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We all know about the dangers of exposing the skin to harmful UV rays in an effort to get a bronzed glow. Still, it's hard to let go of that desire for a year-round tan. That's why we're huge advocates of sunless tanners (aka self-tanners); they give you the natural-looking glow you're after without all the risks of premature aging.
The best sunless tanning wipes go on easily without leaving streaks. The color should look natural, and it should leave your skin feeling hydrated. DHA creates a natural, buildable faux tan and is used in most sunless tanners. Ingredients like hydroxy acids help exfoliate for a streakless finish, while aloe, vitamins, and herbal extracts may help calm and hydrate skin.
There are many different types of self-tanners out there, including handy towelettes that you can take anywhere with you. Tanning wipes are great for touching up missed spots on spray tans, but they can also be used for a head-to-toe bronzed look all on their own.
Ahead, we researched the best tanning wipes to get your glow on.
What to Look For
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is almost synonymous with sunless self-tanners. This FDA-approved plant compound is a sugar molecule that reacts chemically with the amino acids in the outermost layer of the skin, producing pigmentation.
Exfoliants may help prevent streaking by sloughing off dead skin cells. Look for acids like AHAs and BHAs, salicylic acid. If your sunless tanning wipes do not contain exfoliants, simply add this step with another exfoliating product in the shower before application.
To keep your complexion looking smooth and hydrated, look for ingredients that add or protect moisture and calm the skin, such as vitamin E, chamomile, aloe, and glycerin.
Best Overall: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad Gradual Glow
These tanning wipes for the face are one of the most beloved options out there. Not only will they give your face the beachy glow you want year-round, but unlike many other tanning formulas, they're packed with skincare heroes like vitamin D and exfoliating AHAs and BHAs to give your skin a radiant look. They're made with microencapsulated DHA and soy proteins and give off an odorless, streak-free color that’s likely to last for days on end.
Best for Body: TanTowel Self-Tanning Towelettes
These award-winning towelettes are a breeze to use for your face and body. In one towel, you have enough self-tanner to get every inch of your body, sans streakiness or blotching. They’re large, so you’re definitely getting a bang for your buck, and it takes about 3-4 hours for the formula to fully activate into a natural, glistening glow. Plus, the more you use them, the more intense this buildable formula gets, making your tanning experience fully customizable.
Best Budget: Jergens Instant Sun Sunless Tanning Towelettes
Need to tan on a budget? Then Jergen’s fan-favorite towelettes are your best option. They stand up to pricier picks via the impressive formula that works with your natural skin tone instead of against it, creating a more natural-looking appearance. Plus, each of these towelettes contains a top-notch blend of DHA and erythrulose and gives off a subtle, buildable look without creating an orange color.
Best Drugstore: L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Towelettes for Body
There’s a reason why these award-winning towelettes are so popular, and it’s not just for their price (but that’s definitely a plus). These tanning wipes glide smoothly for a streak-free, foolproof application in just one use. Plus, they also contain vitamin E and a mix of AHAs to deliver a refreshing boost of exfoliation and radiance to compliment your fresh, new tan. These towelettes may also develop in as little as 2-4 hours, depending on the intensity you’re going for. They’re also compact enough to tuck in your bag when you’re on-the-go and in need of touch-ups.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Comodynes Natural & Fast Bronzing Towelettes
These towelettes are a cult-favorite of celebs (think Jennifer Aniston and Christina Applegate), and they’re also a great pick for more sensitive skin types. They’re dermatologically-tested, plus they use an all-natural formula that’s safe enough to use around the eyes.
Runner-Up, Best Organic: Ibiza Sun Organic Self-Tanning Towelettes
These self-tanning towelettes are as organic as organic gets: they’re totally free of parabens, and they’re formulated with organic DHAs such as aloe vera, sugar cane, and chamomile. They’re super hydrated, so they glide without streaks or blotchiness, and they dry in just a few minutes to help you get your glow on. Plus, they’re odorless, so you won’t smell like an artificial tanning product throughout the day—just wipe on, and you’re ready to go.
Best for Subtle Tan: M-61 PowerGlow Peel Gradual Tan
If you’re in the mood for just a light kiss of (faux) sun, then opt for these mild wipes. They’ll likely give your face a delicate tint in as little as one minute. Infused with skincare faves such as glycolic acid, vitamin K, and chamomile, they may exfoliate and brighten your skin. If you’d like to build up your tint, simply break out another wipe out and get to work.
Best for Intense Tan: Comodynes Self-Tanning Intensive & Uniform Color
Comodynes wipes are not only great for sensitive skin, but they also have a fantastic option for a truly intensive result. These wipes may be tiny, but they contain an ultra-mighty formula that may make your skin a few shades tanner for a glow you can only find on the Golden Coast, but in only 2-3 hours. Plus, they won’t leave you looking bright orange.
Best Variety: Haute Bronze Tan Towel
If you’re a naturally darker skin tone looking to lightly deepen your glow or very fair and want to add a touch of tint to your natural color, these tanning wipes are your definite go-to. They have three color options for darker, medium, and fair skin tones, taking the guesswork out of finding the perfect tanning wipes for your tone. Plus, they’re streak-free and may develop in as little as 2-4 hours (depending on the intensity you’d like), so they’re effortless to use.
Do Self Tanning Wipes Work?
Self-tanning wipes work to provide a subtle tint to your skin. A natural compound derived from plant sugar molecules called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) interacts with amino acids in the top layer of your skin to produce pigment.
How Long Does it Take for Self Tanning Wipes to Work?
Self-tanning wipes typically work within 2 to 4 hours. Some wipes contain an initial tinting ingredient that leaves a glow while the DHA takes time to interact with your skin to produce pigment.
How Long Do Tanning Wipes Last?
Tanning wipes typically last about a week. However, this can be shortened if you exfoliate in the shower or shave. Some tint will wear off gradually. Staying moisturized can help your self-tan last longer. Maintain your tan by applying a fresh wipe every 3 to 4 days, and build up your tan to a darker shade by applying every 2 days.
How Do You Use Tanning Wipes?
Follow the directions on the package of tanning wipes you've purchased. Most products say to exfoliate and moisturize before hand to get the best streak-free results. Apply the tanning wipes in broad strokes with some pressure. Avoid putting on any tight clothing for at least 10 minutes. Maintain your tan by applying every 3 to 4 days, and build up your tan by applying every 2 days.
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Ciriminna R, Fidalgo A, Ilharco LM, Pagliaro M. Dihydroxyacetone: An Updated Insight into an Important Bioproduct. ChemistryOpen. 2018;7(3):233-236. doi:10.1002/open.201700201