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Whether you’ve got a tropical getaway coming up or you prefer a subtle glow all year long, a sunless tan is always the safest option. But at-home tanners aren't entirely risk-free, as there's always the potential for a product to leave you looking more orange than bronzed or with an uneven, streaky tan — especially if you're naturally pale. The best self-tanners for pale skin are infused with moisturizing ingredients to help promote a more even tan, and they develop into a natural bronze color over the course of several hours. These tanners can come in the form of a lotion, a mousse, a mist, a serum, or even drops that you mix in with your moisturizer. If you’re new to self-tanners, or could simply use a refresh, you’ll find some essential tips worth following, below.
Before You Tan
- Exfoliate your skin (focusing on naturally rough areas where excess product could cling onto, like your knees, ankles, and elbows) 24 hours before you tan. If you shave, you'll want to do that in advance, too, so that you're not stripping away your self-tanner later.
- Dab a little moisturizer onto your knees, ankles, elbows, and hands only.
How To Self Tan
- Use a tanning mitt to apply your tanner of choice in sweeping, circular motions. This ensures even distribution without any streaking or staining of the hands.
- If you're using a mousse, you'll want about four pumps for each leg, four for the front of your torso, four for your back, and two for each arm.
- Start with your legs and work your way up.
- Let the product fully dry before getting dressed. (You'll want to wear dark clothing to avoid any obvious stains.) Also, if you have white sheets, reconsider self-tanning right before you go to bed.
- Use tanning drops or mists for your face, which are typically lighter weight, more hydrating, and less likely to clog your pores.
After You Tan
- Follow the product's directions as to how long the color needs to develop, then rinse the guide color off with cool to warm water.
- To maximize your tan, moisturize your skin with a water-based lotion daily and exfoliate every two to three days to prevent your tan from looking patchy.
- Don’t forget to be just as diligent about applying sunscreen as you normally would, especially if you’re going on vacation.
Shop The Best Self-Tanners For Pale Skin
In a hurry? Here are the best self-tanners for pale skin:
1. Best Self-Tanning Drops For The Face: +Lux Unfiltered N⁰12 Bronzing Face Drops
2. Best Self-Tanning Mousse For The Body: St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing Mousse
3. Best Drugstore Self-Tanning Lotion: Jergens Natural Glow + Firming Daily Moisturizer
4. Best Self-Tanner With SPF: Supergoop Healthy Glow Sunless Tan SPF 40
5. Best Self-Tanning Mist: Isle Of Paradise Light Self-Tanning Water
6. Best Express Self-Tanner: Loving Tan 2 Hour Express Mousse
7. Best Rinse-Off Self-Tanner: Tanologist Insta Glow Instant Tan + Illuminator
1. Editor's Pick: Best Self-Tanning Drops For The Face
“I have very pale skin, and these +Lux Unfiltered tanning drops have completely changed the game for me,” says Elite Daily beauty editor Adeline Duff. “I mix a few drops into my moisturizer every morning, and I’m able to maintain a subtle, natural-looking glow that lasts me well into the next day, even if I’ve double cleansed my face the night before. It’s a method that’s impossible to mess up, and you can customize how deep of a tan you get by using just one or two drops, or several. That said, even when I’ve used five or six drops, I still find that the tan looks natural.”
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Apple Fruit Extract, Coconut Water, Passion Fruit Oil, Pomegranate Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
2. Writer's Pick: Best Self-Tanning Mousse For The Body
- Can shower after four hours
My skin is translucent-level pale, and St. Tropez’s Self Tan Dark Bronzing Mousse is so good at adding a natural glow that it's been a regular part of my routine for years. Despite the dark indicator, the tan never comes out too deep because it adjusts to your skin tone (in fact, I've found that when it comes to self-tanning mousses, medium and deep colors come out the most natural, whereas lighter options can verge into orange territory). The guide color is key here because it lets you see exactly where you're applying the mousse so that you don't miss any spots as you blend it over your skin with your tanning mitt. It's also a quick application process, as the lightweight mousse sinks into your skin after a minute or two without leaving any sticky residue behind. Your color will start to develop and can be rinsed off after four to eight hours, but I like to sleep in it overnight to maximize the color payoff. Just be warned that until the guide color has been thoroughly rinsed off, it will stain any light-colored fabric, so have a dedicated set of dark sheets and pajamas for when you tan (or alternatively, you can sleep on a dark towel).
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Vitamin E Size: 6.7 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
3. Best Drugstore Self-Tanner
This best-selling tanning lotion is as easy as they come. Jergens’ Natural Glow + Firming Daily Moisturizer is a hydrating body lotion and gradual self-tanner in one. It builds a subtle tan after several days of continued use, and you can keep using it as often (or as little) as you want to maintain your desired level of intensity. Additionally, the formula contains ingredients like hydrolyzed collagen and elastin to help keep your skin smooth and firm. Because of the heavier moisturizing oils in this, you'll want to avoid applying it on your face, and you should still wash your hands after you use it (unless you're applying it with a mitt) to avoid stained palms.
Relevant Review: "This is the best tanning product out there. Noticeable color after two uses. Smells great and goes on easy. Plus, it makes your skin super soft. This does not leave you looking orange or fake tanned, it really is a natural glow."
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Coconut Oil, Coconut Water, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Hydrolyzed Elastin, Centella Asiatica Extract, Green Tea Leaf Extract Size: 7.5 oz. Cruelty-Free: No
4. Best Self-Tanner With SPF
- SPF 40
- Develops quickly
- Suitable for face and body
If you're using self-tanner, chances are protecting your skin from sun damage is important to you. Leave it to Supergoop! to give you the best of both worlds with its spray-on lotion that gives your skin a golden tan as it keeps it protected with SPF 40. You can spray the product directly onto your body (ideally, using a mitt to blend it into your skin), or into the palms of your hands to apply it on your face (just be sure to immediately wash your hands to avoid stains). The color will develop in just two to four hours, and you can reapply it as often as you like to build a deeper tan or maintain your initial color.
Relevant Review: "Gives a nice glow, not orange, not greasy, doesn't transfer over to sheets or clothes, and I appreciate that it doesn't have a strong perfumed scent, unlike most self-tanners. I'm a very pale, freckled blonde, and I'm serious about protecting my skin but I use this when I want to look sun-kissed and not like I've been hiding under an umbrella slathered in SPF."
Key Ingredients: Panthenol, Vitamin E, Aloe Vera Size: 3.4 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
5. Best Self-Tanner Mist
- Suitable for face and body
- Runs the risk of streaking
As convenient as a guide color is, it does require a thorough rinsing lest your sheets or clothes get ruined. For more advanced self-tanners, this Isle Of Paradise Light Self-Tanning Water is completely colorless and doesn't need to be rinsed off. Instead, you spritz the formula directly onto your body, completely saturating your skin before gently buffing it in with your mitt. You can use this on your face and even as a makeup setting spray, too. Plus, the brand makes refillable pouches that are made with 81% less plastic, so you can top off your original bottle when you start to run low. Beware that this does run the risk of streaking if you don’t use enough product or don’t blend it in properly, so if you’re a self-tan newbie, this may not be the best option for you; that said, using it on your face is a lot less risky (you can also mix it in with your moisturizer).
Relevant Review: "I am fair skinned and this stuff is magic. I had three compliments on my tan and no one knew it was from a bottle. Love this stuff.”
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Aloe Extract, Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil Size: 6.76 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
6. Best Express Self-Tanner
- Develops quickly
When you need a glow in a hurry, this Loving Tan Express Mousse fully develops (and can be washed off) in just two hours. The medium shade was designed to work best for skin that’s naturally light to medium toned, and the olive color serves as a guide while you apply the mousse because it shows up immediately.
Relevant Review: "I have paler skin, and I have tried many drugstore brands that always end up looking orange or streaky. I have even spray-tanned several times, both air brush and booth, and this is probably the nicest natural tan that I have ever had. I am really bad at applying things like this, but somehow, it always comes out perfect. […] It looks so even and natural."
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Witch Hazel, Aloe Vera, Panthenol Size: 4 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
7. Best Temporary Self-Tanner
- Develops quickly
- No commitment; can be washed off after 24 hours
- Suitable for face and body
- Doesn’t last through showers
If you're new to the world of self-tanners, it can be nerve-racking to start with a tanner that you know will take up to a week to fade. Tanologist’s Insta Glow Instant Tan + Illuminator gives you an immediate glow, but it can be completely removed within 24 hours using warm water and soap. The lotion is transfer-proof and water-resistant once it dries, and it's infused with light-reflecting particles to double up on the glow factor. The formula is noncomedogenic and contains multiple nutrient-rich ingredients like vitamin E, aloe extract, and several fruit extracts, so it can also be used on your face. While you can use your hands to apply it, a mitt or makeup brush will ensure that your palms and hands don't become oversaturated with color.
Relevant Review: "Best instant bronzer I've ever used, and I have tried them all! It literally doesn't come off until you wash it off."
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Panthenol, Vitamin E, Aloe Extract, Grapefruit Extract, Pomegranate Fruit Extract Size: 5.07 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
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A tanning mitt makes it so much easier to apply your self-tanner evenly and without staining the palms of your hands (it's also absolutely essential when using a mousse or foam). The Bondi Sands Application Mitt is an inexpensive option that can be washed and reused over and over again. Plus, because it's black, you won't notice any tan stains in between washes.
Relevant Review: "It really smooths out the self-tanner product and leaves no missed spots or extra dark spots. It is super soft and easy to wash. I truly love this mitt and think it is the best option out there."
About The Author:
Marissa DeSantis has worked as a beauty writer for nearly 10 years across print and digital publications like Bustle, Evening Standard, Teen Vogue, and InStyle. She has dedicated the same number of years to faking tanned skin, an endeavor that has led her to try every tanning product you can imagine — the good, the bad, and the very orange.