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Call it an initiation, but anyone who ventures into self-tanning has had at least one bad experience with self-tanner. Maybe it was a Cheeto-orange tint, patches of dark color around your knees and elbows, general streaking, and that distinct, pungent self-tanner smell. Still, despite any previous mishaps, the promise of a bronze that looks like you’ve just returned from the Riviera always keeps us coming back.
Good news: New self-tanning products seem to be competitive, with each formula more innovative than the last. No potentially-irritating chemical additives, zero streaking or staining the bedsheets, and most important of all, a final color that looks natural—not like an Oompa Loompa.
Plus, damage from the sun's UVA rays can be aging to the skin, and damage from UVB rays can burn, and ultimately cause skin cancer. That's why sunless tanner is a welcome alternative.
From lotions to serums to mist to oils and drops, below, find 18 of the all-around best self-tanners of 2020.
View Gallery 18 Photos The Lightweight Glow Clear, Color Correcting Self-Tanning Mousse Isle of Paradise sephora.com $29.00 SHOP NOW
This clear, lightweight mousse absorbs into skin almost instantly—which, as any self-tanner aficionado knows, is key to preventing color streaking and transfer onto clothing. But the real selling point here is its color-correcting technology (peach for light skin tones, green for medium and violet for dark), which promises a natural-looking (re: not orange) final finish. Bonus: Among its vegan, cruelty-free and gluten-free ingredients is a trifecta of antioxidant-rich, skin-nourishing oils, including coconut, chia seed and avocado oils.
The Eco-Friendly Star Sunless Tan Firming Lotion Coola $46.00 SHOP NOW
Seventy percent of the ingredients in this eco-friendly self-tanner lotion are organic, including a form of DHA (the color-inducing ingredient in all self-tanners) that’s derived from beet sugar. It also promises to tighten and tone skin simultaneously thanks to ingredients like caffeine, alaria esculenta seaweed (to support skin elasticity), and pea extract (to boost hydration).
The Zero Streak Promise Alba Botanica $9.99 $6.33 (37% off) SHOP NOW
This 100% vegetarian formula promises zero streaking—which dozens of passionate Amazon reviewers can confirm. It’s also formulated with hydrating ingredients such as shea butter and sweet almond oil, and without common chemical red-flags (including gluten, parabens, phthalates and synthetic fragrance). Oh, and it’s under $10.
The Oil Hybrid The Body Illuminating Self-Tan Drops Tan-Luxe ulta.com $59.00 SHOP NOW
Mix a few drops of this self-tanner (which feels like a serum-oil hybrid) with your favorite body moisturizer in the palm of your hand, then apply just as you would any other body cream. Watch a gradual, natural-looking color develop over the following hours. Though it’s on the more expensive end of the spectrum, a little bit goes a long way, so one bottle should last a while. These drops also allow you to customize your color intensity; Add a several drops into the mix during the summer months or while on vacation, and scale it back to just 2 or 3 per application in the winter, for example.
The Crowd Favorite Self-Tanner Beauty by Earth $30.99 SHOP NOW
With more than 6,000 Amazon reviews and a 4.5 star rating this self-tanner lotion wins the popularity contest. The formula forgoes chemical additives for all-natural ingredients, including DHA derived from sugar cane, aloe vera, shea butter, green tea extract and coconut oil.It’s already a super-nourishing body moisturizer—and the self-tanner aspect is the big bonus.
The Gradual Tan Gradual Tan Tinted Everyday Body Lotion St. Tropez $30.00 SHOP NOW
St. Tropez never fails to deliver innovative, high-quality self-tanning products—but we always keep coming back to their O.G. gradual tanning lotion. Use an applicator mitt to apply the tinted lotion from head-to-toe, then reapply as needed (even daily) to build you color as deep as you want it.
The Hydrating One Argan Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Oil Josie Maran $39.00 SHOP NOW
Don’t let the word ‘oil’ throw you off—this self-tanner absorbs into skin quickly, thanks to lightweight yet nourishing ingredients like aloe and coconut water. The DHA in this formula is natural and develops caramel-toned color in just four to eight hours. Bonus: A handy (and super soft) velvet-like applicator mitt comes included.
The Long Lasting Option pHenomenal 2-3 Week Tan Mousse Vita Liberata dermstore.com $54.00 SHOP NOW
Vita Liberata is another brand name that’s synonymous with high-quality, clever, and natural self-tanning products. This foaming mousse goes on smooth, dries quickly and promises to last for up to three weeks.
The Bang for Your Buck Skincare Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanning Water Mousse L'Oreal Paris amazon.com $11.97 SHOP NOW
This drugstore self-tanner is L’Oreal Paris’ newest product in their impressive (and extensive) self-tanner lineup and is the best for its money. The mousse is enriched with vitamin E to simultaneously smooth and soften skin while delivering streak-free color.
The Natural Finish Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mist St. Tropez sephora.com $35.00 SHOP NOW
Mists are generally a safe bet for a streak-free application and an airbrushed finish for experts and novices alike. Applying lotion can be difficult on areas like your back, but sprays are ideal for covering those hard-to-reach areas. This ultra-fine tanning mist from St. Tropez is one of the best we’ve found. It goes on streak-free, isn’t sticky or heavy, and delivers a natural finish to all skin tones.
The Fast-Acting Tan Brazilliance PLUS+ self tanner Tarte tartecosmetics.com $39.00 SHOP NOW
This self tanner claims to have you looking bronzed within four hours of application. The formula is also unique because it contains a combo of aloe, citric acid, and squalene to smooth and exfoliate your skin as well as add some color.
The Medium Skin-Friendly Pick 2 HR Express Self Tanning Mousse Loving Tan ulta.com $39.95 SHOP NOW
Most tanners are unfortunately created with fair-skinned people in mind, but brands like Loving Tan are making the market more inclusive. If you have medium to deep skin, try this self tanner which comes in darker hues. You get immediate results, and can do it commitment-free because the tan can wash off after just two hours.
The Deep Skin-Friendly Pick Banana Boat Self Tanning Sunless Lotion Banana Boat walmart.com $6.67 SHOP NOW
Here's another tanner that works for deeper skin tones. Bonus: The drugstore, under $10 price tag lets you stock up on multiple bottles.
The Organic Option Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion Kora Organics sephora.com $48.00 SHOP NOW
If you're conscious about wanting green ingredients, count on Miranda Kerr's Kora Organics. Boosted with noni fruit extract, rosehip oil, and seabuck thorn oil to moisturize, soften, and make skin look radiant, this moisturizer gives a subtle, not drastic, color change.
The Face Glow Alpha Beta Gradual Glow Pad Self-Tanner for Face Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare sephora.com $38.00 SHOP NOW
Like semi-permanent bronzer, these convenient, quick-drying wipes gradually add color and glow to your face.
The Mousse Fool Proof Bronzing Mousse James Read Tan dermstore.com $23.00 SHOP NOW
This foam adds streak-free color that could last up to seven days. It's also infused with aloe vera and cucumber for hydration.
The Gradual Tan St. Tropez Tanning Essentials In Shower Gradual Tan St. Tropez Tanning Essentials sephora.com $25.00 SHOP NOW
Apply this genius solution in the shower, then rinse off after three minutes. It not only gets you enviably bronze, but keeps the skin moisturized with almond oil. For best results, use it daily for up to three days.
The Instant Tan Tinted Self-Tanning Body Mist Sephora Collection sephora.com $19.00 SHOP NOW
If you've got a special occasion and need a color boost quick, this bronzing mist will immediately add warmth to your skin.
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