Hi, my name is Bella, and I have an obsession with self-tanner. I grew up a shy, pale gal in a family of tan, loud, olive-toned Italians, and my lack of bronze was so apparent that I was once reffered to as "the white sheep of the family" instead of "the black sheep" — high key embarassing. While you should love the skin you're in, and I certainly do, I still treat myself to the best self-tanning products for face and body to help me get my glow on come spring and summer, and after much trial and error, many orange-stained sheets, and a few Facetuned-out moments of patchy, streaky mess, I've discovered which products are worth a buy and which serve that smelly Oompa Loompa realness I'm desperate to avoid.
My ideal tanning product has to meet a certain standard. First, it can't be the kind of thing that looks incredible on Day 1 and then is a cracked, peeling mess by Day 3. Much like when I'm swiping away on Hinge, I'm looking for something that lasts, people. Next, it can't take an entire month of summer to dry down — I've got places to be, and I can't be bothered with anything that isn't a fast-absorbing, quick-dry formula. Last but not least, and believe me, this one require some compromise, I try to avoid anything with that classic self-tanner smell.
You know what I'm talking about, right?
Yeah, that one. Alas, a lot of great tanners are worth putting up with a whiff of that classic "I-just-rubbed-my-full-body-with-a-mitt" fragrance, but if they don't turn me into a golden goddess, then I refuse to tolerate their odor. That said, read on for my top tanning picks, organized by their best assets so you can decide what works for you.
My absolute all-time favorite quick-drying formula, the Bondi Sands Liquid Gold Dry Tanning Oil ($24, bondisands.com) is my go-to for a last-minute night out. I hate applying a tanner and then having to feel ~sticky~ all night, even when I wait for it to dry before getting dressed, but with this baby, that isn't the case at all. I apply generously from the neck down before getting ready, wait ten minutes or let it sink in while I do my makeup, and when I touch my skin after, I can't feel a thing. The olive-never-orange color kicks in around two or three hours later, so I'm bronzed by the time I hit the town.
When it comes to staining clothes and sheets, a lot of times the issue is the guide color, aka the tint some companies put in their formulas so that you can see the product as you apply, which then washes off in the shower to reveal your newly tanned skin. The St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Water Gel ($44, sephora.com) is a gel-to-water product with zero guide color, so you don't need to shower away to see your real tanning results. It's also super lightweight and hydrating compared to certain lotion and mousse formulas, so when the weather's too hot to handle in peak summer, this cool gel doubles as a moment of relief.
Not into orange hands post-tan? The HauteBronze Tan-in-a-Mitt ($45 for five, ulta.com) is the answer to your prayers, and mine too. Rather than having to buy a glove in addition to your self-tanning product to protect your palms, this mitt is infused with tanning solution, so all you have to do is cut open the packaging, slip your hand in, and apply with ease. Then, you toss the mitt and live your bronzy, glowy, carefree life. This is the future of tanning, and I'm buying them in bulk.
One & Done
In need of the self-tanner version of a one night stand? The Vita Liberata Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish ($45, vitaliberata.com) is a one night tan, aka a body makeup formula you can apply with ease right before going out to give skin a tanned glow and an airbrush-level blur. It washes right off, so you can choose how long you want the look, and it comes in five shades to guarantee a glow that suits your skin tone.
I don't always trust the same products I use on my body for my face (It's just a way more ingredient-sensitive area for me!), so the James Read Sleep Mask Tan Face ($38, dermstore.com) has been ideal for overnight color. In addition to tanner, this product contains skin-loving ingredients like hydrating hyaluronic acid and calming aloe, so I apply before going to bed and wake up with a face that matches my neck. Finally! BTW, they're also launching the Sleep Mask Face Retinol ($38, coming soon to qvc.com) April 1 on QVC, which has the added skincare benefits of anti-aging retinol. When using a retinol product, it's best to avoid exposing skin to harsh sunlight, so a product that delivers a faux tan plus this powerhouse ingredient is both clever and effective.
Personally, I want to look tan before beach vacations and pool days, as I want to look bronzed when I don my swimwear, even if I am showing up specifically to tan in the sun. I know that's a big skincare no-no, so I always use an SPF, and the Supergoop! Healthy Glow Sunless Tan ($38, supergoop.com) has SPF 40 built right into its tanning formula. To be clear, you should always use an actual sunscreen in addition to products that contain SPF, but a bonus layer can't hurt, so Supergoop!'s tanner is a fave for me when I'm applying whilst on holiday.
While I love the convenience of a fast-developing tanner, a gradual lotion is ideal for building up color with everyday use. It's definitely a little more ~natural~ than looking pale at work and then showing up to happy hour five shades deeper, and the Vichy Ideal Soleil Self Tanning Lotion ($20, vichyusa.com) is one of my most moisturizing faves. I start using this on Monday in place of my regular body lotion when I'm trying to get glowy by the weekend.
Not about to drop $30 for a self-tanner? I get it — sometimes, an actual, professional spray tan can be the same price! The Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner Lotion ($6, amazon.com) is a great option for under $10, though, and it's available via Amazon Prime, so you can order it last-minute before a trip. Since Alba Botanica specialize in skincare, this formula has the added benefit of nourishing ingredients like shea butter, sweet almond oil, and safflower oil. Yes, please.