We Tested Nearly 30 Self Tanners — These 6 Won’t Leave You Orange
Credit: Ulta/ InStyle

We Tested Nearly 30 Self Tanners — These 6 Won't Leave You Orange

Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam gives that rich tan you crave.
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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.

The Winners

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Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam
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Best Overall: Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam

View at Ulta ($17-$24)

What We Love: This foam delivers a deep, realistic tan that lasts. 

What We Don't Love: The guide color can be a little off-putting.

To achieve the best self tan, you need to prep the skin first, and this self tanner from Bondi makes it easy. First, you use the brand's mitt to exfoliate your skin and then use the other side to apply the product, avoiding those telltale orange palms. Our tester used the tanner before bed and despite the guide color, it didn't stain her sheets or clothes. She appreciated how easy it was to apply and how it left her skin feeling smooth. 

The formula features hydrating aloe vera and a pleasant—but not overwhelming—coconut scent. After rinsing off the product the next morning, you'll be left with a rich, realistic tan. "It was deep brown without looking artificial or fake. Plus, it wasn't orange at all and blended well into my skin," our tester said. She tried the dark formula but it also comes in light/medium for those who want a lighter tan. Her tan lasted about a week and faded evenly without any blotchiness. 

Formula: Mousse | Size: 7 oz | Developing Time: 1-6 hours

St. Moriz Professional Fast Tanning Mousse
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Best Value: St. Moriz Professional Fast Tanning Mousse

View at Ulta ($10-$14)

What We Love: This product gives you a natural looking tan in just a few hours.

What We Don't Love: It has a strong self tanner smell.

For those who want to use self tanner consistently without breaking the bank, this version from St. Moriz is for you. While drugstore self tanners tend to be gradual, this one gives you a tan in one to three hours. Our tester said the foam felt buttery and was very easy to spread over her skin. Despite the guide color, it didn't transfer to the robe she was wearing while the color developed. "This tan looks extremely natural. I did not experience any streaking or blotches," says our tester. 

Our tester did note that the formula does have a strong tropical scent straight from the bottle which later turns into the classic self tanner smell. Yet showering off the product and applying a moisturizer easily covered up the scent. The formula also contains olive milk and vitamin E to nourish the skin. The color faded evenly, leaving our tester's skin glowing even a week after application. "Overall, this tan was very comparable to its more expensive counterparts," says our tester. "It was very easy to spread, making it ideal for beginners who may not know how to apply fake tan well."

Formula: Mousse | Size: 6.76 oz | Developing Time: 1-3 hours

Loving Tan 2 HR Express Self Tanning Mousse Dark
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Best Express: Loving Tan 2 HR Express Self Tanning Mousse Dark

View at Ulta ($42-$60)

What We Love: This mousse gives you a tropical tan in two hours.

What We Don't Love: It can streak if you aren't skilled at applying self tanner.

Most self tanners take at least one night to give you a noticeable tan, but sometimes you need to be bronze ASAP. This formula leaves you tan in as little as two hours. The foam is lightweight and spreads easily, but our tester warns you have to work quickly since it can streak if you don't buff it out. She found it easiest to apply with a mitt, which also protects your hands from orange palms. The product did not stain her clothes while developing and she even enjoyed the fragrance. "The black walnut extract and aloe give this formula a fresh and tropical scent," says our tester. "Right out of the bottle, you'll notice it — and I love it!"

Our tester showered off the product to reveal a streak-free, realistic dark tan. 

"Just got back from Cabo—sike! But who would know? I achieved an even fake tan without streaks, splotches, or patches," says our tester. "As the week went on the color faded evenly, and immaculately back to my skin color."

For experienced self tanners like our tester, this product gives you the rich results you want with almost no down time.

Formula: Mousse | Size: 4-6.7 oz | Developing Time: 2 hours

Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer
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Best Gradual: Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer

View at Amazon ($10)

What We Love: It's hard to mess up this no-fuss gradual tanner.

What We Don't Love: The color is a little more orange than other self tanners.

Jergens has been in the self tanner game for a while, and their gradual self tanner is consistently named one of the best. The white, creamy formula feels just like a regular lotion, spreading easily and absorbing quickly into the skin. With no guide color and a subtle floral fragrance, it's one of the few self tanners you could actually put on and go without worrying about any mishaps. 

Our tester applied it at night and woke up to skin that didn't reek of self tanner and was definitely more glowy than the day before. Even more impressive, she didn't have any streaks or orange palms, despite applying the product directly with bare hands. As a gradual self tanner, the product is meant to give you noticeable color when applied consistently for a few days in a row. Compared to faster acting formulas, the color from Jergens is more of a sunny glow than a cool-toned bronze. Our tester was using it in between classic self tanners and found it to be a good way to revive the color. "I've been using Jergens for years, and while it's not my go-to product when I want a dark tan overnight, I like to use it in between to maintain the color," she said."Sometimes you don't have the time or energy to apply self tanner meticulously and this product is so quick and easy to use."

Whether you would rather use a lotion to build a subtle tan or want a product for in between self tanning sessions, Jergens is an affordable, fool-proof option.

Formula: Lotion | Size: 7.5 oz | Developing Time: 6-8 hours

James Read H20 Face Mist
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Best Face: James Read H20 Face Mist

View at Amazon ($28)

What We Love: This spray-and-go formula gives your face a lasting tan.

What We Don't Love: It may be too subtle for some. 

While technically you can use a body self tanner on your face, tanning experts recommend using a formula made specifically for the face as it will work better with your skin's pH and won't clog pores. Out of all the facial self tanners we tested, this mist from James Read earned a perfect score. Our tester loved how easy it was to apply, likening it to a setting spray. It also has witch hazel to prevent breakouts and rose oil and aloe to moisturize. Since it didn't have a strong scent or need to be showered off, our tester applied makeup after it dried and went out to the movies. Leaving the theater two hours later, she had a noticeable tan that wasn't overly dark or spotty. 

With all the facial cleansing and products we put on our face, self tanners tend to fade faster there. Yet this one lasted more than four days, looking as good as when our tester first applied it. "This mist creates a beautiful face tan within just a few hours and stays that way for days — even through makeup applications and washes," says our tester. She's never going back to using a body tanner on her face again. 

Formula: Mist | Size: 3.3 oz | Developing Time: 6-8 hours

Tan Towel Self Tan Towelette
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Best Wipes: Tan Towel Self Tan Towelette

View at Amazon ($30)

What We Love: These wipes give you a nice glow in a mess-free package.

What We Don't Love: They don't give you a deep tan. 

If you want a tanner you can pack in your suitcase, portable (and TSA-friendly) wipes like these from Tan Towel are the way to go. Each individually wrapped wipe is large enough to cover your entire body, using circular motions for an even application. The product goes on clear and our tester said there is a mild, yet nice, self tanner smell. Our tester admitted she had low expectations for this product, following some negative experiences with self tanning wipes in the past, but she was pleasantly surprised to find that she ended up with no streaks. The resulting color was more of a glow than a true tan, but our tester had no complaints: "It brought my skin to life from its normal shade of pasty white. It's ideal for cold weather months when you maybe don't want it to look so obvious that you have a fake tan on." 

Since it was a subtle tan, our tester didn't really notice it fading and said the color lasted a decent amount of time, about three to four days before she thought of reapplying. Similar to a gradual self tanner, these wipes would be great for maintaining a deeper tan, especially when traveling. Wipes also make it easier to apply self tanner to your back, which is a lifesaver when solo. "I really liked this, and I think it made me way less afraid of using wipe tanners because it truly left no streaks," says our tester. "I have no complaints about this product and would absolutely use it again to achieve a nice glow."

Formula: Wipes | Size: 10 wipes | Developing Time: 2-4 hours

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

Shade

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."

Speed

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.

Formula

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. 

Guide Color 

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. 

Want more product recommendations? From best-in-class concealer to the black pants you need for work, check out all of our InStyle Picks content