I know this is somewhat revolting, but I honestly can’t remember what the original color of my sheets was when I was in high school and college. I religiously slathered myself in self-tanning lotion every single night, and because of that, everything that touched my skin in that era (clothes, sheets, swimsuits, bras, the whole shebang) was tinged with brown and orange. Not cute, and of course, the accompanying telltale scent of self-tanner was yet another unfortunate side effect.
Luckily for me and my love for perpetually bronzed and glowing skin, the self-tanning market has come a long way since the early 2000s, and now the best self-tanning lotions not only deliver far more natural-looking and customizable results but smell far less offensive—if they even smell at all—and are made with cleaner, safer ingredients.
While I love and appreciate how innovative brands are getting as far as formulas, (serums! masks! mousses! oils! sprays! cloths!) lotions, in my mind, are by far the most user-friendly option, especially if you’re new to the whole self-tanning thing. Below, I’m sharing 15 of the best self-tanning lotions that will enhance your skin no matter your natural tone or glow goals. From instant bronzing formulas that will easily wash off after a night out to super-subtle gradual lotions that you can easily swap in for your normal daily body moisturizer, we have you completely covered. Keep scrolling!
If you’re someone who likes instant gratification in the glow department, you’ll love this no-nonsense self-tanning lotion from James Read. The feather-light formula is water and streak-resistant, and it works simultaneously as a self-tanner and body foundation. You’ll get a subtle dose of color, but the blurring and skin-evening effect will make every last inch of your skin look airbrushed. There’s no commitment, and you can easily wash it off in the shower after your night out.
This self-tanning lotion from Jergens proves you don’t have to pay a fortune to have an expensive-looking glow. It comes in two different shade options (light to medium and medium to dark), and when used in lieu of your daily moisturizer, you’ll get a natural build of award-winning color (Jergens self-tanners are iconic, after all), along with an extra helping of skin-firming and tightening benefits thanks to the strategic addition of collagen and elastin.
It’s not surprising why this nontoxic self-tanning lotion from Botanic Tree has gained a cult status amongst Amazon shoppers. It’s made with organic ingredients, it has a solid 4.4 out of 5-star rating across 1067 reviews, and our lovely WWW contributor Melissa Meyers deems it one of the best clean self-tanning formulas on the market:
“This nontoxic self-tanner is great for those with sensitive skin and doesn’t have that dreaded fake-tan smell. It’s vegan-certified and free of toxins. The quick-drying lotion goes on white and is also streak-free, with natural ingredients such as jojoba, avocado, apricot, grape seed, and coconut. This formula can also be used on your face and is perfect for all skin types. I found the tan to be very natural and gradual, so it’s good to use it daily if you want to build up a rich glow.”
Is there a more coveted brand in the self-tanning department than St. Tropez? True to its name, slathering yourself with any of the brand’s beloved formulas is the next best thing to an actual trip to St. Tropez. (Hey, a girl can dream!) If you’re someone who’s new to the whole self-tanning thing or just want a super-subtle boost of bronze, this watermelon-scented, hyaluronic acid-infused number is a can’t-miss. One application promises 72 hours of total skin hydration, and with each application, you’ll get a tad more glowy. (Psst! Ashley Graham is also a fan and ambassador for the brand!)
This dreamy self-tanning lotion is the antithesis to what most people despise about the majority of options on the market. A) It’s cruelty-free, vegan, and saturated with good-for-your-skin ingredients, and B) it’s scented with real rose oil so you won’t be stuck with that abominable chicken teriyaki stench for hours on end. (You know the smell.) As if that wasn’t enough, this is the brand celebrity makeup artist Tobi Henney reaches for when she works with ultra-glowy stars like Megan Fox.
Speaking of organic self-tanning lotions, Meyers is also a fan of this best-selling alternative from Beauty by Earth:
"Say hello to perfect sun-kissed skin! This tanning product does a great job of covering up natural skin imperfections and leaves you with glowing, golden color. I love that the simple, natural, organic ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, and Japanese green tea leaf extract leave my skin looking and feeling fabulous. It’s is also a great alternative to the top brands that sell chemical-filled tanners. I’m not the only one who thinks so—you can check out the 13,581 gushing reviews on Amazon too!"
I’ve tried Bondi Sands’ entire roster of self-tanning products, and this best-selling milk has to be my favorite. It’s an easy, low-maintenance way to build and maintain a perpetually summer-looking glow, and it also drenches your skin with lush ingredients like aloe vera and vitamin E to keep your skin supple and soft.
Tan-Luxe actually makes two amazing self-tanning lotions, but this is the lightweight of the two, which I personally find more appealing. It’s unique in that it’s an oil-lotion hybrid, and while it’s just as fuss-free to apply as your normal body lotion, this one subtly builds an illuminating glow over the course of four to six hours. Apply it daily or however often you want per week to reach your peak (sun-kissed) potential.
Bali Body may have gained Instagram fame due to its fruity and tropical-scented tanning oils, but its self-tanning formulas are just as stellar. Not only does this lotion contain the brand’s best-selling self-tan formula, but it’s also studded with nourishing and skin-firming additions like coffee seed extract, cocoa butter, and coconut oil.
Yes, technically this new formula from Isle of Paradise is a self-tanning butter, not a lotion, but let’s not get caught up in the details. Unlike pretty much every other self-tanning lotion on the market, this one features green color-correcting actives which are key for canceling out redness and achieving a more uniform, even-looking tan. Since it’s thicker and richer than your average lotion, it’s especially fab for anyone who runs dry or more sensitive.
There’s a reason this self-tanning lotion is a favorite among celebrities and beauty editors. Of course, it gradually gifts you with a stunning hit of buildable bronze color, but the ingredient makeup featuring organic botanicals coupled with transfer-free, zero-odor technology is beyond appreciated. Apply and let it sit on your skin for anywhere between four to eight hours before rinsing off with warm water.
If you’ve ever watched the cast of Dancing With the Stars and wondered how the heck they get that insanely stunning glow, well, you’re looking at it! This is more of an instant bronzer than a traditional gradual self-tanning lotion, but if you’re looking for pro-level results, fast, this formula can’t be beaten. It won’t budge or smudge until you want it to (aka once you’re in the shower), and since it dries practically instantly, you don’t have to spend a half an hour waiting around in the buff before you can get dressed.
If you thought Coola only made fantastic sunscreens think again. I cross-checked every retailer that sells the label, and the reviews for this particular self-tanning lotion are bonkers-good everywhere. It has a fun, piña colada scent, it’s made with 70% organic ingredients, and in addition to warming up your natural skin tone, it will also help tone and tighten your skin thanks to a signature blend of green caffeine, alaria esculenta seaweed and pea extract. It’s on the more expensive side, but the skin perks and high-quality ingredient list is well worth the splurge.
I feel like Tanologist is the self-tanning industry’s best-kept secret, and I’m just waiting for everyone to finally understand how amazing it is. It’s affordable, clean, and to be 100% transparent, its formulas deliver the most natural-looking customizable results I’ve come across. Not to mention, they last at least a week and the fade is so dang even and unnoticeable. (No patchy dragon skin, here, folks!) I’m consistently using the brand’s mousses and waters, but the brand’s gradual self-tanning lotion is just as magical. Oh, and did I mention it’s non-comedogenic so you need not worry about clogged pores or body breakouts?
This is another self-tanning lotion that really excels in the no-stink department. It gradually doses your skin with a flattering, buildable bronze hue, and nurturing ingredients like shea butter, cocoa butter, and passion fruit oil ensure your skin maintains its highest dew point for a radiant, non-parched finish.