The 10 Best Self Tanners

Updated November 16, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

10 Best Self Tanners
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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 top up your existing tan with a little something from our selection of the best self tanners available. If you are worried about the possible harmful effects of too much sun exposure but enjoy sporting a healthy glow, one of these will be perfect for you. We've included natural and organic products in the mix so you can avoid chemical exposure, 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. Sun Laboratories Instant Tint

Achieve a deep, ultra-dark tan on both your face and body with the Sun Laboratories Instant Tint. It is made in the USA 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
  • tends to stain your hands
Brand Sun Laboratories
Model SL20024
Weight 9.8 ounces
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

9. 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.
  • won't turn you into an oompa loompa
  • good for those with sensitive skin
  • can be hard to apply evenly
Brand Beauty by Earth
Model NA
Weight 10.4 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

8. Grace & Stella Bronze Doll

Grace & Stella Bronze Doll provides fast, nontoxic, and dye-free tanning to almost any skin type. You can see results in as little as 4-6 hours and enjoy your tan for up to 7 days, so you won't have to reapply it as often as some others.
  • dries in about 3 minutes
  • is made in italy
  • the included tanning mitt is flimsy
Brand Grace & Stella Co.
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

7. Tarte Brazilliance Maracuja

Tarte Brazilliance Maracuja will provide your body with an impressive, streak-free tan that makes your skin appear naturally-kissed by the sun, quite unlike the eerie orange glow produced by some options. Its best for those who just want a light tan.
  • doesn't contain any sulfates
  • can improve skin texture too
  • requires frequent application
Brand Tarte
Model NA
Weight 8.8 ounces
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

6. Clinique Self Sun

Clinique Self Sun creates more of a golden tan as opposed to some others that produce a bronze look. Its smell is light when first applied, but does tend to grow a bit more as it works into the skin. The color generally lasts about 3-4 days before it starts to fade.
  • doesn't contain any oil
  • formula is non-acnegenic
  • gives instant color
Brand Clinique
Model 0020714353742
Weight 2.4 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

5. Famous Dave's Original

Unlike some other self tanners 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.
  • safe for both men and women
  • can be reapplied for more darkening
  • won't rub off on towels or sheets
Brand Famous Dave's Tanner
Model pending
Weight 9.6 ounces
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

4. Clarins Instant Gel

Clarins Instant Gel contains larrea divaricata extract, which has been found to have remarkable healing properties. It can help reduce blemishes, improve the appearance of psoriasis, and alleviate eczema, and is gentle enough to use on your face.
  • 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

3. Tan Physics True Color

Tan Physics True Color will hydrate your skin while producing a nice healthy tan that looks like you just came back from an exotic beach vacation. Since it contains anti-aging and moisturizing ingredients, you won't have to waste time applying separate creams.
  • easy for first-timers to apply
  • includes a caramel color guide
  • contains skin healing aloe vera
Brand Tan Physics
Model 12
Weight 8 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

2. L'Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Pro

L'Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Pro comes out of the bottle as a fine mist that covers a large area of skin at once and doesn't require any rubbing, which makes it very easy to apply evenly and quickly. It produces a tan in just 2 to 4 hours.
  • available in multiple shades
  • has a fresh citrus scent
  • high quality product for the price
Brand L'Oreal Paris
Model K073-74
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse

St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse is easy to apply and dries in just 60 seconds, so you won't be left walking around feeling greasy. It produces skin with a very natural looking bronze glow without any streaks and can be used to create a tan or deepen an existing one.
  • doesn't have an unpleasant fragrance
  • includes an applicator mitt
  • tan lasts a long time
Brand St. Tropez
Model 5060022304321
Weight 11.2 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 November 16, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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