Types of Self Tanners
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 recommend having a friend spray it on for the best
results. When done right, spray tans look the most natural and smooth.
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.
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.
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.
testers say (Est. $11 for 4.6 oz.) 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. Skincare experts at Beautypedia give it four stars, noting that
it's an alcohol-free formula that's suitable for all skin types except
sensitive. It contains the same skin-darkening ingredient found in most tanning
lotions: dihydroxyacetone (DHA), although it does contain fragrance chemicals
that may cause irritation in some users.
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 reviewers 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
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.
If you're looking for
tanner legs, Beautypedia's experts rave about (Est. $13 for 4.4 oz.), giving it a perfect 5-star
rating. It's marketed as "leg makeup," and for good reason -- it works much
like airbrush makeup, instantly leaving your legs with a tanned glow. It's also
useful for covering up imperfections, such as skin discolorations or varicose
veins. Editors say it dries quickly, so you need to apply it quickly to avoid
streaks, but once dry, it won't rub off on your clothing or fade or smear when
walking, crossing your legs or even taking a dip in the pool.
Like most spray tans,
Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs can be tricky to apply at first, but users say you
don't need to worry about sporting streaky legs for days -- it washes off
easily with soap and water or body wash. Users say it looks natural and, while
it's intended for use on the legs, several say they've used it on their chest,
shoulders, back and other areas of the body as well. Some even report using it
on their neck and face, noting that it doesn't clog pores or irritate sensitive
skin. That said, we read a few complaints from users who say -- contrary to the
experience of Beautypedia's editors -- that it can rub off on clothing and
upholstery. This spray tan creates a bit of a shimmery look -- some reviewers
describe it as sparkly or glittery -- that some users love and others hate.
If you can't stand the
scent of other self-tanners, the perfume-free (Est. $45 for 3.4 oz.) is mostly well-received by Good
Housekeeping's testers, who say it absorbs quickly and leaves their skin
feeling great. Some testers, though, say the mist is more difficult to control
compared to tanning lotion -- it's a pump spray rather than continuous aerosol
and goes on nearly clear -- and left some streaking, an opinion echoed by some
users. Most reviewers, however, say it's easy to apply, isn't sticky and never
streaks, creating a naturally tanned look without a hint of orange. As with
most spray tans, there's a learning curve to getting the application technique
Coola Sunless Tan Oil Dry
Mist is smudge-proof, meaning it won't transfer to your clothes or sheets, and
it's 70 percent organic, containing a vegan-friendly blend of argan oil, vitamin
C, hibiscus and chamomile extract. It's also free of parabens, pthalates and
synthetic colorants. While it is perfume-free, it does contain natural
pineapple and coconut fragrance, giving it a light tropical scent that users
say is subtle. Some say that it does develop the telltale self-tanner scent after
application, but it's much less noticeable compared to other tanning lotions. It's
a build-able self-tanner, meaning you can layer applications until you've
achieved your desired tan. The color takes two to four hours to develop and
lasts for about three days.
The best tanning lotions
Experts say that if you've never tried
a self-tanning product before, tanning lotions are a good place to start. They
tend to be very easy to apply, most have moisturizing properties, and they're
more affordable than some other types of self-tanners. In addition, experts say
that lotions offer a longer-lasting tan than sprays do. Some people prefer gel
or mousse formulations, which often dry faster, and some are easier to apply
evenly compared to tanning lotion.
One gel formulation, L'Oreal Dermo-Expertise Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Gelee (Est. $12 for 5.0 oz.), earns praise from
hundreds of reviewers. Users say it applies like a sun tanning oil, but it
doesn't stay greasy, drying quickly without leaving an orange hue. It's
colorless when applied and won't rub off on clothing or bed sheets, users say,
but the natural-looking tan lasts for a few days to a week on the skin. It's
meant to be applied daily until you've achieved your desired color, then
reapplied once or twice per week to maintain your ideal tan.
Enhanced with vitamin E and AHA,
L'Oreal Dermo-Expertise Sublime Bronze leaves skin feeling soft and smooth.
Skincare experts at Beautypedia say its "nearly weightless texture" makes it
ideal for normal to oily, blemish-prone skin. Like most self-tanners, the
active tanning ingredient in this self-tanning gel is dihydroxyacetone, but it
also contains caramel coloring that leaves a sheer tint. Reviewers say it
spreads smoothly and evenly on the skin, making it easier to use compared to
many tanning lotions and resulting in more even, natural-looking color that
develops in a few hours after application. On the downside, a few users
complain about its strong, perfume-like scent, but most users say it doesn't
linger long after application, and some don't mind the smell at all.
If you want your tan and you want it
now, and you're willing to pay a bit more to get it, (Est. $30 for 4.5 oz.) gets raves for its
performance, providing a quick, dark tan that users say goes on smoothly and
evenly. Gels take longer to dry than lotions, but you can still expect to be
able to dress in about 30 minutes or so without getting color on your clothes.
Users say that it goes on colorless and feels like lotion, earning praise from
light-skinned users who say it doesn't leave them with an orange tint like many
self-tanners. A few of Good Housekeeping's testers say it creates a
natural-looking, streak-free color, but with a couple of tradeoffs: some say it
leaves a tacky, sticky feeling on the skin and has an unpleasant smell during
application. Other reviews, however, say the scent is pleasant or unnoticeable.
If you prefer a tanning lotion over a
gel formulation, (Est. $30 for 4.2 oz.) is a lightweight lotion that's suitable for all skin types,
Beautypedia's experts say. Like L'Oreal Dermo-Expertise Sublime Bronze,
Clinique Self Sun Body Tinted Lotion contains caramel tint that provides
instant color, while the lasting color (from the common self-tanning ingredient
DHA) develops over a few hours. It's fragrance-free, and its texture makes it a
"safer bet for those prone to blemishes," editors say. It also contains mica,
which gives the skin a slight shimmer. Users say it's easy to apply and creates
an even tan, but many reviewers say it has an overpowering, unpleasant scent.
We also read a few complaints from users who say the color fades quickly and
rubs off on towels, clothing and bedding.
Among mousse formulations, (Est. $45 for 6.7 oz.) earns the most positive feedback. It's an advanced formula that
can be left on for an hour for a light, sun-kissed glow, for two hours for a
medium, golden tan, or up to four hours for a deep, dark bronze, depending on
your natural skin tone and desired result. It has a light scent and, when
applied evenly with the mitt, it creates a natural, streak-free tan with no
We didn't see any expert reviews for (Est. $20 for 6.0 oz.), but it
gets a lot of love from thousands of user reviewers who say it creates a true,
natural color that never strikes a sour note. They also say that, compared to
other self-tanners, it's a great value for the price. Though it comes in a
spray bottle, you spray it onto an included mitten and apply it like a lotion.
It gives you immediate color and most say it lasts for several days, although
others say it wears off quickly and you have to reapply it frequently. Its
fast-drying formulation is fast-absorbing and also transfer-resistant, meaning
it won't discolor your sheets or clothing.
As is the case with nearly all
self-tanners, users' opinions are mixed on the scent of Fake Bake Flawless.
Most reviewers say it doesn't have a harsh or unpleasant smell, but some do say
it acquires the typical self-tanner scent after several hours, and a few note
that its tropical scent is "heavy."
Expert & User Review Sources
We found the most comprehensive professional
reviews of self-tanners at Beautypedia, and Consumer Reports compares several tanning lotions in an older review. Good Housekeeping identifies the best self-tanners based on testing conducted by the Good
Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, although this roundup also includes "other
online bestsellers." Glamour and TotalBeauty also recommend the
best self-tanners based on reader or editor opinion, rather than hands-on
testing. For user opinions based on real-world use, we turned to Amazon, Sephora and Ulta, where some tanning lotions have earned
thousands of reviews.