Three best self-tanners

Jennifer Manfrin

You risk skin damage like dark spots, wrinkles, and skin cancer when you tan by exposing yourself to the sun’s harsh UV rays or by using a tanning bed. With a self-tanner, you can safely sport sun-kissed skin.

You don't have to put the health of your skin at risk to look like you just returned from a beach vacation. A natural-looking glow that is nearly indistinguishable from suntanned skin is possible with self-tanners.

Early products that promised a sun-kissed appearance often left tell-tale signs like orange palms and streaks that were indicators of a bottled tan. But today's lotions, sprays, wipes, and creams give customers numerous options for achieving beautiful, seamless results. Read on for a closer look at our favorite self-tanners on the market and for advice on selecting and applying these skin-saving products for a gorgeous bronzed look from head to toe.

Considerations when choosing self-tanners


Self-tanners are available in formulas that offer light, medium, and dark tans. The shade that works best for you will depend on your skin tone. If your skin is pale, for example, choosing a deep tanner can result in an unnatural look. On the other hand, if you have more of an olive hue, you may not notice any results if you opt for a formula that is too light.


When the first self-tanners were introduced decades ago, lotion was your only option. These days self-tanners are available in creams, gels, mousses, sprays, and even towelettes.

Creams are thicker than lotions, but both are very blendable and suitable for use all over the body. They are a bit messy and take a while to dry, however. Sprays can also be messy, but they tend to dry quickly and are great for hard-to-reach areas and quick application.

Gels and mousses dry fairly fast, and they don't feel heavy on the skin. With self-tanning towelettes, simply swipe, wait out the quick dry time, and go.


Application instructions

Carefully following the instructions when you purchase a new self-tanner will give you a beautiful, radiant look. Regardless of the brand or formula you choose, the packaging will provide steps for proper application.

Buildable color

Perhaps the self-tanner feature that consumers love most is control over the color that develops. Apply your self-tanner until you achieve the tan you want, and repeat to maintain.


Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $40-plus for self-tanner. Although cheaper options are worth a try if you don't have a lot to spend, higher-end self-tanners contain better ingredients and usually produce more natural, longer-lasting results and richer color.


Q. How can I prevent the palms of my hands from developing color when I apply a self-tanner?

A. The thrill of getting tanned skin without sun exposure makes it easy to forget that the color can also develop on the palms of your hands when you blend in the self-tanner. Using a self-tanning applicator mitt and washing your hands with soap and warm water immediately after application will prevent this mishap.

Q. Should I use sunscreen with a self-tanner?

A. Yes, because most self-tanners don't offer UV protection. Unless you choose a self-tanner than contains SPF--and even those that do usually have very little protection--you will also need to use sunscreen to ward off damage from the sun's rays.

Self-tanners we recommend

Best of the best: Tan Towel Self-Tan Towelettes

Our take: If you aren't a fan of liquids, creams, or lotions, these towelettes offer a mess-free way to self-tan.

What we like: Convenient towelettes infused with self-tanner that dries fast and can be used on the body and face. No oily or heavy residue.

What we dislike: Several towelettes are needed to cover larger parts of the body. Can be a bit drying.

Best bang for your buck: Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tan Liquid

Our take: An excellent self-tanner that delivers natural color that's buildable with dedicated use.

What we like: Liquid formula is easy to apply. Comes with a mitt applicator. Doesn't feel sticky and has a light, refreshing scent. Great price.

What we dislike: The color has the tendency to fade fairly quickly, especially after showering.

Choice 3: St. Tropez Self-Tan Bronzing Mousse

Our take: This lightweight mousse is worth a look if you want a self-tanning product that dries fast and is almost effortless to apply.

What we like: Very easy to use and blend thanks to the silky mousse formula. Customers rave about the natural, buildable color. Comes with a mitt and dries fast.

What we dislike: Has been known to stain fabrics. Rare reports of rash after using it.

Jennifer Manfrin is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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