Sep 02, 2023
The 8 Best Self
Photo: Fun fact: I never even picked up a self-tanning product until I was well into my twenties. They always seemed fussy and complicated to me, and I never thought I needed them—that is until I
Fun fact: I never even picked up a self-tanning product until I was well into my twenties. They always seemed fussy and complicated to me, and I never thought I needed them—that is until I booked my first spray tan. I was asked to do it as research for a story I was writing, and even though I was scared I'd look orange and unnatural, I went for it in the name of beauty journalism. When I left and caught a glimpse of myself in my car mirror, I was shocked. The tan looked incredibly natural and even, and instead of looking like I just had a spray tan, I looked healthy and radiant.
It quickly occurred to me that I wanted to look like that all the time. It also occurred to me that I could probably achieve a similar result at home with the help of self-tanning products. So, I opened up Pandora's Box and began testing a variety of formulas. Some worked, some didn't, but along the way, I learned two things: I can't stand streaks, and I can't stand the smell of dihydroxyacetone (the active ingredient in self-tanners).
Luckily, after a few years of trial and error, I came across a select few formulas that check all the boxes. They don't look orange and unnatural, they don't streak, and they don't smell as strongly as other traditional self-tanning products. Keep scrolling to see all eight.
This vegan formula is one of my all-time favorites. It was first introduced to me through Who What Wear's Senior Beauty Editor, Erin Jahns. On one fateful day, she walked past me, I caught a whiff of a sultry santal scent, and I immediately questioned her. What perfume is that? As you can imagine, I was shocked to learn it wasn't perfume. It was self-tanner. She told me I had to try it, so I did. I was hooked.
Not only does it smell amazing, but it's creamy and lightweight. I apply it with hands and there's never a single streak to be seen. When I'm done, I wash my hands, wait a few minutes before getting dressed, and in a few hours, my skin has a healthy, believable tan.
If santal isn't your thing, you can get the same formula with a rosewood scent. It features the exact same ingredients as the santal version—there's shea butter, cocoa butter, almond oil, passion fruit oil, and avocado oil, which explains why it's so moisturizing.
This was the first self-tanning product I ever used post-spray tan, and I've been a loyalist ever since. It has a fresh coconut scent and it blends easily across my skin. I like the fact that it has a bronze guide color, so I can see exactly where I'm applying it. the only downside to that is that it can come off on clothes and sheets. Personally, that's a small price to pay for an even streak-free tan. I simply wear clothes I don't mind staining or wait a while before getting dressed. Easy.
Since the Bondi Sands self-tanner is foam, it's hard to manipulate with my hands. That's why I always apply it with the brand's self-tanning mitt, which is super soft and flexible. It helps me apply an even layer of color over tough spots, like the crease of my elbow, my neck, and my knees.
Another foaming self-tanner, this one has a tropical mango and guava fragrance, which I personally really like. It's also chock full of good-for-skin ingredients like lotus extract, raw virgin coconut, mango, fig, and cocoa. Together, they can help hydrate and firm the skin, giving it a boost of potent antioxidants.
The brand sells an application brush, but I'm a mitt girl myself. This one is soft and padded, making it easy to sweep the color along my limbs. It also has a tapered design, so it doesn't slip off my hands halfway through tanning, the way others have.
Is it obvious I like foam tanners yet? This one provides an even, golden base of color while treating the skin to ingredients like coconut oil, coffee seed extract, and pomegranate seed extract. It also has a light floral scent which is a refreshing departure from other self-tanners that either smell like straight-up cleaning supplies or are overly fragranced and make me want to open a window.
I never apply a foam tanner with my hands, so I reach for this soft and fluffy mitt when it's time to get golden with the Bali Body mousse.
Remember how I said I like self-tanners that have guide color so I know exactly where I'm applying the color? There are only a few products that are exceptions to that rule, and this is one of them. You might think a mist would give a patchy, streaky result, but this gives my skin a totally uniform radiance. It's so easy to use, too. You just spritz it over your skin and blend it with a mitt. The dihydroxyacetone will get to work, while good-for-skin ingredients like vitamins C and D and hyaluronic acid provide antioxidant protection and a boost of hydration.
The brand's double-sided tanning mitt makes it easy to buff the mist into my skin. I've never seen a single streak after using this mitt. Plus, it's kind of a steal at only $8.
There's also a bronzing face mist that you can shop to accompany the bronzing body mist. The only difference with this one is that you don't need to blend it or rub it in. Simply close your eyes and spritz it over your skin for a gradual, natural-looking glow.
When it comes to a gradual, buildable tan, I like this one for its inclusion of antioxidants and moisturizing shea butter. You can apply it daily or every other day to build color (I tend to apply gradual tanners every third day so I can show some love to my beloved body oils and butters, too).
Shop 5 Self-Tanning and Body Care Essentials
All you need to remove your self-tanner in no time.
I've been loving this body polish lately. It effectively smooths and polishes my skin without being too harsh or causing irritation.
This body butter is beyond. It's so moisturizing and luxurious.
This hyaluronic acid body serum gives my skin a quick hit of hydration.
This dry body oil won't feel heavy or greasy.
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