The 6 Best Self-Tanning Lotions

By Maria Del Russo

I'm one of those people that has a pretty harrowing self-tanning story. It was prom, I didn't want to pay money for a spray tan, and so I ran to the drugstore and grabbed the first bottle I found. And it was bad — I was streaky, orange, and patchy. But since my failed attempt over a decade ago, self-tanner formulas have improved tenfold. In fact, they seem to be gaining popularity, once again. So I took a deep dive to find the best self-tanning lotions, hoping to harness these better formulations to achieve a natural-looking tan without booking a plane ticket.

There are a few tips to consider before self-tanning at home. Firstly, you want to shower first so that you're applying the tan to clean skin. You should also exfoliate so that the tan goes on completely evenly base. If there are dry patches of skin, the tan will sink into those areas more deeply, resulting in a patchy look. If you shave, you should also do that beforehand, too, because doing it after can actually take the tan off.

Make sure to towel-dry your skin and then apply a lightweight moisturizer, especially to your driest areas (like on your knees, elbows, and ankles) to avoid them becoming extra dark and patchy. To apply the actual self-tanner, always use a mitt (you'll find a highly-recommended option at the bottom of this list), and start from your feet up, to avoid orange palms.

Got all of that? Then you're ready to shop for the best self-tanning lotions on the market right now. Find five of the best formulas, just ahead.

1. The Overall Best Self-Tanning Lotion For Your Body

Vita Liberata's self-tanning lotion is the go-to choice for most beauty gurus. It's formulated with 100 percent natural and certified-organic botanical-based ingredients, making it safe to use on sensitive skin. Included in the formula is the brand's signature Odour Remove Technology, so there's no funky self-tanning stink. It locks in moisture for 72 hours, making it one of the more hydrating self-tanning lotions on the market, using aloe vera, lychee, licorice, and raspberry extracts to hydrate and tone skin. And since it's free of parabens, perfumes, and alcohols, just about anyone can use it. As a bonus, it's transfer-free, so you don't have to worry about stained clothes or sheets. The brand says it will fade within four to seven days, but fans claim it can last up to 10, depending on how much you shower.

2. The Best Drugstore Self-Tanning Lotion For Your Body

The beauty of L'Oreal's Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanning Milk is how gradually and naturally it bronzes your skin. It's perfect for people looking for a tan that isn't too dark, so this is one of the better choices for self-tanning first-timers. The formula contains both vitamin E and AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) which soften and very mildly exfoliate skin, for a smooth, streak-free finish. Apply it up to three times a week for a perpetual tan, and expect each application to appear within four hours.

3. The Best Overnight Self-Tanning Mask For Your Face

This cool tanning mask from James Read delivers a deep, but natural-looking tan overnight — but it also does way more than that. It contains high-quality ingredients that are good for your skin, like aloe vera and black rose oil, so you wake up not only tanner, but also with a soft, hydrated complexion. There are also glycolic and lactic acids in the formula to gently exfoliate — so your skin will be clearer and brighter — and there's even vitamin C for its antioxidant-rich properties that are known to even out both skin tone and texture. So basically, this is a mask treatment first, and a self-tanner second — the bronze-y visage you'll wake up with is only a bonus. Lastly, the formula is fragrance-free, non-staining, and will leave you tan for up to five days.

4. The Best Drugstore Self-Tanning Lotion For Your Face

Facial self-tanners are notoriously finicky, but Jergens' Natural Glow Oil-Free Daily Moisturizer is pretty amazing. The formula appears pretty gradually, so with daily use, you can expect your tan to appear within a week. It comes in two different shades — fair to medium, and medium to tan — so that you can achieve your perfect shade without worrying about going too dark. It also doubles as a great moisturizer, as it contains emollients that are hydrating on your skin. And since the formula is oil-free and non-comedogenic, it won't clog your pores, making it suitable for most skin types. Not only that, but it contains an SPF of 20, so it actually triples as a face sunscreen (though if you plan on going directly into the sun, you might want to apply an extra layer of sunblock with a higher SPF).

5. The Best Self-Tanning Mousse For Your Body

If you prefer a mousse or find that lotions sometimes leave you too streaky, you might want to try this formula from St. Tropez. This cult-favorite tanner (seriously — the brand says a bottle is sold every 15 seconds, and it has a near-perfect Amazon rating with over 1,000 reviews) is perfect for folks who like to tan without waiting around. The transfer-resistant mousse is super lightweight, smoothes on easily and evenly, and dries in just 60 seconds. That means there's no awkward standing around naked in your bathroom waiting for your tan to dry. The DHA used to darken your skin is 100 percent naturally-derived, and the formula is also paraben-, sulfate-, and phthalate-free. Instead of the typical self-tanning stink, St. Tropez's mousse leaves a clean, fresh scent instead. It hydrates skin for up to 24 hours and fades away naturally, making this formula practically foolproof.

6. The Best Self-Tanning Mist For Your Body

The cool thing about this self-tanning mist from Fake Bake is that you can use it on both your body and face. It uses naturally-derived DHA to provide a less toxic tan and since it's not a lotion (which tend to be greasy and sticky), it actually dries faster than most other formulas. Because of that, though, it's recommended to apply a regular body lotion and/or moisturizer afterwards. What makes this self-tanner most unique, besides its mist formula, is its built-in "guide," which basically means it shows up much darker at first so you know exactly where you're applying it. When you wash it off between about six to 12 hours later, it will have faded, leaving behind a natural, streak-free tan.

Must Have: A Self-Tanning Mitt For A Streak-Free Finish

If you apply your self-tanner without using a mitt like Famous Dave's Tanner Self-Tanning Mitt Applicator, it probably won't go as well as you'd like. A tanning mitt helps to protect your palms from turning orange while you apply your product and also produces a much more even, streak-free tan. This one is double-sided, snug-fitting, and made of super soft microfiber. Just be sure to wash it in-between uses to keep it nice and clean.

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