The Best Self-Tanners

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Self-tanning products have come a long way since their humble (and very orange) beginnings. But the at-home method for faking sun-kissed skin can still seem intimidating if you're new to the game (or if you've been burned by streaky, orange tanners in the past). The best self-tanners come in various forms, including lotions, mousses, and drops. The type you choose will largely depend on personal preference, but all of the best formulas contain a few nourishing ingredients to help keep your skin feeling healthy and smooth. Self-tanning first-timers should stick with gradual tan lotions or mousses with guide colors for the body, and drops for the face. Experienced self-tanners, however, might prefer a fast-acting mousse, or may want to round out their collection with a tanning mist, as well.

How To Use Self-Tanner

When it comes to application, you'll want to follow the directions specific to your tanning product, since the method will vary depending on the type of self-tanner you choose. But there are some general rules everyone should abide by before and after using self-tanner. First, you'll want to use an exfoliating product in the shower at least 24 hours before you tan so that you can smooth away any dry patches that the self-tanner would otherwise cling to (you'll especially want to concentrate on areas of the skin that are naturally rough, like the knees, ankles, and elbows). Self-tanner should always be applied on clean, dry skin, though you may want to use a touch of moisturizer on your knees, ankles, elbows, and hands if you're using a mousse formula.

When it comes to applying self-tanner on your body, work in sections beginning with your legs. For your face, stick with lightweight tanning drops — it’s a completely foolproof method.

After your tan has developed, be sure to moisturize your skin daily, and exfoliate every two to three days to ensure that it fades evenly. You also want to remember to apply sunscreen when you're headed outdoors, as self-tanners don’t make your skin less susceptible to sun damage.

Shop The Best Self-Tanners

In a hurry? Here are the best self-tanners:

1. Best Self-Tanning Mousse: Bondi Sands Aero Self Tanning Foam

2. Runner Up: Tanologist Self Tan Mousse

3. Best Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion: Jergens Natural Glow + Firming Daily Moisturizer

4. Best Self-Tanning Drops: + Lux Unfiltered’s N°12 Bronzing Face Drops

5. Best Self-Tanning Drops Under $15: L'Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops

6. Best Self-Tanning Face Mist: St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Face Mist

7. Best Self-Tanning Pads: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pads

1. Editor’s Pick: The Best Self-Tanning Mousse

Bondi Sands Aero Self Tanning Foam comes highly recommended by Bustle’s Executive Beauty Director, Faith Xue, who says, “This is, in short, the best self tanner I've ever used — and I've tried EVERYTHING. What sets this apart is the foam consistently — instead of a watery mousse, it's a dry, frothy foam — like shaving cream — that instantly sinks into the skin when you apply with a mitt. It's so easy to use and doesn't feel sticky — plus, it leaves the most natural-looking golden glow behind. I've gotten many friends hooked."

A few words of caution: You’ll definitely want to use a mitt with this tanner (as is the case with all tanning mousses), and since it dries down quickly, you need to work fast — so it may not be the best option for self-tan beginners.

Available Shades: Light/Medium, Dark, Ultra Dark, Liquid Gold Nourishing Ingredients: Aloe Vera, Glycerin, Vitamin E Size: 6.76 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes

Relevant Review: "I’ve tried every tan on the market and this is the best. No steaks, no orange ankles, hands looked perfect! I moisturised my feet, ankles, elbows and hands before (wiping off excess from my knuckles afterwards) and it was just gorgeous. I gave my legs two layers of tan just for good measure. It lasted for nearly a week without going patchy. Highly recommend. It’s the bomb!”

2. Runner Up

You'll get the maximum color payoff from this tanning mousse in just four hours, but the best part about the Tanologist’s Self Tan Mousse is that it doesn't stain colored clothing or sheets. The mousse is completely clear, so there is a bit of a learning curve if you're used to following a guide color, and it should be applied with a tanning mitt. No matter which of the adaptable shades you choose, all of Tanologist's mousses are loaded with moisturizing ingredients like vitamin B5, aloe vera, and goji berry extract.

Available Shades: Light, Medium, Dark, Extra Dark Nourishing Ingredients: Glycerin, Vitamin B5, Vitamin E, Aloe Vera, Calendula Flower Oil, Grapefruit Extract, Juniper Berry Oil, Goji Berry Extract, Pomegranate Extract, Hydrogenated Castor Oil Size: 6.76 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes

Relevant Review: "[…] This tanner is the best I've ever used. [It] gives you a really nice glow without looking fake or streaky. [It] doesn't leave that awful, lingering fake tan smell, and I love that it's clear so it doesn't rub off on my clothes or sheets. This is my holy grail tanner. Love everything about it."

3. Best Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion

A gradual tanning lotion is a great option for those who are completely new to self-tanning, or for anyone looking for subtle results. The Jergens Natural Glow + Firming Daily Moisturizer adds a hint of color to your skin as you continue to use it (it can be applied daily), and it's formulated with a blend of moisturizing and antioxidant-rich ingredients like coconut oil, algae extract, and green tea leaf extract to keep your skin feeling smooth and firm. If you consider yourself to be super pale, you'll be happy to know that the lotion's fair to medium option (pictured here) won't leave you orange since it was specifically developed with lighter skin tones in mind. And with this lotion, you don't have to worry about self-tanner getting on your clothes or sheets.

Available Shades: Fair To Medium, Medium To Deep Nourishing Ingredients: Glycerin, Coconut Oil, Coconut Water, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Hydrolyzed Elastin, Centella Asiatica Extract, Algae Extract, Green Tea Leaf Extract Size: 7.5 oz. Cruelty-Free: No

Relevant Review: "This product works like a charm. I've been using it for several years and have never found any better. No streaking. Good, natural looking color. Good price. Easy to use. Pleasant scent.”

4. Editor’s Pick: Best Self-Tanning Drops For The Face

Bustle beauty editor Adeline Duff swears by + Lux Unfiltered’s N°12 Bronzing Face Drops for anyone who’s after a subtle effect. She says, “These drops have changed the way I self tan. You mix a few drops in with your favorite moisturizer, and within a day, you’ve got the most gorgeous, natural-looking glow. The brand recommends using anywhere from one to five drops, but even when I’ve gone a bit overboard (i.e., six or seven drops), my tan has still looked completely natural — and I have really pale skin. The clear formula is also completely weightless and unscented, so it doesn’t mess with the integrity of your moisturizer. And as a nice bonus, the brand formulated these drops with hyaluronic acid and several antioxidant-rich botanicals, so you’re reaping skin care benefits while you self tan.”

Nourishing Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid, Coconut water, Passion Fruit Oil, Vitamin E Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: No

Relevant review: “I was skeptical about tanning drops at first but these work so well. I have never had an issue with streaming when I add the drops to face lotion like instructed. It’s the perfect amount of color for a bit of a glow without any redness or an orange tint. Finally, while it’s expensive, the bottle will last you forever. I use quite regularly and have barely made a dent in mine despite having for almost 5 months.”

5. Best Self-Tanning Drops Under $15

If the $46 price tag of + Lux Unfiltered’s bronzing drops is a bit out of your budget, consider these L’Oreal self-tanning drops instead. Like the drops above, these were designed to be mixed in with your moisturizer of choice, and they come with a dropper dispenser so you can control exactly how dark your tan will develop (five to seven drops are recommended for a softer glow and eight to 10 drops will give you a deeper tan). There's no added fragrance in here, either, and it’s also formulated with hyaluronic acid to give your skin a boost of hydration. To get the most natural results, make sure you bring your tan-infused moisturizer down to your neck to fully blend in the color.

Nourishing Ingredients: Glycerin, Hyaluronic Acid Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: No

Relevant Review: "I love this product. I put four drops in my facial cream at night a couple [of] times a week. It gives you just a hint of color and takes away the winter pasty-white complexion. No smell and doesn't make you breakout. Wash [your] hands after you apply it."

6. Best Self-Tanning Mist

I'm partial to St. Tropez in general when it comes to self-tanning products, but this Self Tan Purity Face Mist is the ultimate multi-tasker. The lightweight mist works with your natural skin tone to give you a light to medium glow that develops within eight hours (just don't forget to exfoliate your face first to get even coverage). The spray dispenser makes this completely mess-free, as you don't need to use a mitt or your hands to blend the product in. Though it was designed to be used on your face, it's also a great way to touch up areas like your hands and feet, where self-tanner tends to fade the fastest. Plus, it's infused with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and hibiscus extract.

Nourishing Ingredients: Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Glycerin, Vitamin B5, Hyaluronic Acid, Hibiscus Extract Size: 2.7 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes

Relevant Review: "[…] It's such a fine mist [that] you don't expect it to do much, but it does. I use it on my face, feet, and hands, and I use it as an extra boost to [my] body after using their foam self-tanner when I want to be a tad darker. […]"

7. Best Self-Tanning Pads

Now here’s a cool, lesser-known way to tan your face. Like Dr Dennis Gross’s cult-favorite original Alpha Beta peel, these pads exfoliate your skin using using a blend of salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids to promote a smoother, brighter complexion. But unlike the original pads, these also leave behind a natural-looking glow thanks to a type of encapsulated DHA, which gradually releases color to your skin. Sold in a set of 20, Dr. Dennis Gross’s Alpha Beta Glow Pads can be used a few times a week as your primary self-tanner, or you could alternate with another kind to simultaneously exfoliate and top up your tan.

Nourishing Ingredients: Vitamin D Size: 20 Pads Cruelty-Free: Yes

Relevant Review: "I have been using Dr. Dennis Gross' tanning pads for years. I had tried dozens and they all either gave me no tan OR made me look orange! This is the perfect amount of "sun-kissed." It's subtle so it's not for you if you want to look like you sat in the sun for an hour but it totally doesn't look fake. I love these pads and wouldn't use anything else. Oh, and they are 100% fragrance-free, easy to apply and don't dry out your skin.”

About The Author:

Marissa DeSantis has worked as a beauty writer and editor for nearly 10 years. Her pieces can be found across print and digital publications like Bustle, Evening Standard, Teen Vogue, and InStyle.