How to find the best self tanner

Tanning the old-fashioned way (baking on the beach or under a sun lamp) can cause far too many skin and health problems to even consider. If you don’t want to give up the glow, though, don’t worry: Today’s self tanners are natural-looking and easy to apply. If you’re having trouble figuring out where to start, follow our guide to choosing the best self tanner and achieving a gorgeous, sun-kissed radiance all over.

Woman with tan skin

Try these tips when looking for the best self tanner for your skin.

skin tone considerations

The natural color of your skin should help determine the type of self tanner you buy. If you have pale skin, opt for subtle shades (look for the box that indicates fair or light skin). These shades will give you peachy-apricot coloring, rather than too orange. Bronzing when you’re fair-haired and pale is all about getting a healthy glow without the color being too obvious. If you have medium or olive skin, most shades of bronzer will suit you; just choose the strength of tan you want (medium or deep).

Self tanner formulas

Sunless Tanner

Bronzers come in several formulas including creams, lotions, gels and sprays. Moisturizing cream and lotion formulas add hydration and can be easier to apply than sprays because they allow more control. Gels and sprays dry faster, makng them more convenient, and may work better for combination or oily skin types because they’re not as heavy as cream formulas and therefore less likely to clog pores.

Self tanning product options:

Application 101

Here are a few tips to ensure your faux tan looks natural — not streaky or uneven.

Exfoliate: Dry skin absorbs more color, so be sure to exfoliate the driest areas of your skin (knees, elbows) so they don’t end up looking darker than the rest of your body.

Clean skin thoroughly: Skin should be free of soap and moisturizer residue before you apply tanner because soap can mix with DHA (the active ingredient in all self-tanners) and turn skin orange.

Less is more: Use only a quarter-sized amount (or less, depending on your size) for your lower leg, and the same amount for the thigh. Use any excess lotion on your knees, feet and elbows rather than over-applying, which can cause knees and elbows to turn a shade darker than the rest of your body.

Aim for smooth application: If you apply self tanner in streaks, you’ll get streaks — so use long, sweeping movements to ensure even coverage.

Repeat: Missing a spot is surprisingly easy and very frustrating. Go over the area again, using wide, circular movements to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.

Cover everything: To avoid lines, use a makeup sponge to apply a small amount from the top and back of your wrists to the top of your hands and anywhere else you may have missed (ankles, neckline, etc.)

Dealing with Self Tanning mistakes

Try these tips if you messed up your self tanner

Self tanning mistakes happen, so don’t feel bad if you go a little overboard or end up with streaks. You can use gentle nail polish remover to eliminate mistakes on small areas such as feet, hands and ankles. To fix mistakes on larger areas, exfoliate your skin with a body scrub (repeat a few times if you’re dealing with a particularly orange or too-dark patch). Alpha hydroxy acids or at-home lightening creams can help minimize mistakes by fading the darker or streaky spots.


Self tanning tips

  • Wait 30 minutes for the lotion to dry before getting dressed so you don’t get product on your clothing.
  • For a deeper tan, wait an hour or two, and then apply a second layer of self tanner.
  • Don’t get tanner in your hair or eyebrows because it can color hair.
  • Keeping your newly tanned skin moisturized will help maintain your tan.
  • Ask a friend to help you with your back and other hard-to-reach areas.

tanning, skin rotection & sun exposure

Find out: Are you tanorexic?
Tanning addition: The dark side of bronzed skin
The truth about tanning: Indoor and outdoor tanning dangers
QUIZ: Test your sun smarts with this sun safety quiz
Skin protection for workouts
Photosensitivity: The dangers of being sensitive to the sun

More beauty advice

How to get the natural makeup look
Types of perfume: Finding the right fragrance
How to make your skin glow


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