Home > Health & Beauty > Self Tanners > Best Bronzer

Best Bronzer

By: Angela Stringfellow on May 23, 2017

Tanning lotions go on smoothly and last longer than sprays

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.

St. Tropez makes a full line of self-tanners, and St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse (Est. $40 for 8 oz.) is a consistent hit with experts and users. because of its long-wear and a fresh scent, it's our top pick in this category for the second year in a row. Mousse formulations are said to dry more quickly than other types, and St. Tropez claims that this formula dries in about 60 seconds. (Users say that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it does dry pretty fast.) Reviewers say that it creates a subtle, natural-looking glow. In addition to the Classic formulation, it also comes in a Dark shade for those who want a deeper color.

One caveat: some owner reviewers complain about receiving mousse that came out green. A few say it actually turned their skin green; some say the green product tanned their skin just as it was supposed to. Some suggest that the mousse only turns green when it's old or expired.  Whatever the case, these dissatisfied customers seem to be in the minority, but it's something to watch out for.

By all accounts, St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse goes on easily and is simple to use, but many users say that you'll get the best results with the optional St. Tropez Applicator Mitt (Est. $6.50), both in a smooth application and in keeping your palms un-tanned. Users say this tanning mousse has a fainter smell than most self-tanners.

St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse develops in about four hours, but if you're looking for a faster result, you might consider St. Tropez Self Tan Express Advanced Bronzing Mousse (Est. $45 for 6.7 oz.). This advanced formula 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. Like the standard formulation, it has a light scent and, when applied evenly with the mitt, it creates a natural, streak-free tan with no orange undertones.

Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer (Est. $12 for 10 oz.) is a much-beloved product that makes it on many a "best of" roundup and gets high marks from both users and expert reviewers. It truly does impart a very natural-looking tint that appears gradually and subtly. Most buy it for exactly that reason -- they don't want a sudden change in their appearance -- or because they just want an ongoing tint of color to brighten their skin. Several users with very pale, freckly skin tones --notoriously prone to sunburn and difficult to tan -- say Jergens Natural Glow is the only self-tanner that gives them a natural-looking, subtle tan.

While you may want to supplement this Jergens product with a facial moisturizer if you use it on your face, or a separate body lotion (which we cover in their own reports), experts say it's actually a pretty good choice as an all-over body moisturizer -- unlike many other types of self-tanners. It also blends well, with a minimum of streaking or uneven color spots. This particular formulation is in a new, pump-style packaging, and users say that makes it even easier to apply as they can do so with one hand.

Jergens Natural Glow comes in two shades, fair to medium and medium to tan, and in several formulations, including quick-tan options, tan extenders, firming, and even one with an SPF of 20. Users say it doesn't feel oily and, while some reviewers complain about the smell -- which was the case with every self-tanner we looked at -- the vast majority actually say they find it pleasant.

If you want your tan and you want it now, Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel (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, and like Jergens Natural Glow, Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel earns praise from light-skinned users who say it doesn't leave them with an orange tint like many self-tanners. The Clarins Self Tanning gel gets mixed reviews for odor -- some say it's pleasant or unnoticeable, others say it's quite obvious and unpleasant.

We didn't see any expert reviews for Fake Bake Flawless (Est. $15 for 6 oz.) but it gets a lot of love from thousands of user reviewers who say it's a great self-tanner with a very 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."

Bronzers add instant -- but temporary -- color to your face

If you want to bring a little bit of warmth and luminosity to your skin but you don't want to mess with a sunless tanner, a cosmetic bronzer might be the way to go. Bronzers wash off at the end of the day like regular makeup, and they're available in powder, gel, spray and stick form.

When it comes to bronzers, there are plenty of options to choose from. Most popular drugstore beauty brands offer bronzers as part of their makeup lines, typically at the lower end of the price range, and many high-end cosmetic brands offer their own bronzers as well -- naturally, at the higher end of the price spectrum. You don't need to spend a lot of money for a good bronzer, though; we found thousands of rave reviews for the low-priced Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer (Est. $5) between Sephora.com, Amazon.com and Ulta.com. Two other shades are available: Milk Chocolate, for light to medium skin, and Dark Chocolate, for deep to tan skin; the popular Chocolate shade falls between the two and is suitable for medium to deep skin.

Users say Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer is easy to apply, blends easily and looks natural without feeling cakey. Some reviewers even say they use it for contouring and highlighting. Reviewers say it's a great choice for people who want a matte finish without the shimmery look of many bronzers, and many say Too Faced bronzer -- which includes cocoa powder and has a rich chocolate scent -- smells amazing. Editors at Beautypedia.com give Too Faced a perfect expert rating, noting that it's "not orangish in the least" and say it takes only a light dusting to get a healthy glow.

The Balm Bahama Mama (Est. $20) gets great reviews as a matte powder bronzer that looks very natural and smooth. Experts and users say this bronzer is a great choice for olive skin tones -- a color range that often struggles to find a bronzer that doesn't turn them odd colors -- but it's also just a highly versatile color that works well on a wide range of skin tones. Users say it works well for contouring, too, and they love the soft matte, shimmer-free finish. According to Beautypedia.com, Bahama Mama doesn't emphasize fine lines or pores. This bronzer is fragrance-free and reportedly has a smooth, buttery texture.

While it's not rated by experts at Beautypedia.com, Benefit Cosmetics Hoola Bronzing Powder (Est. $40) earns praise from thousands of users at Sephora.com and also earns high ratings on Amazon.com and Ulta.com. It comes in two shades -- the original and a Lite version, which reviewers say is perfect for people with fair skin tones. Users say it doesn't look orange and has a smooth, creamy texture that blends well. It's great for contouring as well as bronzing, and it's also buildable -- meaning you can apply it in several layers -- if you want a darker tone. While most Hoola products have a signature scent, Hoola Bronzing Powder is fragrance-free. On the downside, it's pricier than many bronzers, and some users recommend using a different brush than the one that comes in the package for the best results.

Self-tanning towelettes are mess-free, quick and effortless

One of the handiest ways to apply self-tanner is to use a pre-moistened wipe, and Tan Towel Self Tan Towelette Classic (Est. $30) is a user favorite, earning hundreds of positive reviews across Amazon.com and Ulta.com. Users say the application is fairly fool-proof: simply wipe the towelette on the areas of your skin that you want to tan, and allow it to dry. That said, some reviewers suggest using caution around traditionally tricky areas such as the knees, elbows and ankles. Reviewers recommend using these towelettes at night before bed (it doesn't discolor sheets or clothing) and you'll wake up to a streak-free, natural glow without an orange tone. Several users say they use these towelettes to touch up or refresh a fading spray tan. While they do have a bit of the classic self-tanning smell, most reviewers say it's subtle and not overpowering.

Tan Towel Self Tan Towelettes come in several variations, including half-body, full-body and face towelettes, in two shades -- Classic for light to medium skin tones and Plus for medium to dark skin tones, and in boxes of several sizes ranging from five to 50 towelettes. Some reviewers say they didn't notice much difference after using the Classic tanning towelettes, so if you want a darker, more noticeable tan, you might want to opt for the Plus shade. Tan Towel also sells a variety of other self-tanning products, including tanning mist, bronzing sunscreen mist, gradual-tanning daily moisturizer lotion and even exfoliator towelettes.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad (Est. $30 for 20) earns positive reviewers at Sephora.com. Users say it doesn't leave streaks and creates a healthy, warm glow. Like the Tan Towel, it's foolproof to apply -- you simply use it as you would a makeup wipe. It's fragrance-free and contains antioxidants, as the best skin care products do, and reviewers say it has a silky, pleasant texture. On the downside, it's pricier than larger, bottled formulations.

Kate Somerville Somerville 360 Tanning Towelettes (Est. $50 for 8) are recommended by editors at Elle.com and earn mostly positive feedback from a few hundred reviewers at Sephora.com. Because of the cost (they're more expensive than both the Tan Towel and Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad), many users say they only use them for special occasions. They have a light citrus scent that smells great when you're using them, but reviewers say they do start to notice the classic tanning-spray scent a day or so after application.

Users say they create a natural, streak-free tan that will last for a week or more, although a few reviewers say they use a towelette every three days or so to maintain their desired tan. Some say the color is too subtle or barely noticeable, while others rave about their results. You can use a second towelette and reapply for a deeper tan -- which, of course, adds to the cost.

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

Read More »

Learn More »