Believe it or not, the headline for this story is not clickbait or an exaggeration for dramatic effect. I've used self-tanner on an almost-weekly basis since I was in eighth grade (the result of being endlessly teased for how naturally pasty I was). Lacking parental permission to increase my skin cancer odds by going to tanning salons like many of my peers, I always felt like the odd one out, so I became dependent on the drugstore aisle filled with bottles and spray cans of Jergens and L'Oréal Sublime. At the time, I was convinced a fake tan would be better than looking like I had never had a wink of sun exposure, and it was then that my obsession with self-tanning was born. I've come a long way since then and now love my tan-free fair skin.
These days, I generally skip self-tanner and spray tans. That said, I still consider myself a connoisseur in the art of self-tanning and all the offerings on the market. No joke, I have an entire cupboard at home brimming with mousses, lotions, waters, sprays, powders, and every other self-tanning innovation you can think of. Something that may surprise you? Some of my favorite formulas can be found at the drugstore.
Even though I love pricier picks from Isle of Paradise, St. Tropez, James Read, and Bali Body, I still have major love for Jergens, L'Oréal, Sally Hansen, and other low- to mid-cost brands you can easily find on Amazon or at Walmart. Ahead, I'm sharing eight of the best drugstore self-tanners I personally use, have purchased in a pinch while traveling, and/or have recommended to friends when they don't want to spend $50 on a bottled bronze. Keep scrolling! All my faves lie ahead.
I'll be honest—up until a few months ago, when I was traveling and needed an affordable self-tanner fast, I hadn't used anything by Jergens in years. Formulas have come a long way since then, and let me just say I was wrong to assume this mousse would be as streaky, smelly, and all-around subpar as I remember the OG lotions being. I was SO impressed.
This mousse applies without streaks, with minimal smell, dries quickly, and yields the most believable and even tan ever. In fact, even though I have an entire cupboard of expensive self-tanners at home, I went out to CVS and snapped this right back up the second I landed back in L.A. It's that good. And I keep my original purchase at home in Arizona for any and all self-tanner needs on the horizon.
My devotion to L'Oréal's impressive selection of self-tanners has never wavered. These days, however, I prefer the brand's luxe-feeling tanning milk. It's only $13, but it delivers similar results to those of gradual self-tanning lotions almost four times the price. It's one of the brand's best-selling tan formulas and is even boosted with an extra dose of skin-loving vitamin E.
Even though this drugstore self-tanner is more expensive than most, it's worth it. Aussies don't mess around when it comes to their glowing skin. I actually wrote all about my love for Bondi Sands here, but this formula is one of my absolute favorites. It dries instantly so you're not left with that dreaded tackiness, it actually smells good, and it develops insanely fast. If you hate wearing self-tanner any longer than necessary, this foaming formula will be your new BFF this summer. Plus it works no matter how naturally dark or light your skin tone is.
Almost every self-tanning brand now has a wipe or towel iteration, but these ones are the OG. The reviews don't lie, and considering that this drugstore favorite has over 800 reviews with a solid four-star rating on Amazon, it's safe to say this is one of the most dependable self-tanners out there. Plus the towels are perfect for traveling or touching up small or hard-to-reach spots. I keep them on hand at all times! I've tried plenty of other self-tanning towels that have left me completely disappointed and streaky.
If you're looking for something fast, mess-free, quick-drying, and suitable for all skin tones, I recommend this affordable drugstore self-tanner from Banana Boat. The smell is one of the less offensive I've sniffed, and its believable and buildable finish is one of the best. It has over 1500 reviews on Amazon and still manages to maintain a nearly solid 4.5-star rating. The fact that it's oil-free is important to me as someone who's prone to breakouts.
Here's the thing—everyone talks a big game about Sally Hansen's Airbrush Legs spray, but I prefer this water-resistant lotion formula. Body makeup is having a moment right now, and compared to some other new and popular options on the market, this drugstore pick holds up. But back to this lotion versus the spray: Not only does this formula result in more satisfying coverage (the spray is a little too sheer for me), but it also instantly blurs and hides anything you'd rather not show off while staying on your legs and not on your clothes or in the pool. Plus I love that you can wash it off at night. The brand also has a cool new illuminator that looks ridiculously pretty when mixed with the self-tanner/body-makeup hybrid above.
I prefer self-tanning mousse, but Jergens and Bondi Sands are the only two I've ever liked from the drugstore. And as far as buildable lotions go, this one from Neutrogena is one of the best I've tried. It's surprisingly hydrating for parched skin, dries in five minutes or less, and is extremely customizable. When I just want a touch of color, I apply it once or twice a week. But if I really want to go for it, I apply it three to four nights in a row. If you really want to glow, pair it with the brand's cult-favorite sesame body oil.
I won't lie—the first time I spritzed this onto my skin and began spreading it with a mitt, I was nervous I'd wake up the next morning looking like an Oompa Loompa, but instead, I woke up impeccably bronzed. There wasn't a streak or uneven inch of skin in sight; my skin was hydrated, supple, and glowy; and the color was almost unfathomably natural and perfect. Like, wow. I'm so excited I discovered this drugstore gem because it's become one of my go-to formulas when I want my skin to be its glowiest. It also lasted a full week with zero touch-ups needed, and when it did fade, the process was patch-free. I love the dark, but the brand also makes light and medium formulas.