What is your skin tone now? If you have fair skin, you'll want to choose a sunless tanner that offers a light shade or promises a gradual tan. If you have darker skin, you may only see noticeable results from a medium/dark shade of tanner. We saw many comments from those with darker skin that they saw absolutely no difference when using a gradual tanner. Spray tanners also seem to work best for darker skin tones, according to experts.
What's your skin type? If your skin is dry, a gel or lotion-based tanner is best, whereas mousses and sprays are better for normal to oily skin. Wipes can work well for most skin types. Many self-tanners now contain a moisturizer.
How much time do you have? All self-tanners take a while to dry, but some are quicker than others. In general, mousse-type tanners dry the most quickly, with lotions and gels a close second. Spray tanners can take quite a while -- 30 minutes to an hour or two. Be sure you have time to dry off before you dress or go to bed or it can wear off on your tan or sheets.
How quickly do you need it? Instant tanners give you a quick burst of color, but they take a few hours to fully develop. Gradual tanners can take days to see results. One quick shortcut is tinted tanners, which can give the impression of darker skin immediately -- though some tints tend to look splotchy or fake before they're washed off. Bronzers give you an immediate glow, but they are temporary and will wash off with your next cleansing.
Are you sensitive to fragrances? We can't stress enough how many different reactions we see to the scents in self-tanners. We suggest that if you have any sensitivities to scent that you sniff before you settle.
Although some drugstore self-tanners are highly affordable, most of the top self-tanners are a bit pricey per ounce, especially when you consider how much you have to use to cover your entire body. In addition, what works great for one person may turn another orange -- or the fragrance may be unbearable. One way to be sure that you don't end up with your self-tanner collecting dust in the bathroom cupboard is to request sample sizes. Almost every department store brand has sample sizes available; this can help keep you from paying top price for something you can't use.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best reviewed self-tanners: Whether you want a gradual tan or need to brighten up your look before the sun goes down, these are the top lotions, gels, sprays and powders for the face and body.
Best Self-Tanners: Super easy to apply, lotion, gel, foam and towelette self-tanners will give you a beautiful glow in an instant or over a few days. They come in a range of shades, too, for every skin type.
Best spray tan: Experts agree: spray tans give you the best coverage, offer lasting color, and look very natural. These are the top choices for spray-on self-tanners.
Best self-tanners for the face: Adding a hint of color to your complexion will brighten everyone's day. These are the best self-tanners and bronzers for your face and décolleté.
Our Sources: These are the expert and user reviews and recommendations we used to find the best self-tanners. They are ranked in order of credibility and usefulness.