particularly offensive, and the formula didn’t stain pillows if applied before bed. The tan develops gradually over a few hours, but leaves a radiant glow.
Best Instant: Sephora Collection Tinted Self-Tanning Body Mist
The Sephora Collection, Sephora’s more affordable in-house line, has pretty solid products, like this self-tanner. It comes in a standard spray can and is a good option if you consider yourself adept at spraying on an even coat. The Sephora mist currently has more than 800 reviews on Sephora with an average 4.5-star rating. The mist instantly creates a realistic-looking tan that doesn’t look orange, and fades gracefully without the tell-tale patchiness. Because the mist can travel, reviewers recommend using the spray in the shower (tiles make for easier cleanup), or outside.