The 10 Best Self-Tanners of 2023

We like the St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse for its lightweight, moisturizing, and long-lasting formula.

In This Article

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Three of the Best Self-Tanners on a pink background

RS / Amazon

Self-tanner is the best way to get that post-vacation glow without risking sun damage. But knowing what products to pick and how to apply them can be daunting. 

We researched the best self-tanners, looking at products with different formulations, shades, and development times. We also spoke to Natalia Radosz, a spray tan technician and founder of Glow 2 Go NYC, for insight on what ingredients to look for in a self-tanner, what shade to pick, and how to avoid common self-tanning mistakes

Radosz says it’s important to look for a product with moisturizing ingredients: “Self-tanners can dry out your skin, so making sure there is something to put moisture back in your skin is important.”

Our top pick is the St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse, a lightweight formula that provides a medium bronze glow for up to 10 days. It also contains moisturizing ingredients like jojoba oil and vitamin E.

Best Overall Self-Tanner

St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse

4.5
St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse

Amazon

Who it’s for: People who want a natural looking and long-lasting sunless tan. 

Who it’s not for: People who want an instant self-tanner. 

This lightweight tanning mousse contains jojoba oil and other skin-friendly ingredients like tocopherol (vitamin E) and glycerin, which can help moisturize the skin. It also contains fragrance, so you won’t encounter any “fake tan smell” from the active chemical (dihydroxyacetone, also known as DHA). The St. Tropez brand uses a 100 percent vegan version of DHA, derived from plant sources like wheat and rapeseed. 

For sunless tanning success, the brand recommends exfoliating before application and waiting four to eight hours before rinsing off. Once you’ve finished applying the tanner, you can enjoy the results for up to 10 days. In addition to the classic shade, St. Tropez’s bronzing mousse is also available in dark and extra-dark versions. 

Price at time of publish: $42

Product Details:

  • Type: Mousse
  • Shades: Classic, dark, and extra-dark
  • Development Time: 6-8 hours
  • Size: 8 ounces

Best Drugstore Self-Tanner

L'Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Tinted Self-Tanning Lotion

L'Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Tinted Self-Tanning Lotion

Amazon

Who it’s for: People who want an affordable self-tanning lotion that gives a subtle glow. 

Who it’s not for: People who don’t want any shimmer in their self-tanner. 

If you want a self-tanner you can pick up at the drugstore, this one from L’Oreal is worth a try. The lightweight lotion is available in medium and deep tones, and gives your skin an immediate shimmery glow that develops further over a few hours. The product comes in a squeeze tube, and the lightweight lotion is easy to apply. 

The sulfate-free formula also contains an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) derivative, which can brighten your complexion and improve skin texture by helping remove dead skin cells. 

Price at time of publish: $11

Product Details:

  • Type: Lotion
  • Shades: Medium and deep
  • Development Time: 2-4 hours 
  • Size: 5 ounces

Best Instant Self-Tanner

b.tan Tanned AF Ultra Dark Self-Tanner

b.tan Tanned AF Ultra Dark Self-Tanner

Amazon

Who it’s for: People who want an instant self-tanning mousse that comes in a wide variety of shades. 

Who it’s not for: People who want their tan to develop gradually. 

When you don’t want to wait several hours for a sunless tan to develop, instant self-tanners are the way to go. This product comes in five different shades with fun names, ranging from “fake it til you make it” (the lightest offering) to “I want the darkest tan possible” (self-explanatory). The 100 percent vegan formula, which contains DHA derived from sugar cane, is cruelty-free and palm oil-free. 

This self-tanner also contains argan oil, macadamia seed oil, coconut oil, jojoba seed oil, and other botanical oils and extracts. Vitamin C and tocopheryl (vitamin E) add to the list of skin-friendly ingredients to help brighten and moisturize. 

Price at time of publish: $15

Product Details:

  • Type: Mousse
  • Shades (From Lightest to Darkest): fake it til you make it, too tan to give a damn, love at first tan, tanned AF, i want the darkest tan possible
  • Development Time: 1 hour; leave on for 4+ hours for darker results
  • Size: 6.7 ounces

Best Gradual Self-Tanner

Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Glow Drops

Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Drops

Sephora

Who it’s for: People who want self-tanning drops they can add to another product for a gradual glow. 

Who it’s not for: People who want a standalone self-tanner that works right away. 

These self-tanning drops are designed to be mixed in with a moisturizer, facial serum, lotion, or foundation. The color develops after four to six hours, and you can customize your glow by adjusting the number of drops you use for a super gradual tan. 

Ingredients include glycerin, avocado oil, coconut oil, aloe vera extract, and chia seeds to hydrate and condition your skin. You’d typically use between one and 12 drops per application, so one ounce of the product can last a long time. 

Price at time of publish: $32

Product Details:

  • Type: Drops
  • Shades: Light, Medium, Dark
  • Development Time: 4-6 hours
  • Size: 1 ounce

Best Self-Tanner for Face

Bondi Sands Pure Self Tanning Face Mist

Bondi Sands Pure Self Tanning Face Mist

Amazon

Who it’s for: People who want a gentle self-tanner for the face. 

Who it’s not for: People who want a self-tanning lotion for full-body use. 

When you’re applying self-tanner to your face, you probably want a gentle product that goes on easily. This self-tanner comes in a spray bottle—to use, simply mist four to six pumps of the product all over your face before blending it in with a mitt. The color develops over six to eight hours, and you don’t need to rinse it off. 

This fragrance-, dye-, and sulfate-free formula contains hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E to help hydrate and brighten your skin. The products in the Bondi Sands Pure line have been dermatologist-tested and are safe for sensitive skin. 

Price at time of publish: $23

Product Details:

  • Type: Mist
  • Shades: One shade for all skin tones
  • Development Time: 6+ hours
  • Size: 2.4 ounces

Best Self-Tanner for Legs

Coola Organic Sunless Tan Firming Lotion

Coola Sunless Tan Firming Lotion

Amazon

Who it’s for: People who want a rich lotion to use on their legs and body. 

Who it’s not for: People who prefer a lightweight formula. 

This self-tanner is a rich lotion, making it ideal to use on skin that needs extra hydration. Safflower seed oil, shea butter, and jojoba seed oil help moisturize your skin, while caffeine tightens skin and makes it appear brighter. 

The color in this single-shade product is designed to develop over several days, but the brand recommends mixing this lotion with another moisturizer before applying if you want a more subtle glow. 

Price at time of publish: $46

Product Details:

  • Type: Lotion
  • Shades: One shade for all skin tones
  • Development Time: 2-4 hours
  • Size: 6 ounces

Best Self-Tanner for Beginners

Jergens Natural Glow Firming Moisturizer

Jergens Natural Glow + Firming Daily Moisturizer

Amazon

Who it’s for: People who are new to self-tanning or people with fair skin.

Who it’s not for: People who want a more concentrated self-tanner for quick results.

Don’t know where to start in the world of self-tanner? This product is a daily body moisturizer and gradual self-tanner all in one, which can help give you some gentle color over time. It takes days for the color to develop, so you won’t run the risk of accidentally overdoing it. 

Ingredients include collagen and elastin to support skin elasticity, as well as glycerin and coconut water to moisturize. The product is dermatologist-tested, paraben-free, and cruelty-free. Per Jergens, you can apply once daily in place of your usual body lotion. 

Price at time of publish: $13

Product Details:

  • Type: Lotion
  • Shades: Fair to medium, medium to deep
  • Development Time: Several days 
  • Size: 7.5 ounces

Best Natural Self-Tanner

Bondi Sands Pure Gradual Tanning Lotion

Bondi Sands Pure Gradual Tanning Lotion

Amazon

Who it’s for: People who want a gradual self-tanner with natural ingredients. 

Who it’s not for: People who want an instant self-tan. 

This fragrance-free, vegan self-tanner is free from dyes, synthetic fragrances, and sulfates. It’s dermatologist-tested and non-comedogenic. Plus, all the plastic used in the packaging is 100 percent recyclable. 

Ingredients include hyaluronic acid and aloe vera extract for hydration, vitamin C to help brighten your skin, and vitamin E for skin barrier support. 

Price at time of publish: $22

Product Details:

  • Type: Lotion
  • Shades: One shade for all skin tones 
  • Development Time: Natural glow will develop in 1-3 applications
  • Size: 6.8 ounces

Best Self-Tanner for Sensitive Skin

Beauty by Earth Self Tanning Lotion

Beauty by Earth Self Tanning Lotion

Amazon

Who it’s for: People who want a self-tanner that’s formulated with plant-based ingredients and safe for sensitive skin. 

Who it’s not for: People who would rather use a mousse or spray formula. 

If you have sensitive skin, you want skincare products that won’t cause further irritation or redness. This self-tanner contains aloe vera, shea butter, and coconut oil for hydration, as well as witch hazel to help address skin irritation. 

Per the brand, the ingredients are safe for sensitive skin—but you should always do a patch test first to ensure you don’t react poorly to a new product. 

Price at time of publish: $33

Product Details:

  • Type: Lotion
  • Shades: Fair to medium, medium to dark
  • Development Time: 6-8 hours
  • Size: 7.5 ounces

Best Gel Self-Tanner

Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel

Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel

Nordstrom

Who it’s for: People who want a quick-drying self-tanner that can be applied immediately before an event. 

Who it’s not for: People who want to build a subtle tan over time. 

This gel formula is free from silicones, sulfates, parabens, and phthalates. It’s lightweight and absorbs quickly, so you can get dressed right after applying it. Plus, it can be used on your body or your face. 

It also contains Clarins signature Self Tan Complex, which “combines DHA + Erythrulose, two 100-percent naturally sourced plant sugars, to produce a natural-looking tanned appearance on the skin's surface.” Per the brand, DHA works quickly for an instant glow, while erythrulose contributes a more gradual color development over time. 

Price at time of publish: $42

Product Details:

  • Type: Gel
  • Shades: One shade for all skin tones
  • Development Time: Instant 
  • Size: 4.4 ounces

Final Verdict

Our top pick is the St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse. The lightweight mousse formula contains moisturizing ingredients like jojoba oil and glycerin, along with vitamin E to support your skin’s barrier. The color develops in just four to eight hours, and the results last up to 10 days. 

How to Shop for Self-Tanner Like a Pro

Type 

Overwhelmed by all the different types of self-tanner available? Every product is different, but here are some general things to know:

  • Mousse products typically dry very quickly, and can provide more instant results. 
  • Self-tanning lotions and gels will probably contain moisturizing ingredients to help nourish your skin, and can take a bit longer to dry. Lotions may also give you a more gradual self tan. 
  • Self-tanning drops are great for a small surface area like your face, but can lead to uneven results on your body. They are often more concentrated, meaning a bottle lasts a long time, and you can mix them with other products like lotions, serums, or even foundation. 
  • Mists and sprays can deliver a quick and concentrated tan to a small area (such as the face), but it can be difficult to achieve an even tan when using them for your full body. 

Ingredients 

The ingredient in self-tanners that actually makes you tan is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). It does so by reacting with amino acids in your skin, temporarily creating more pigment. The reaction can cause an unpleasant “fake tan smell,” especially if you’re applying a darker shade with a higher level of DHA. You can look for self-tanners that contain fragrance or botanical extracts to combat any unwanted aromas. Plus, people with sensitive skin might want to start out by trying lighter self-tanning shades that contain lower levels of DHA, just to see if the products cause any irritation. 

Another thing to consider: moisturizing ingredients. Products that contain aloe vera, oils, glycerin, or hyaluronic acid can help keep your skin supple and prevent it from drying out. 

Shades

Knowing what shade to use can be a matter of trial and error. “I personally like using a lighter color and adding more if needed,” says Radosz. “Self-tanners can be tricky to apply if you aren't an experienced self-tanner. Start with a lighter shade which will look good on everyone.” 

Development Time

Self-tanners usually fall into one of three development time categories: Instant, a few hours, or a few days. The right option for you depends on your personal preferences. If you need to look tan in a hurry, something with an instant development time would be ideal. If you’re looking for a next-day glow, a four-to-eight-hour development time will work. And if you’re just looking for a general bronzing, a gradual self-tanning lotion that you can keep reapplying every few days will be a good pick. 

Questions You Might Ask

How often should you apply self-tanner?

As often as you want or need to! Provided the product you’re using doesn’t irritate your skin, it’s fine to reapply whenever you want more color. 

Can you use a self-tanner on your face?

Yes! Radosz recommends looking for a non-comedogenic formula (meaning it won’t clog your pores), or a product specifically designed for your face. Don’t forget to keep wearing sunscreen on your face, too. 

How long does self-tanner last?

This depends on a number of factors, from the product’s ingredients to how often you moisturize and exfoliate. Generally speaking, Radosz says, a sunless tan can last anywhere from five days to as long as two weeks. To make your sunless tan last longer, make sure to exfoliate before application, moisturize regularly, and use a waterproof SPF if you’re doing a lot of swimming or sweating. 

Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Nina Bahadur, a writer with over 10 years of experience covering health, beauty, lifestyle, and home topics. She spent hours researching dozens of different self-tanner options, and received expert insight from Natalia Radosz, a spray tan technician and the founder of Glow 2 Go NYC, a fully mobile spray tan business. 

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