The 10 Best Self Tanners

Updated June 09, 2018 by Taber Koeghan

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We spent 44 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top options for this wiki. Get a jump start on summer or touch up your existing tan with a little something from our selection of self tanners. If you're worried about the possible harmful effects of sun exposure but enjoy a healthy glow, one of these will be perfect for you. We've included natural and organic products so you can avoid nasty chemicals, too. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best self tanner on Amazon.

10. Clinique Sun Tinted

Clinique Sun Tinted creates more of a golden tan as opposed a dark, bronze look. Its smell is light when first applied, but does tend to strengthen as it's worked into the skin. The color generally lasts for three or four days.
  • light and deep options
  • formula is non-acnegenic
  • can be hard to apply evenly
Brand Clinique
Model 0020714353742
Weight 2.4 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

9. Grace & Stella Co. Bronze Doll

Grace & Stella Co. Bronze Doll provides fast, nontoxic, and dye-free tanning to almost any skin type. You can see results in as little as four hours and enjoy your tan for up to seven days, which makes this one of the longest-lasting formulas on this list.
  • dries in about three minutes
  • manufactured in italy
  • included mitt is flimsy
Brand Grace & Stella Co.
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

8. Clarins Instant Gel

Clarins Instant Gel contains larrea divaricata extract, which nourishes and heals the skin. It can help reduce blemishes, improve the appearance of psoriasis, and alleviate eczema, and is gentle enough to use on your face, too.
  • doesn't clog pores
  • a little bit goes a long way
  • some find the scent too strong
Brand Clarins
Model 28902
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

7. Famous Dave's Original

Unlike other products that contain ingredients with high pH levels, Famous Dave's Original is loaded with natural lubricants and moisturizers that make it easy to rub onto your skin smoothly and evenly after getting out of the shower.
  • great for both men and women
  • free of any fragrance
  • fades rather quickly
Brand Famous Dave's Tanner
Model pending
Weight 9.6 ounces
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

6. L'Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze

L'Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze comes out of the bottle as a fine mist that covers a large area and doesn't require any rubbing, which makes it a good choice if you don't want to risk staining your hands. It develops fully in just two to four hours.
  • available in several shades
  • fresh citrus scent
  • results can be inconsistent
Brand Sublime
Model K073-74
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

5. Skinerals Californium

Skinerals Californium hydrates while producing a solid tan that will make you look like you just came back from a tropical vacation. Since it contains lightweight, fast-drying ingredients, you won't have to worry about your skin feeling slick and greasy.
  • easy for first-timers to apply
  • no orange undertone
  • free of oils and nuts
Brand Skinerals
Model pending
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

4. St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse

St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse is easy to apply and dries in just 60 seconds, so you can hit the beach right away. It produces a natural-looking bronze glow without any patchiness and can be used to create a new tan or deepen an existing one.
  • fragrance isn't overwhelming
  • applicator mitt included
  • three sizes to choose from
Brand St. Tropez
Model 5060022304321
Weight 10.4 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

3. Sun Laboratories Ultra

Achieve a gorgeous, ultra-dark tan on both your face and body with Sun Laboratories Ultra. It is made in the United States with a natural sugar derivative that works deep within your skin to intensify its color over a three-hour period.
  • doesn't rub off when you sweat
  • good for most skin types
  • free of parabens
Brand Sun Laboratories
Model UD8
Weight 11.2 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

2. Beauty by Earth Natural

Beauty by Earth Natural has been developed with organic, cruelty-free, and vegan-friendly ingredients, including coconut, argan, and jojoba oils; aloe vera, green tea, and witch hazel, all working together with DHA to deliver a stunning tan.
  • no harsh chemicals
  • good for those with sensitive skin
  • long-lasting effect
Brand Beauty by Earth
Model NA
Weight 9 ounces
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

1. Fake Bake Flawless

Fake Bake Flawless will provide your body with impressive, streak-free color to make you appear naturally kissed by the sun — with no hint of the eerie orange glow produced by some options. And it's buildable, giving you greater control over the depth of your tan.
  • patented formula
  • professional quality
  • available in multi-packs
Brand Fake Bake
Model FBF-12
Weight 8.5 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

What Self Tanner Does

Your skin is made up of two main layers; the epidermis, which is the outermost layer, and the dermis, which sits beneath the epidermis. Both real sun and "fake" sun (self-tanners) work on the epidermis. The way that real sun and self-tanning differentiate is by how they work on the epidermis. The epidermis itself has two layers. The outermost one is called the stratum corneum and the inner one is called the stratum basale. Sun penetrates the inner layer; that's part of why a real sun tan lasts longer than a fake one, but it's also how the sun causes sunburns. Self-tanner only darkens the outer layer, so it typically only lasts between three and seven days.

The ingredient in most self tanners that actually darkens your skin is called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is approved by the food and drug administration for topical use in sunless tanners; it's a simple 3-carbon sugar that, when applied to the skin, creates a chemical reaction with surface skin cells which darkens them. Since it only colors surface cells, these soon fall off, which is why self tanners work for a limited time. The percentage of DHA in your sunless tanner will affect how dark of a color it produces. Percentages typically range from 2.5 to ten, with 3.5 being the most common one.

Ultimately, the final aesthetic result will depend on the user's complexion, the technique used to apply it, and the formula used. It's always a good idea to use an exfoliator before applying self tanner to remove any dead skin cells, allowing the product to go a bit deeper into the skin. One should also avoid going in water or shaving for at least an hour after applying self tanner to make sure it stays on.

What To Look For In A Self Tanner

If you have particularly dry skin, look for a self tanner with moisturizing properties. The more hydrated your skin is, the better it will absorb the product. Self tanners that have moisturizer inside of them are also much easier to rub on your skin evenly, so you get a streak-free tan.

If you are worried about applying it correctly, try a self tanner that lets you see the color immediately, rather than one that only yields color after it dries. This will help tremendously with an accurate application, especially for those using a self tanner for the first time. Some self tanners come with a spray gun, so you can apply the product just like a spa professional would.

If you have a busy social life and are regularly invited to events last minute, consider a self tanner that is fast acting; some can darken your skin in as little as three hours. For those who try to put only natural and organic ingredients on their skin, there are several self tanners that meet those specifications. Organic ones typically have ingredients that offer several benefits to your skin, too, like bacteria-killing witch hazel, healing aloe vera, and antioxidant green tea.

If you plan on wearing your self tanner outdoors, get one that has sunscreen in the mixture. Make sure you're informed on how the sun protection factor (SPF) works in your sunscreen, and exactly how much you need, based on your lifestyle and skin. For those who don't like overstocking their beauty cabinet, but are also fighting various skin conditions, some self tanners contain anti-aging and dark-spot correcting solutions, so one can consolidate two products into one.

The History Of Fake Tanning

Today, people associate tan skin with prosperity; either celebrities get tans on their expensive tropical vacations, or the elite purchase them in high-end tanning salons. But before the 1900s, tan skin was actually associated with poverty. A darker complexion was usually only found on people who had to work outdoors to make a living, like farmers and field hands, and the wealthy stayed inside, maintaining a pale complexion. Some people say the designer Coco Chanel popularized the tan among high society when she returned from a yachting trip dawning a bronze complexion.

Tanning beds had, however, existed before Coco Chanel popularized tanning. After public health officials discovered the dangers of UV exposure in the early 1900s, people turned to tanning beds for their color. Eventually, health officials found out that tanning beds were just as harmful as actual sunlight, so people would try DIY home remedies to stain their skin, like leaving brown tea bags on their faces until their skin took in some color.

The person who discovered DHA, the active ingredient found in most self tanners today, was not in the beauty industry at all but rather the medical one. In the 1950s, a researcher named Eva Wittgenstein was treating children with a metabolic disorder, when she realized that the medicine she gave them would stain their skin. She soon realized that the staining ingredient was DHA. By 1973, the FDA approved of the ingredient for self tanning products. The first self tanning product to use DHA was called Man Tan and it came out a little after World War II.

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Last updated on June 09, 2018 by Taber Koeghan

Taber is a writer working in Los Angeles, which also happens to be the city she was raised in. She enjoys reading mysteries, rock climbing, and baking. A funny cat named Roswell lives in her house.

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