We Tested Nearly 30 Self Tanners — These 6 Won't Leave You Orange
From sprays to wipes, self-tanners have come a long way from the old formulas that left you orange and reeking of chemicals. Still, finding the right one for your skin and lifestyle can be a journey. To speed up this process, we interviewed self-tanning experts and enlisted eight editors to test 28 popular self-tanners at home over the course of a few weeks. Our testers rated the products on ease of application, smell, resulting color, how long the tan lasted, and if it faded evenly. We even asked our testers to sleep in white sheets (RIP) to assess whether the color would transfer in the night.
Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam left our testers with a deep, streak-free tan that lasted about a week and faded evenly. The fact that it had a pleasant floral scent, an innovative mitt for application, and didn't transfer to clothes or sheets makes it a solid pick overall.
Whether you want to look tan for your next vacation or simply want an everyday glow, these are the best self-tanners, according to our testers.
Best Overall: Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam
Best Value: St. Moriz Professional Fast Tanning Mousse
Best Express: Loving Tan 2 HR Express Self Tanning Mousse Dark
Best Gradual: Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer
Best Face: James Read H20 Face Mist
Best Wipes: Tan Towel Self Tan Towelette
Our Testing Process
Our testing process began by reading product reviews and interviewing experts to find the most promising self-tanners to test. We narrowed the list down to 28 products and sent them to eight testers with various skin tones to use at home. The testers used each product following the specific instructions and evaluated how easy the product was to apply, how it felt on their skin, and how desirable the color turned out. Since self-tanners have a reputation for smelling bad and staining sheets, we also asked them to rate the smell and sleep on white sheets to see if any color transferred overnight. Over the following weeks, our testers observed how well their tans held up and whether the color faded evenly or turned blotchy. Once testing was complete, we evaluated their insights and scores to create this list of the best.
What to Keep in Mind
The first question you should ask yourself when choosing a self-tanner is how dark do you want to go? Some self-tanners are geared toward giving you a subtle glow while others aim to give you that "I just got back from the tropics" tan. If you notice a product only comes in one shade, that's because a good self-tan will work off your own body chemistry and pigmentation to develop a buildable color, according to celebrity self tanner and St.Tropez skin finishing expert, Sophie Evans.
If you are just starting to self-tan, Evans recommends starting slow and building your way up. "If you are ever in doubt, always do a patch test so you know you will be happy with your final tan tone," says Evans. "Don't opt for the darkest formula if you are new to self-tanning as it may take you some time to get used to the final look."
The second question you should ask yourself is how fast do you want your tan to appear? If you want to take it slow, you can choose a gradual self-tanner that will build color over the course of a few days.
For more experienced tanners (like myself), you may opt for a formula that gives you a dark tan in a few hours. I personally like dedicating one night to self-tanning, then waking up with sun-kissed skin that will last me for the rest of the week. But if you don't have the patience to wait overnight, you can opt for an express self-tanner that you can wash off in one to three hours and, voilà, bronzed skin.
Mousses, wipes, sprays, drops — self-tanners go far beyond basic lotions. Choosing the right formula comes down to your skin type and lifestyle, says Evans.
"If you have very dry, dehydrated skin, you will love a lotion or a gel as they are more hydrating," says Evans. "Mousses are great for normal to oily skin types as they are super lightweight and dry fast, so you don't feel you are wearing any product."
Wipes and sprays can be easier to travel with and also make it possible to apply self-tanner to your back by yourself.
Another factor to consider is if the self-tanner has a guide color, as in a color when you apply it. The guide color lets you easily see where you have applied the product, so you don't miss a spot. But it can also be messy and needs to be washed off in a few hours, which can be inconvenient and may be what stains your sheets. If you are self-confident in your self-tanning skill, you may opt for the convenience of a clear formula while beginners will find the guide color helpful.
Be warned that your self-tanner might also have a greenish-brown tint initially, but that's completely normal for a self-tanner, says Evans. The tanning agent found in all self-tans known as DHA (dihydroxyacetone) will eventually start to go a little green once exposed to oxygen. The second reason is there is a green pigment added to some of the formulas and when applying darker formulas on pale skin tones you will see the product look slightly green for a few minutes. "This is a good sign because it is actually showing us the product is working properly and the vegetable dye is removing any orange hues," Evans says.
Your Questions, Answered
How do I ensure an even application with no streaks?
The key to achieving a beautiful self-tan at home starts before you even apply the product. It's important to slough off dead skin that will soak up more color, so it's best to shave and exfoliate right before. Deodorant and perfume can negatively affect the shade, so you want to apply the product to clean skin. For trouble areas, like elbows, knees, back of the wrists, and heels, that tend to absorb more tanner, Evans recommends applying a moisturizer first. "A layer of moisturizer will help those areas to blend and ensure seamless results."
Using a tanning mitt will prevent your palms from soaking up the tanner and turning orange. After you are done tanning your body, you can take off your mitt, apply some product to the back of one hand and use the other to rub them together to create an even layer. You can also use whatever residue is left on your mitt to apply a layer to the back of your neck and ears. "I always work with a pack of cleansing wipes so I can clean the nails, cuticles, and palms to prevent any unwanted staining."
The most common mistake people make? Not using enough product. "Streaks are made by lack of product. Think of self-tanning like painting a wall: you need to load your brush up properly and not drag paint over a large area as you will see the paint break and create a streak," says Evans. "Just remember you can never use too much self-tanner as your skin can only absorb a certain amount of tanning agent, and the product is formulated to its maximum strength, so all you have to do is cover the skin."
Needless to say, you should wait the specified amount of time for the self-tanner to dry, so avoid sweating, water, and tight clothes as it develops. If you are looking for a reason to be lazy and binge-watch Netflix, here it is.
How do I maintain my tan?
Self-tans inevitably fade, but there are ways to prevent them from disappearing too fast. Sweating and spending excessive time in the water is known for taking off tanners, so if you really want to extend the time avoid intense workouts, long showers, and soaks in the pool. When you do shower, it's best to gently exfoliate to encourage the tan to fade evenly and moisturize afterward. You can always apply a gradual tanning lotion in between tanning sessions to give your color a boost.
How can I remove self-tanner if I mess up?
Mistakes happen and sometimes no matter how careful you are, you end up with a streak. You've probably heard of different remedies like baking soda and lemon juice, but the easiest way to remove the color is a long soak and exfoliation to remove the top layer of skin.
"St. Tropez's Tan Remover Mitt is amazing for buffing off any dark patches while in the shower. If your skin is just uneven, we would recommend a light exfoliation. But if you're talking about a serious disaster—like bright orange palms—you can use something heavy, like hair remover cream, which will remove hair and the top layer of your skin to get rid of the tan," says Evans.
What Is InStyle Picks?
Did you notice the InStyle Picks seal of approval at the top of this story? That means our team of testers has reviewed every product on this list using a unique methodology to ensure it's really worth your time, money, and attention. We may get samples for free to try but we never promise positive (or any!) coverage in exchange. Put simply: InStyle Picks are products we love, and we've put them to the test to be sure you will too.
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