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Self Tanner Reviews

By: Angela Stringfellow on May 23, 2017

Editor's note:
For results that rival a professional spray tan, L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Pro Perfect still reigns supreme. If you can't get the hang of using a spray, St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse is a long-time favorite. For a temporary, wash-off glow, Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer is a standout performer, and for touch ups or refreshing a fading tan, try Tan Towel Self Tan Towelettes.

L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Type – Instant Formula – Spray Available shades – Medium natural, deep natural

Best spray tan

L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Pro Perfect is the top choice of several experts as a great home spray tanner. In professional tests it produces a quick, natural-looking color and goes on smoothly and easily. It does require some practice -- and most experts say having another person to help apply it is even better. The wide, 360 degree applicator earns particular raves and speeds up the tanning process, users say. It also dries quickly. L'Oreal Sublime Bronze comes in two shades, medium natural and deep natural.

Buy for $9.47
St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Type – Instant Formula – Mousse Available shades – Classic, Dark

Best tanning lotion

St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse is a consistent hit among users and experts, who say the company's new and improved formula knocks it out of the park. It dries fast, tans skin evenly, and, unlike many other self-tanners, has a pleasant smell that users describe as floral. The easy-to-apply foam provides a natural, realistic-looking tan without leaving any streaks. For best results, rub it on with the St. Tropez Applicator Mitt (Est. $7) [B00JIM55MY] (sold separately) to avoid over-tanned palms.

Buy for $42.00
Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Type – Instant Formula – Bronzer Available shades – Light, medium, dark

Best bronzer

For a temporary, healthy glow that washes off like makeup, reviewers love Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer. It's easy to apply, blends well and looks natural.  It works for both bronzing and contouring, and it doesn't leave your skin feeling cakey like some products can. Users love its matte finish and rich, chocolate scent. Too Faced Matte Bronzer comes in three shades: Milk Chocolate (for light to medium skin), Chocolate Soleil (for medium to deep skin) and Dark Chocolate (for deep to tan skin).

Buy for $19.74
Tan Towel Self Tan Towelette
Also Consider
Specs that Matter Type – Instant Available shades – Classic, Plus Formula – Towelette

Tanning towelettes

The Tan Towel Self Tan Towelette Classic couldn't be simpler to use – simply rub the towelette over the areas of skin you want to tan, allow it to dry, and wait for the color to develop. Reviewers say these towelettes are convenient for touching up or refreshing a streaky or fading tan, and as long as you apply the product evenly, you'll get a smooth, consistent and natural-looking tan. Tan Towel offers two shades, as well as a towelette designed specifically for the face.

Buy for $24.00

Types of Self Tanners

Spray Tanners

Spray tanning products can be self-applied or done professionally in a tanning salon. They take a bit longer to dry than a mousse, but promise full-body, even color with a quick application. Many experts say this type of application has the steepest learning curve, and several note that, for best results, having a friend spray it on is helpful. Still, when done right, spray tans look the most natural and smooth.

Tanning Lotions/Gels

Lotions, gels and oils are considered the easiest to apply, making them a particularly good option for first timers. Because they dry slowly, you have a little extra leeway in wiping or washing off any misplaced product. The downside of that slow drying time is that you can't put clothing on for 10 to 30 minutes while the product soaks in. Lotions and gels are usually best for normal to dry skin, but that will depend on the specific formula.


Cosmetic bronzers can be used to warm up your complexion and give your face a healthy glow, and many users also use bronzers for highlighting and contouring. Like regular makeup, bronzers wash off at the end of the day, and they come in powder, gel, spray and stick formulations. Some experts say bronzers can make you look thinner, but they recommend going no more than two shades darker than your natural skin tone if you're a bronzer novice.

Tanning Wipes

Tanning wipes, which are individually-packaged towelettes doused in tanning solution, are best for spot treatments (like sprucing up tan lines) or refreshing a fading tan. Thanks to their portability, they're popular for travel, and they're generally easy to use -- simply wipe it on and let it dry. That said, like all self-tanners, you do need to be careful when applying them (particularly for tricky areas like the knees, elbows and ankles) to avoid streaking and blotchiness.

Self-tanners give you a healthy glow without UV exposure

Unless you've been hiding under a soundproof beach umbrella for the past decade or so, you probably know that experts say tanning is a bad idea, whether it's a "real" suntan, or one you get in a tanning booth. On the medical side, sun exposure can contribute to several kinds of skin cancer. On the beauty side, it can cause wrinkles.

It's hard news to swallow because almost everyone looks better with a nice tan.

The good news is that self-tanners can help you maintain a beautiful, healthy glow all year without the potentially unhealthy exposure to harmful UV rays. Self-tanners are available as lotions, gels, foams, sprays and towelettes. Regardless of the formula or application style, all work in essentially the same way: by staining the outermost surface of the skin with dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and erythrulose, both of which are safe for use on the skin.

Some tanners work gradually, with a very low concentration of DHA (this also means they typically have less of that telltale self-tanner scent) and are applied daily to build up a tan slowly. Results from gradual tanners aren't as immediate, but because they're applied over several sessions, it's harder to noticeably mess them up. In addition, many people prefer to subtly increase their skin tone, so it's not such a startling, sudden change in appearance.

Instant tanners, on the other hand, are the way to go if you want to create a tanned appearance quickly. In reality, all sunless tanners -- even so-called instant tanners -- take a minimum of a few hours to fully develop, but some types speed up the process by including a tint or bronzer. The tint will wash off as soon as you shower, but, in the meantime, it acts as a guide for application and offers instant gratification -- and color.

The nose knows

We cannot discuss sunless tanners without mentioning the smell. All sunless-tanning products have a distinct odor associated with them, caused by DHA. DHA is a derivative of sugar that reacts with dead skin cells, permanently coloring the cells right at the surface of the skin.

DHA has its own unique scent, but the odor of a given product will vary depending upon the amount of DHA it contains, as well as other ingredients that are part of its formula. One of the biggest contradictions we saw when researching self-tanning products was when it came to rating the smell. The same product that some don't notice a particularly strong odor in, or that they describe as "pleasant," might send other users straight to the shower to wash off the "offensive stench."

Odor issues aside, DHA is perfectly safe for skin, but that doesn't mean sunless tanners are completely free of ingredient list scrutiny. Like most cosmetics, there's increasing consumer interest in "natural" products that either avoid potentially harmful ingredients like parabens or fragrances, or add ingredients like shea butter and plant oils to moisturize and condition skin.

Whichever type of sunless tanner you choose, it's important to remember that your bronzed skin won't offer you any protection from harmful UV rays. Check out our report on sunscreens to prevent sunburn and sun damage. And it's also important to take care of your delicate skin in other ways. To help with that we also have separate reports where we recommend the best facial cleansers, facial moisturizers, wrinkle creams and body lotions.

Finding The Best Self Tanners
Our Sources
"Faking It: The Best Self-Tanners"
"Best self-tanners under the sun"

There are a lot of excellent, expert sources for beauty products, and self-tanners are no exception. Beautypedia.com and ConsumerReports.org offer comprehensive reviews of self-tanning products along with helpful background information on the subject of self-tanning. We also consulted the beauty product awards and roundups from sources such as Good Housekeeping, Allure.com, TotalBeauty.com, Elle.com, RealSimple.com and Cosmopolitan.com, because they study beauty and they know what works for their customers and readers.

Beauty product retail sites like Ulta.com and Sephora.com are invaluable in gauging real-world results from these self-tanners. Users posting on those sites tend to be very knowledgeable about beauty products, including specific ingredients and how they work, and their input is often sharp and focused.

We also found thousands of helpful user reviews for self-tanning sprays, lotions, bronzers and other self-tanning products at Amazon.com.  

We used all of these review sources to get an idea of how well each self-tanner performed (essentially, whether it provided natural-looking results and worked gradually or instantly, as promised), how easy or difficult it was to apply, how it feels on skin -- and how it smells, of course. One of these top products is sure to get your glow on.

The best spray tanners

There's no doubt about it: A professional spray tan is the ultimate in fake tans. Self-tanners in spray formula can give you the look of a professional tan in the privacy of your home, saving you money in the long run. Experts say spray formulas take longer to dry and have a greater learning curve when it comes to applying them properly, but once you get the hang of it, spray self-tanners offer a smooth, even color appearance. However, if you prefer something more subtle, or don't want to have to deal with figuring out how to use a spray tanner, see our discussion of tanning lotions and bronzers elsewhere in this report. There, we recommend easy-to-apply lotions, gels, foams, bronzers and towelettes.

The one spray tan we see that gets the most raves is L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Pro Perfect (Est. $10 for 4.6 oz.). Professional testers say it results in a natural-looking tan with very few reports of any odd, orange or green undertones. Most users agree, saying they love the professional spray tan vibe it gives them.

There's a learning curve to getting perfect results -- it's important to spray evenly and avoid spraying the same area twice to avoid streaks and uneven color, for instance -- but most say that once you've mastered the technique, using L'Oreal Sublime Bronze is quick and easy. It also dries more quickly than most spray tanners, users add. That said, to get best results, at least initially, you may want to involve a friend. Those who use the buddy system report more satisfaction with this spray tanner than those who try to go it alone. The Pro Perfect's wide, 360-degree spray nozzle earns kudos from users and professionals alike for producing a fine, targeted mist without a lot of overspray.

L'Oreal Sublime Bronze supplies an instant tan, but it also darkens in a few hours. You can reapply multiple coats for even more color, but most users caution against more than two coats, saying it can cake or flake if you lay it on too thick. The color lasts a good amount of time -- several days at least - although it may lighten after a shower or two. As with all self-tanners, reviews on the perceived pleasant -- or not so pleasant -- scent are mixed.

Neutrogena Micro Mist Airbrush Sunless Tanning Spray (Est. $9 for 5.3 oz.) is a favorite among beauty editors, earning praise in reviews at Elle.com, RealSimple.com and Allure.com. It's non-comedogenic and won't block pores, which is a plus if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin.

Like L'Oreal Sublime Bronze, Neutrogena Micro Mist produces a fine mist that users say creates even, streak-free coverage when applied correctly, which, as with all spray tanners, can be tricky. The nozzle sprays at any angle to make it easier to spray tough-to-reach areas like your back. It's designed to be a no-rub application, but a few reviewers say that they had to rub it in to get even coverage, a process that left stubborn stains on their hands.

Some users say Neutrogena Micro Mist has a subtle, fresh scent, but others say it smells "weird." However, the scent doesn't linger as it can with some self-tanning products. It comes in two shades: Medium Tint and Deep Tint, but several users recommend opting for the darker shade, even if you're fair-skinned, as they didn't notice much, if any, color after using the Medium Tint formulation.

Sephora Collection Tinted Self-Tanning Body Mist (Est. $18 for 5 oz.) is the top-rated self-tanner at Sephora.com, where it earns praise from hundreds of users. It comes in a single shade, but has a light tint that bronzes skin instantly so you can see where you've already applied it. Unlike Neutrogena Micro Mist Airbrush Sunless Tan, Sephora Collection Tinted Self-Tanning Body Mist does require you to blend it into the skin with your hands for more even coverage, but users say it washes right off of their palms.

Reviewers say the Sephora spray tanner creates an even, streak-free, natural-looking color without the dreaded orange tint. A few users complain that the can is leaky, making it messy to use, and it has a strong, typical self-tanner scent that sticks around even after showering.

Elsewhere In This Report
Recently Updated
Self Tanners buying guide

What every best Self Tanners has:

  • Gives you a natural tone.
  • Covers evenly.
  • Applies easily

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