Now That I've Tried Tanning Water, I'm Never Using Another Self-Tan Product

I am naturally extremely pale, so year-round, and in the summertime especially, I am slathering on SPF 50 all over my body. This is important for everybody, but it's particularly important if your natural skin tone veers vampiric like mine. I do like to fake the look of actually seeing the sun, though, so I also have a self-tanning ritual on Thursday nights where I coat my entire body in self-tanner. Unfortunately, I’m horribly bad at self-tanning, so though I’ve gotten better over the years, I nearly always end up with some unsightly streaks or blotches. 

I’ve tried pretty much every self-tanner formula on the market—mousses, gels, gradual lotions, you name it—to varying degrees of success. One formula I didn’t try until recently, though, is tanning water. Now that I’ve started using tanning water, I’m hooked. My tans look more even, it’s incredibly easy to use, and tanning waters give me a more natural-looking glow than other self-tanners I’ve tried—no streaks or orange blotches included.



What is tanning water?

“A tanning water is a self-tanner in which the tanning agent known as DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is suspended in water, making the self-tan formula clear, so there is nothing to transfer onto clothing or bedsheets,” says Sophie Evans, St.Tropez skin finishing expert and celebrity self-tanner. “Plus, the water base makes the formula incredibly hydrating to the skin.”



Isle of Paradise founder Jules Von Hep agrees, noting that tanning waters are lightweight enough to spray on under makeup or before going to work in the morning, since they sink in instantly. These formulas make tanning at home feel effortless. When shopping for a tanning water, look for a formula enhanced with skin-friendly ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, or other anti-aging ingredients, and be steer clear from parabens, phthalates and sulfates.

How do you use tanning water?

“Spray your skin liberally,” says Von Hep. “Your skin should be saturated once finished. Once applied, take an applicator mitt and sweep the product all over the skin to blend, remembering to do under the arms and all over your legs.”



According to Evans, working in sections is absolutely crucial when it comes to tanning waters, since there’s no guide color to help you remember where you sprayed the product. “For example, the knee to the ankle would be one section, then the thigh would be a different section,” she says. “If you are unsure if you have covered an area, simply go over the area again. It will not negatively affect the development, as the skin can only absorb a certain amount of product in one application.” She notes that you can never apply too much tan, but you can apply too little, and this is what often leads to streaks and uneven tone. 

If you’re applying tanning water to your face, Von Hep encourages misting your skin like you would with a face mist or toner. “For hands and feet, run the mitt over those areas and lightly apply using the residue product left on the mitt,” he says. Also, if you don’t have a mitt, don’t worry—you can apply using your hands, just make sure you wash them thoroughly after, taking care to scrub between your fingers. 

Keep reading for the best self-tanning waters to try, including picks from Evans and Von Hep.

This is the tanning water I tried, and I loved it. It gave me an extremely natural-looking and even tan. It spritzed on easily, absorbed into my skin instantly after rubbing it in, and my skin felt hydrated after using it. Plus, it didn't leave behind the dreaded self-tanner smell. 

With avocado oil, chia seeds, and grapefruit oil, this tanning water is supremely hydrating. It also has color-correcting actives that ensure your skin looks natural and has no orange tint to it. 

Evans recommends this St. Tropez collection for effortless at-home tanning. "It safely mimics the positive, feel-good benefits of the sun by helping your skin produce Vitamin D for overall skin wellness, plus Vitamin C to achieve ultra-smooth, soft and even skin," she says. "This is all captured in a clear, green, mandarin-infused bronzing water that smells divine."

If you're looking for a formula that will leave your face bronzed with virtually no effort on your part, Isle of Paradise's mists are tough to beat. "The tanning water will absorb through makeup if you want a top up mid-week," says Von Hep. "Spray your face like you would with a facial mist."

When Who What Wear's Senior Beauty Editor Erin Jahns reaches for a tanning water, you can guarantee it will be this one from Tanologist. She feels totally okay using this tanning water to wear under normal clothes or throughout the day, that's how imperceptible it is once applied. 

This innovative formula is something of a gel-water hybrid. Evans says that the longer you leave this on, the more benefits your skin gets. "It’s infused with hyaluronic acid so it hydrates skin for up to 72 hours," she says. "It is also very comfortable to wear bronzing waters throughout the whole development (which usually takes about 8 hours)."

Vita Liberata makes some of my favorite self-tanning products. Its mist develops quickly, is ultra customizable, and imparts a golden glow. Aloe vera and hyaluronic acid also soothe and hydrate skin. 

St. Tropez also has a tanning water that comes in a mist for your face. It smells good, softens skin, and you don't need to rub it in after spritzing. 

This is my favorite drugstore option, and it's gotten me through many summers. Vitamin E and coconut water nourish skin, while the formula feels lightweight and doesn't streak on skin. 

This body mist is infused with coconut water and hyaluronic acid, so your skin stays hydrated and nourished. It dries quickly and develops within three to five hours, so it's perfect for using if you're on the go. 

This tanning water comes with a glove, so you have everything you need right off the bat. It's infused with passion flower to help hydrate skin. 

Use this lightweight spray for an extremely even tan. Coconut water helps plump and nourish skin while vitamin C tackles uneven skin tone and adds brightness. 

Tanning water that foams feels extra luxe and applies smoothly and evenly. This one is chock-full of skincare benefits like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E, which work to give skin a hit of moisture while improving skin tone. 

For the most natural-looking glow possible, Dior's tanning water is hard to beat. This milky water evenly mists onto skin, and it even has ingredients like AHA to improve texture and hyaluronic acid to up skin's moisture levels. 

Sally Hansen's tanning water adapts to your skin tone so you get the best tan for you. It develops in an hour, so the formula is perfect if you need a quick bronze but don't have a long time to wait for it. 

At this point, Jergens is practically the drugstore tanning authority. Its tanning water cements that: it's derived from natural sugars and develops gradually and evenly.