We did the legwork to find out which self-tanners promise the most believable bronze from a bottle.
James Read Coconut Melting Tanning Balm
The Claim: With organic coconut oil and DHA (the sugar that reacts with proteins in skin to create color), this clear balm smooths on like butter and gives you a streak-free tan in eight hours, no rinsing required.
Expert Take: “It smelled sweet, more like Almond Joy than coconut, but it’s subtle,” says Anna Stankiewicz, a celebrity spray-tan artist in New York City. “It’s hard to know if you’re rubbing it in evenly—use the sheen as your guide. Wait 20 minutes before getting dressed, since it takes time to absorb. It took two applications before I noticed color, which is typical of gradual formulas.”
Bottom Line: If you have dry skin and want a natural, buildable tan, this is your balm.
To buy: $35; jamesreadtan.com.
St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mist
The Claim: The company’s fastest formula now comes in a mist with a nozzle you can spray at any angle (even upside down). Leave it on for one to three hours, depending on your desired color, then rinse. Eight hours later, you’ll have a tan.
Expert Take: “When spraying it, you have to keep moving the can to prevent splotches and use a blending mitt to avoid streaks,” says Stankiewicz. “I like that you see the color as you’re applying it, so you don’t miss any spots. I left it on for three hours before rinsing, and in eight hours, I had a natural-looking tan.”
Bottom Line: If you can’t stand the lingering smell or feeling of lotions, this mist gives results—but you need to be meticulous when applying.
To buy: $40; sephora.com.
Tan-Luxe Hydra Mousse
The Claim: Available in light to medium and medium to dark, this clear whipped foam packs nourishing raspberry seed oil and vitamins B5, C, and E and delivers a believable glow in four to six hours. (You can shower after four.)
Expert Take: “It has a slight grapefruit scent and is easy to apply. Mousse is my favorite formula because it blends into the skin evenly," says Stankiewicz. "It dries quickly; I was able to get dressed in two minutes. In about seven hours, I noticed a subtle glow one shade darker than my natural, fair skin tone. It took a few applications to develop a darker tan.”
Bottom Line: If you’re a self-tanning novice, a foam is the most foolproof way to prevent orange zebra streaks.
To buy: $57; ulta.com.