Most of us dream of that just-been-at-the-beach glow. But there's a catch. If you are lucky enough to go on a beach vacation or spend the day poolside, baking in the sun isn't really the best idea. UV exposure can put you at risk for skin cancer. Not to mention sun damage can cause your skin to age faster, leading to wrinkles, age spots, loose skin, spider veins, and a blotchy or ruddy complexion.
But you can still be good to your skin and get that sun-kissed, radiant look. Enter self-tanners. Now, you might have some thoughts about self-tanners, especially if the first image that comes to mind is a fake, orange, streaky, and splotchy "tan." But have you seen these new formulations? They're nothing like the ones from years past that would leave you looking like an Oompa Loompa. In fact, a lot of them will leave you with a natural-looking glow that might even have people asking you, "Where did you just get back from?"
There are so many different formulas out there, so I did the research for you and found the long-lasting self-tanners with the best, most enthusiastic reviews. Take a look at my findings below and get ready to glow.
You'll like that this self-tanner is free of parabens, phthalates, and chemical-based active ingredients. It's enriched with aloe vera, shea butter, green tea extract, and coconut oil.
What a reviewer says: "The product is forgiving—I am a klutz, I'm impatient and I didn't use a glove... how did this look better than when I tried to meticulously apply a luxury brand for over an hour?! It's magic. The color builds naturally and is not orange at all. I applied after the shower as I would any other moisturizer and washed my hands after. Didn't see anything but in the next hour I had a beautiful glow. No spots, no streaks, no blotches, no transferring."
All you have to do is mix a few drops into your favorite moisturizer, and you'll notice a glow in four to six hours. The more drops you apply, the tanner you'll look. The color-correcting product is also infused with coconut oil, avocado oil, and chia seeds to nourish the skin.
What a reviewer says: "Love love love! I purchased in the shade dark and only self-tan two to three days out of the week depending on how I'm feeling. A little goes a long way! Also it is good to mix in with moisturizer to self-tan your face. It's also not as stinky as most self-tanners because you mix it in with lotion/moisturizer when applying. This is a must-have for anyone who is wanting a super tan, sun-kissed look!"
This tanning foam is lightweight and doesn't leave streaks. For a long-lasting tan, it's recommended to leave the foam on for six hours before rinsing it off.
What a reviewer says: "It's a mousse and it is strange at first because it is instant color! I've just never experienced the instant mousse color before. I've only used the slow-acting, smelly, orange stuff. This is fast-acting, no smell, and real color."
Here's another lightweight option that has mousse consistency. It dries quickly and goes on evenly. Plus, it doesn't have that weird self-tanner smell. Be sure to exfoliate and moisturize any dry areas before you apply.
What a reviewer says: "Wow. How did I just find this product? I should have been using it for years!! Does not smell awful like other self-tanners. Glides on smoothly. Not too orange. I could go on and on."
The cool thing about these drops is you can mix them with a moisturizer, serum, or face oil to create your own self-tanner. The finish will look natural and glowy, and your skin will be conditioned thanks to raspberry seed oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E.
What a reviewer says: "This is the best sunless face tanning product I have ever tried. All others break out my skin, but this one never has. It leaves a warm sun-kissed glow. I love the ease of application with my nightly cream. [It's a] new staple in my skincare routine for sure."
This drugstore tanning lotion is quick-drying and leaves a little bit of shimmer. The product is also infused with vitamin E and AHA to smooth and soften the skin.
What a reviewer says: "I have used this for years and love it! It is by far the best sunless tanning lotion and does not make you look orange. It gives a very natural-looking tan. It does have shimmer in the lotion so you get a little glowing crystal shimmer stuff on your skin. That may bother some people, but I find it very pretty."
Not only does this lotion give you a nice bronzed look, but it will also firm and tone the skin. That's because it's formulated with alaria esculenta extract and pea extract to increase hydration, smoothness, and firmness.
What a reviewer says: "This is literally the best self-tanner I've ever used. I used to spray tan a lot which I hated because it smells disgusting and can be super expensive, and I've gone through countless self-tanners that never really worked for me. This product is my favorite by far, it has a really nice fruity scent and applied incredibly smoothly. I applied last night before bed, and knowing it's a 'gradual' tan I wasn't expecting the beautiful color it developed into, which was a really nice surprise!"
Jergens is one of the most iconic brands in the self-tanning space, and it still holds up really well. This one gives you gradual, natural color within three days of regular use. The product is also formulated with vitamin E and antioxidants to moisturize.
What a reviewer says: "This stuff is powerful! I'm pretty fair and got the medium to dark (wasn't really thinking when I ordered). After a single use, my legs look like I spent hours in the sun. I love it! However, if your fair-skinned, you're probably safer getting the fair to medium one. If you mess up with this stuff, it shows!"
Who What Wear editors use Dr. Dennis Gross's peel pads religiously to exfoliate and promote cell turnover, and the self-tanning option doesn't disappoint, either. It has vitamin D, DHA, and soy proteins to get your face glowing. And it has the exfoliating powers of the original pads—it contains alpha and beta hydroxy acids to reduce blackheads, rough skin, and acne scarring.
What a reviewer says: "I have tried various face tanners and all were just ok. I discovered these tanning pads and decided to purchase them after reading reviews. I am super happy and will be purchasing these again. The pads are really easy to use, with lots of product on each pad and no streaking. There is enough product for my face, throat, and chest with some left for shoulders and arms. Nice soft color yet noticeable. I used one and a couple of days later applied a second time. Perfect color. Good smell too. Highly recommend!"
Supergoop!'s formula offers both broad-spectrum UV protection and long-lasting color. You'll see some results with this light spray in two to four hours.
What a reviewer says: "This stuff is a MIRACLE. I already have a natural tan but my skin is very dry so in the fall and winter I lose a lot of my glow. I got this two days ago and my skin already looks SO good and feels so moisturized omg!! I love that I'm protecting my skin with natural ingredients while looking like I just came back from the beach! It gives the perfect, buildable, natural-looking, sun-kissed glow!"
A big bonus of this lotion is that it is ultra-moisturizing thanks to hyaluronic acid, panthenol, shea butter, and aloe vera. You'll get a natural-looking tan that can last four to seven days.
What a reviewer says: "Guys. If you want a great, very mild-smelling, gradual tanning lotion, buy this!! I scrub my hands with soap and water after application and have never had a problem with staining. This is obviously a must with all self-tanners and is no different with this product. This is super natural-appearing and very buildable. I put two to three layers on my face/chest before bed, wash in the morning, and it leaves the perfect glow. Also, it is nontoxic! I'm a lifetime customer for sure."
If you prefer a gel consistency, you'll like this one from Clarins. It's so easy to apply, won't leave a streaky mess, and dries very quickly. The color is buildable, too, so you can use it more often if you want a deeper tan. Plus, it's enriched with aloe vera and shea butter to condition the skin.
What a reviewer says: "I have been buying this self-tanner for about two years now. I like it because it looks natural, but mainly because it doesn't dry out my skin. Clarins is a little bit more than some other tanners but it is worth it."
Tarte's streak-free self-tanner is vegan and hypoallergenic. It's formulated with maracuja oil (to hydrate and firm), plus squalene, aloe, and citric acid to condition and exfoliate the skin. The product also has special technology to neutralize that not-very-pleasant self-tanner smell.
What a reviewer says: "This self-tanner is incredible! By far the best tanner I have ever used. Provides a nice bronze tan and is not orange. A must for summer!"
This bronzing foam is lightweight and doesn't feel sticky at all. And if you're impatient, you'll be happy to know that the product dries quickly, and you'll see some color develop in just two hours. It's also vegan, cruelty-free, and made with natural DHA.
What a reviewer says: "The best bronzing foam I have ever found. It is light and goes on smooth and has a pretty smell."
This body mist will leave you glowing and then some—that's because it's infused with 24-karat gold flecks. The color gradually builds with use and will last for five days. It also contains organic rose water to refresh and caffeine to firm the skin.
What a reviewer says: "Love this product!! Tans gradually, but gives your skin a nice glow."
Other Suncare Products We Recommend
Sunscreen every day is a must, even if you're not going to the beach. This one from Elta MD is always a dermatologist favorite. And it's formulated especially for acne-prone and sensitive skin.
After you've been out in the sun, sometimes your inflamed skin needs some TLC. This spray will cool your face and body—it's infused with lavender and peppermint essential oils.
You can use this fast-absorbing sunscreen on both the face and body. The formula features UVA/UVB protection and an antioxidant complex.
Apply this soothing lotion after a day out in the sun. The moisturizing and calming formula contains aloe and coconut oil.
And if you do find yourself with a sunburn, Bioderma's after-sun lotion will soothe and rehydrate. Ingredients include allantoin, ginkgo biloba, glycerin, and shea butter.