I Tried 17 Self-tanners — Here Are the Ones Making Me Feel Like I’m On Vacation
I'm a (self-proclaimed) self-tan professional. As someone who's never had an easy time getting anything but burned when it comes to the sun, I dove headfirst into sunless tanning about ten years ago. Turns out, it's better for us anyway.
In recent years, hundreds of new self-tanning products, from mousses to sprays, gels, and wipes, have either come and gone or changed the game. I've probably tried them all...or at least (embarrassingly) close to it. I've committed all the faux pas for you — from smelling like dihydroxyacetone (DHA) to turning orange, green, and pink.
Of course, we've all got different skin tones, textures, and overall desires when it comes to pigmented products. I'll take this moment to thank you for staying inside to help flatten the curve, but if you're in the market for something that'll give you the glow you were hoping to achieve during spring break, you've come to the right place.
Since I'll only be highlighting my top five favorites, here's a quick list of the 17 sunless tanners I've tried and loved within the past 2 years.
- Miss Congeniality: St. Tropez Classic Bronzing Mousse
- Best Bought at the Airport: St. Tropez Express Bronzing Mousse
- Darkest Tan: St. Tropez Dark Bronzing Mousse
- Darkest Face Tan: St. Tropez Purity Bronzing Water
- Best Olive-toned Tan: Bali Body Self-tanning Mousse in Dark
- Best Gradual Clear for Face: Bali Body Face Tan Water
- Gradual Tan With Best Payoff: Bali Body Gradual Tan
- Most Popular: Bondi Sands Self-tanning Foam in Dark
- Best for the Experts: Bondi Sands Aerated Self-tanning Foam in Ultra Dark
- Longest-lasting: Vita Liberata pHenomenal 2-3 Week Self-tanning Mousse in Medium
- Most Natural Tan: Skinerals Californium Sunless Bronzing Mousse
- Best Fair Shade: Coco & Eve Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Foam
- Best Self-tan While You're Tanning: Josie Maran Self-tanning Body Oil
- Best Clear for Body: Isle of Paradise Glow Clear Color-correcting Self-tanning Mousse
- Best Skincare Tan: Coola Sunless Tan Anti-aging Face Serum
- Best Glow-from-within: Coola Organic Sunless Tan Luminizing Body Serum
- Best Travel-friendly Gradual Tan: ReVive Bronzé Supérieur Self-tan Booster
For the record, I have fair skin that freckles quickly but has never really tanned. I also have dry skin and products get patchy on me very easily. So, products that don't get patchy on me could be safe bets for those with normal to oily skin types. And you can see I'm partial to mousses with guide color — there's a reason why they're nearly every brand's best-seller.
By habit, I've tested each of these products in the same or similar ways. After deep exfoliation two days prior and consistent hydration via coconut oil or rich body creams, I shower, dry and cool off completely, then apply the self-tanner as instructed. I then wear a pajama set with long sleeves and pants to sleep and do a quick soap-free rinse when I wake up in the morning if the product has a guide color.
Not only do I have my favorites from the above list in terms of shade and performance, but specific sunless tanners have been my go-tos for the destinations I frequent and the places I've lived — from Hawaii to New York and Las Vegas.
If you're as into self-tanner as I am or are just looking for a way to feel like you're quarantined somewhere sunny, these are my recommended formulas and where I wear them most.
Vita Liberata pHenomenal Mousse: Paris
I discovered Vita Liberata while in Paris, but it's not just the sentiment that persuades me to wear it every time I'm there. It's one of the more luxurious formulas and can be a bit hard to find (but the hunt is more than worth it). It has virtually no offensive odor upon application, and the floral scent it does have completely disappears after washing the next day. The best part is, besides its natural 'taupey' hue (I use Medium), that one application lasts over two weeks, so I can channel my inner effortlessly chic French woman.
To buy: dermstore.com, $54
Bali Body Self-tanning Mousse: Hawaii
This mainstay among sunless tanning brands is known for beating out competitors when it comes to achieving an outstandingly rich and dark tan. An Aussie friend of mine introduced me to Bali Body while we lived in Hawaii and I'm oh so glad he did. It's remarkably easy to apply and its hydrating and foamy formula only seems to dry when you're ready. I've also never experienced a single streak when I apply on prepped skin.
To buy: ulta.com, $30
ReVive Self-tan Booster: Sardinia
ReVive's Self-tan Booster is the little vile of magic I bring with me when I have to pack light for a getaway (like to one of my favorite little Mediterranean islands of all time). It's a gradual tanner that you blend with your body moisturizer, so you can choose the intensity with the amount of droplets that you use. It's a clear formula, so no guide color means no staining once you're dry. There is virtually no smell to this one, so it's my go-to for when I need a little color that I want to deepen effortlessly over the course of my trip (without the self-tan event that goes down in the bathroom when using other self-tan products).
To buy: reviveskincare.com, $105
Coola Sunless Tan Anti-aging Face Serum and Luminizing Body Serum: New York City
These sunless tanning serums have the ideal consistency and DHA development to be able to smooth on nightly without worry of streaking or staining your clothes. The Body Serum has minimal guide color with a hint of luminosity to make your skin truly glow the next day. The Face Serum has no guide color and coexists seamlessly with the rest of your nightly skincare — just layer after your treatments and allow to dry before applying your moisturizer. Because it's Coola, the products are packed with skin-protecting benefits, which are necessary in NYC. So, really, the weekend-in-Miami glow is just a major bonus.
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