Too Good to Gatekeep—These Self-Tanners Are the Secret to Your Glowiest Summer Skin


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The summer solstice is my Super Bowl. I was born in the summer and my name literally means ‘The Sun.’ When the weather gets warmer, I defrost. I relish al fresco dining, summer outfits, and the smell of coconuts and vanilla (my signature summer scents). As a Black woman, I grew up inundated with beauty standards that valorized lighter skin and told me to get out of the sun. But for years, I would bare my skin to the sun in pursuit of my summer shade. I’ve always felt most myself after a sun-drenched day.

Cut to a decade later and I’m paying for my devotion with endless bottles of sunscreen and piles of protective clothing. While I still enjoy a healthy amount of sun exposure—my serotonin depends on it—I make sure to apply and reapply sunscreen fanatically. And you’ll never see me out without a hat.

Featured image from our interview with Remi Ishizuka.

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Self-Tanner

Finding the best self-tanner has proved to be my sun-obsessed solution. Luckily, the past few years have transformed the self-tanner industry into a certified skincare category. From skin-first formulas to BIPOC-led brands for darker skin tones, sunless tanner is no longer a guaranteed way to look orange on vacation. Instead, it’s our secret to glowing skin year-round. Which is why we’ve dug deep to discover the best self-tanners.

How to Choose the Best Self-Tanner

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been burned—maybe literally—by self-tanners. Thankfully these days, gems abound. To find the best of the best self-tanners, we went to the experts. Ahead, Sabrina Johnson, spray-tan stylist and founder of Everything Made For You, and Nichelle Temple, a celebrity esthetician and founder of Inderma Studio, dish on everything to know about shopping for and applying the best self-tanners. Let’s get glowing.

Woman wearing zebra-print dress.

Benefits of Using Self-Tanner

Self-tanners combine the best of both worlds: glowy, natural color without compromising your skin health. On your body, a self-tanner can hide keratosis pilaris and hyperpigmentation like nothing else.

“Self-tanner and spray tans are not only a great solution to replace sitting in the sun, but they are also safer,” says Johnson. “You can achieve a natural glow without the risk of sun damage caused by UV radiation, which can cause skin cancer, premature aging, and hyperpigmentation.”

“It is the best solution if you like the look of a bronzed sun-kissed glow,” adds Temple, who notes formulas’ significant improvements and innovations over the past few years. “Luckily, self-tanners have come a long way in terms of application, scent, and longevity.”

The Myth of ‘Safe Tanning’

Any color is a sign of skin damage—disheartening, I know. Especially if you forgo sunscreen or use a lower SPF to deepen your shade. Temple warns against it, even in service of a tan. She encourages staying mindful of the following top summer skincare mistakes:

  • Not wearing sunscreen regularly
  • Forgetting to apply sunscreen on sensitive areas like ears, lips, back of the neck, and tops of feet and hands
  • Neglecting to reapply sunscreen
  • Not applying enough sunscreen

Some people also apply self-tanner, then forget additional sun protection. Don’t make that mistake. “Self-tanner will not provide any sun protection, so it is still important to protect the skin with sunscreen even if it looks like you have a ‘base tan.’”

Woman shaking beach towel.

Self Tanner vs. Salon Tanning

As a spray tan stylist, Johnson is an expert at giving clients the perfect glow in the salon. However, she notes that you can achieve a similar look at home.

“Self-tanners are considered a DIY application. You can apply them at home using various products like lotions, mousse, and serums. Self-tanners are generally less expensive, but results can vary based on product, and application may require trial and error for beginners.”

To get the salon-like glow at home, be sure to choose the right tanner for your skin type, skin color, and desired shade.

Unpacking Self-Tanner Ingredients

According to Temple, look for naturally derived dihydroxyacetone first. “This is the most popular ingredient. Some bonus ingredients would be a formula that is botanical-based and hydrating with aloe vera, glycerin, or jojoba to keep the skin moisturized.”

Johnson agrees. Get a self-tanner that can both hydrate and make your skin glow. Johnson also recommends antioxidants to give your skin a natural glow, too.

Look for these ingredients in your self-tanner:

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerin
  • Aloe vera
  • Vitamins A, C, and E
  • Antioxidants: (Niacinamide, Resveratrol, Coenzyme Q10, Ferulic acid, Copper, Zinc, Selenium)

To keep your glow going, avoid anything that will dry out your skin and undo your skin prep. Johnson advises: “Avoid self-tanners with harsh chemicals like parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.” Alcohol, which is found in many quick-drying formulas, can also be harmful, but it can exacerbate dryness and dehydration.

Sanne Vloet reading.

How to Make Your Self-Tanner Last Longer

“To get the most long-lasting and natural-looking tan, make sure you have exfoliated and moisturized the body before application,” advises Temple, explaining that you should prioritize areas like the elbows and knees.

Johnson also recommends a full skin-prep and self-tanner routine:

“The biggest mistake you can make when using self-tan is not prepping the skin. Skipping exfoliation can lead to uneven application and patchiness. Avoid chemical exfoliants like AHA, BHA, and retinol before and after tanning as they will make your tan fade faster.”

Remember: when it comes to applying product, less is more. As Johnson notes, you can always add another layer but you can’t stop the process once it’s applied. “During your first shower, only use lukewarm water, no soap, and make sure to get all the bronzer off, otherwise you might develop streaks.”

Lastly, hydration is key. Drink water and moisturize daily to maintain an even tan for as long as possible.

Beauty products bathroom counter.

The Best Self Tanners, Tested and Reviewed

These days, you can find the right self-tanner for you without having to risk turning orange. “Each product offers different benefits, so consider your skin type, desired outcome, and any skin sensitivities when choosing a self-tanner,” says Johnson.

If you’re standing in the self-tanner aisle or toggling between product types, consider this your definitive guide to the best self-tanners.

Smells great and applies entirely streak-free. This is the first anti-aging, anti-cellulite self-tanner. The list of benefits is lengthy—there are over 6,000 reviews to prove it.

  • Key ingredients: Dihydroxyacetone, Glycerin, Castor Oil, Coconut Oil, Amino acids, Antioxidants
  • Time to tan: 2 hours
  • The shower test: Rinse off after a minimum of 2 hours (use overnight for a deeper tan)
  • How long it lasts: 10 days
  • Other notes: Includes anti-aging and anti-cellulite ingredients

With 20 facial tanning pads, you’re well-equipped to get your perfect glow. We love that these pads not only give you the color you’re after, but they deliver a skin-supporting dose of Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids to deeply exfoliate the skin and slough away dead skin cells.

  • Main ingredients: Encapsulated Dihydroxyacetone, Alpha Beta acids, Vitamin D
  • Time to tan: 1 hour (continues developing with daily use)
  • The shower test: Wash off after 6-8 hours
  • How long it lasts: 4-5 days. Apply 2-3 times a week to maintain results.
  • Other notes: Exfoliates as you tan for anti-aging benefits

Proof that you don’t need to splurge for the tan you want. A quick Target run and you’ll have the lightweight, natural bronze your summer needs. This self-tanner dries quickly and has a nice tropical scent you’ll love.

  • Main ingredients: Glycerin, Dihydroxyacetone
  • Time to tan: Instant (60 seconds)
  • The shower test: Wait 4-5 hours before showering.
  • How long it lasts: 1-2 weeks.
  • Other notes: Buildable. Use it the next day for an even deeper color.

This nourishing formula is great for beginners, building a gradual glow that’s sun-kissed but still subtle. We love the blend of nourishing, hydrating ingredients like Vitamin E and Shea Butter to deliver a glow from the inside out.

  • Main ingredients: Dihydroxyacetone, Sweet Almond Oil, Coconut Oil, Oat Oil, Raspberry Seed Oil, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter
  • Time to tan: Gradual (2-4 hours)
  • The shower test: Shower after 4-6 hours.
  • How long it lasts: 1-2 weeks
  • Other notes: Contains Cellutone Complex, which firms the skin and reduces the appearance of cellulite.

For when you’re minutes from stepping out the door and need a little something to finish your look, Isle of Paradise has you covered. Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and vitamin C deeply hydrate the skin for up to 24 hours.

  • Main ingredients: Dihydroxyacetone, Caramel, Glycerin, Castor Oil, Avocado Oil, Hyaluronic Acid, Coconut Oil, Ascorbic Acid,
  • Time to tan: 30 mins (deepest tan in 3 hours)
  • The shower test: Wash off after 30 minutes
  • How long it lasts: 7 days
  • Other notes: Leave on longer for a deeper tan

Best Self-Tanner for Darker Skin Tones: Bondi Sands Pure Self Tan Foaming Water Dark

  • Main ingredients: Dihydroxyacetone, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin E
  • Time to tan: 6 hours (For the deepest tan, re-apply 30 minutes after initial application.)
  • The shower test: No rinse needed. Will develop for 24 hours after application.
  • How long it lasts: 5-7 Days

We all want a healthy, luminous glow, but sometimes, self-tanners are simply too much. Saltyface delivers the exact radiance you want, with a natural-looking appeal and light, water-like wear.

  • Main ingredients: Dihydroxyacetone, Erythrulose, Glycerin, Aloe, Chamomile, Cucumber, Marshmallow Root, Calendula
  • Time to tan: Gradual, continues developing over 24 hours
  • The shower test: Use after showering. For more subtle results, wash off 30-60 mins after applying.
  • How long it lasts: 2-3 days. Use 1-2 times a week to maintain tan.
  • Other notes: Made specifically for your face

These daily bronzing drops enrich your tan with an instant color boost. Apply directly to your face or mix with your body cream to deepen and preserve your bronze. Great for keeping your self-tanner glowing while on vacation.

  • Main ingredients: Dihydroxyacetone, ceramides, vitamin C
  • Time to tan: Instant
  • The shower test: Washes off in the shower
  • How long it lasts: 24 hours. Requires daily application.





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