Sep 30, 2023
14 Best Self Tanners for Pale Skin 2023 (Tested & Reviewed)
We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we love. Promise. Say goodbye to the burnt Cheeto days. Though I may have fried my skin in pursuit of a golden tan on my
We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we love. Promise.
Say goodbye to the burnt Cheeto days.
Though I may have fried my skin in pursuit of a golden tan on my fair skin in my younger years, my total disregard for sunscreen and my skin's health quickly changed as soon as I became a beauty editor. These days? I'm sitting in the shade with a sun hat on—SPF on deck—while yelling at my friends to apply (and reapply) their sunscreen ritually. But just because I'm fair-skinned doesn't mean I can't ever be tan. In fact, I've tested every single self-tanner for pale skin under the sun, and I have found the very best, and trust me, these will absolutely not turn you orange.
With so many new tanning formulations and brands in recent years, there are a ton of self-tanners that work well for fair skin. After personally testing and reviewing most options on the market and mastering the art of application, I now consider myself a self-proclaimed self-tanner expert. But to help you out even further, I also consulted the real experts: Tanning pros Sophie Evans, Jordan Cook, and Liz Agresta, and board-certified dermatologist Karan Lal, MD, for everything you need to know about self-tanning application, how to maintain an even, streak-free tan, and which formulas are the best on the market for fair skin, below:
✔️ P.S., This is new, up-to-date info, bb. We updated this article in June 2023 to add new self-tanners for pale skin the internet won't stop talking about, delete outdated oldies, and checked in with new experts for the latest in fake tan, just for you.
Now keep reading for the full breakdown of the best self-tanners for fair skin, according to product reviewers, my personal testing, and tips from a dermatologist and tanning experts on how to choose the best self-tanner for pale skin, how to properly apply and maintain your tan, and what to look for before you buy.
Dolce Glow is one of my newest favorite self-tanning brands on the market. Not only is the Italian-inspired brand created by a celebrity spray tan artist (hi, Isabel Alysa) and backed by celebs (hi, Miley Cyrus), but it's a clean beauty pick and also puts skincare at the forefront of all its tanning products. This gradual self-tanning formula in light-medium dries super fast, gives you the most natural glow, is filled with a ton of moisturizing and hydrating ingredients (see: macadamia oil, jojoba oil, aloe, and glycerin), and for the kicker—it doesn't stain your sheets. *Drops mic, adds to cart*
THE REVIEW: "I am very pale and often turn orange with self-tanner," one reviewer writes. "Not with Dolce Glow! I have the darker color tanning lotion and foam and they leave me looking nice and bronzy! No orange. And the Mia Instant Body Glow is a must; it leaves a light tint with a natural shine!"
If you're super fair, it's a smart idea to purchase a self-tanner that allows you to customize how tan you're going to get. That's why tanning expert Sophie Evans recommends this one by St. Tropez. "The best part is that you can customize the color of your tan by how long you leave it on your skin to develop," she says. To achieve a lighter tan, shower after one hour, two hours for a medium tan, or leave it on up for three hours for the deepest color, she explains.
THE REVIEW: "Always a favorite! The deep olive tan is just perfect, even for fair skin tones," one reviewer notes. "The color it gives my fair skin is so incredibly natural and beautiful."
Ahhh, the OG gradual tanner on the market. This bb has stuck around for so long because it's that freakin' good—especially if you have fair or pale skin. The great part about this Jergens tanner is that it develops over time, and each day you apply it, the darker you get, meaning your level of tan is totally up to you. Self-tanning beginners, this is a great start. Plus, it's filled with superstar humectant, glycerin, and a ton of antioxidants to protect your skin against environmental aggressors.
THE REVIEW: "Non-streaky and moisturizing," writes one tester. "I enjoyed using this as it felt like a risk-free self-tanner option—it gave me a nice glow!"
So you want to look like you just came back from a tropical, sun-filled vacation, huh? That means you need a bronzing formula that gives you a deep color sans the dreaded orange undertones. Enter: This bronzing foam from clean and sustainable brand Coco and Eve. The fast-developing formula comes in three shades (medium, dark, and ultra-dark) and is packed with antioxidants for some skin repairing and protecting benefits.
THE REVIEW: "I've been asked repeatedly if I went on vacation or laid out in the sun," writes one tester. "the color is the most natural I've ever seen and lasts for a good four to five days."
Reasons why I love Isle of Paradise: (1) Founder and pro spray tanner Jules Von Hep is all about body confidence and that self-tanning is for everyone, and (2) they're the OG tanning drops, and they do it right. Filled with antioxidants that protect the skin, a slew of moisturizing oils, hydrating glycerin, and caffeine which temporarily firms your skin, these drops will give you the most healthy-looking, bronzed glow ever. I simply add a few drops to my favorite body moisturizer, rub it all over my skin, and give my hands a good wash.
THE REVIEW: "I love this stuff," writes one reviewer with fair skin and red hair. "This gives me a beautiful glowing tan—I mix it in with the Brazilian Bum Bum Cream, and once you figure out the lotion-to-tan ratio, you’re set!"
Who needs to spend major moola on a spray tan when you can do it yourself? Let me introduce you to my favorite self-tanning spray that's foolproof for an even, airbrushed-looking tan you can DIY at home. I start with clean, dry skin, spray the fake tan on one area of my body at a time, and, using large circular motions, blend it in with a tanning mitt. Thanks to the aloe vera and glycerin, my skin looks immediately hydrated and, two to four hours later, naturally tan.
THE REVIEW: "I've tried several different self-tanners over the years," one reviewer notes. "From lotions to foams, this mist is my all-time favorite. It’s seamless and develops so nicely."
Having a glow for me means l-a-y-e-r-i-n-g myself in body shimmer and oils in the summer. (Hey, I aim to be a ~glistening goddess~ 24/7, 365.) This self-tanning oil by Josie Maran will make you feel like you just bathed in a tub of liquid magic and then slathered your body in the most natural and glowy bronze. Apply to clean, dry skin, and wait about eight hours before rinsing the color off.
THE REVIEW: "I am a super super SUPER pale Puerto Rican woman," one tester writes. "The sun has never kissed my skin—it either burns me red or sprinkles me with freckles. This tanning oil is a game changer to all my pale queens out there who normally turn orange when they’ve used any kind of self-tanner."
Trust me when I say you absolutely need this body glow. Not only does it leave your skin looking like it's been airbrushed from head to toe, but it's also rich in shea butter and sunflower seed oil (to moisturize), squalane (to hydrate), and vitamin C (to brighten). Just like makeup for your skin, it adds the slightest bit of bronzed tint and all the luminizer.
THE REVIEW: "I went to a pool party with this on and I was told by everybody how great I looked," one review reads. "I was in and out of the pool all day, and it was still on! I had to wash it off with soap and water."
I truly don't have enough good words to say about this self-tanner to do it justice. This is my favorite face tanner on the market, and it's the easiest thing in the world to apply. Thanks to the fine mist, it gives a super-even result, while the superstar ingredients (hi, retinol, glycerin, and aloe vera) smooth your skin tone and hydrate it in the process. Start with a clean face, and holding the can about eight inches away, mist the tanner on your face, neck, and décolleté. It goes on clear and will develop within six hours throughout the day or night. Feel free to apply every few days (I typically do three) to keep your skin bronzed.
THE REVIEW: "So, I have tried ALL self-tanners," writes one reviewer. "I bought this on a whim as I wanted a facial tanner and I have not tried this line—to my amazement, this product is BEAUTIFUL not only for your face but for your body as well!"
So the point of self-tanning is to give your skin a bronzed glow without all of the sun damage, right? Right. That's why this sunless tan by Coppertone with SPF 45 checks all of the boxes. The formula provides 80 minutes of water resistance, gives you a gradual tan, and even has a nice sheen to it, so you'll have glowy skin whenever you apply (which should be ~every two hours).
THE REVIEW: "I have been looking for something that gives me sun protection and a tan without making me orange and having a gross smell to it," one review reads. "So far so good! It has almost no detectable scent and gives me a nice moisturized glow when I put it on."
Sometimes, there's not enough damn time in the day to go through the entire self-tanning process. And hey, that's okay, and why products like the Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Bronzing Drops are such cult favorites. Forgot to tan? No prob, just apply this to your face after your skincare routine/before your makeup or mix it in with your foundation, face lotion, or tinted moisturizer for a subtle, natural, glowy tan in seconds.
THE REVIEW: "This product is just gorgeous because it leaves your skin with an alive, glowy look," writes one reviewer, adding, "I love it as an alternative to self-tanning, which is too much of a commitment for me—I am extremely fair, and find it buildable, and not overwhelming for my skin."
Got somewhere to be soon but forgot to tan? Trust me when I say that's me almost every single weekend. That's why you need to get yourself an express tanner that develops in one to four hours, like this one from Tanologist, so you're ready to go no matter how last minute you pushed it. The formula comes with a spray nozzle for easy application and is filled with aloe vera for soothing, hydration, and a ton of brightening antioxidants.
THE REVIEW: "LOVE this stuff!" writes one reviewer adding, "it leaves a natural, non-orange glow, is easy to apply, and is without the typical self-tanner smell."
Calling everyone on a time crunch—this bb is for you. These self-tanning towelettes are basically the easiest, quickest solution for getting tan and prepping your skin in one. They're packed with AHAs and BHAs (i.e., chemical exfoliants) that eliminate blackheads and clogged pores, so not only will your skin look super bronzed, but it'll also be super smooth. All you do is apply the towelette to your clean, dry face in circular motions—just remember to wash your hands.
THE REVIEW: "The application is amazing—especially for lazy girls)—there are no greasy, gross hands, you just swipe it on and you're done!" one review reads.
Face tan can double as face contour—yes, rlly. Tantouring is, IMO, the best tanning hack there is, and it's exactly what it sounds like—contouring with tanner. Like you would any 'ol regular contour, apply the fake tanner with a kabuki brush. (If you really want to amp it up, use the fake tanner around your lips for a semi-permanent lip liner.) I swear this little makeup hack is about to revolutionize your freakin' face.
THE REVIEW: "This is a great body and face kabuki brush," writes one tester, adding "it is rounded which is very comfortable in your hand and large enough to use for spreading a shimmery body oil or tanner."
Let's be real, those with super-duper fair skin may not be able to find a self-tanner they're comfortable in. That's why sometimes it's a smart idea to instead opt for a luminizing cream bronzer, like this one from Tower 28 Beauty, that's filled with moisturizing castor seed oil and mango seed butter. Add it to your face where the sun would naturally hit, and follow it with a shimmery blush (try: Nars Orgasm Blush) for extra warmth.
THE REVIEW: "If you REALLY like to glow, this is the product for you," reads one review. "This makes you look very glow and tan."
There's not necessarily a specific color or type of fake tan that's best for pale or fair skin. "It's a bit of a myth in the tanning world that if you have a certain skin tone, you should use a certain type of product," says tanning expert Liz Agresta. If you are fair and want a tan that mimics a post-vacay glow, reach for a darker formulation, Agresta explains. However, according to tanning expert Jordan Cook, if you want a softer, natural glow to the skin, stick to the gradual developers and lighter self-tanners. "Self-tanning is like makeup—there is so much room to be creative and switch up your tan to suit the event, time of year, your mood, or really anything," says Agresta.
The key to ensuring your self-tanner fades evenly is to prep your skin and commit to aftercare properly. To do this, spray tanning expert Sophie Evans emphasizes that you should exfoliate thoroughly before application and make sure any waxing or hair removal is completed 24 hours prior to tanning in order to prevent a patchy or spotty look.
For aftercare, keep your skin super moisturized with your favorite body butter or body lotion. You can also add a few drops of tanning drops into your regular body moisturizer to maintain your body glow and revive the depth of your tan, which will fade very lightly every few days, says Evans.
Self-tanners work on all skin colors, tones, and types. That said, a darker tanner shade will show up more on a lighter skin tone. "Self-tanners are made with dihydroxyacetone—i.e., DHA—which reacts with amino acids in dead skin cells to produce pigment," says board-certified dermatologist Karan Lal, MD. In fact, an uneven, patchy, streaky tan isn't caused by using too much self-tanner, it's actually caused by using too little, surprise! The level of the DHA in the self-tanner is what makes you tan, not the amount you put on.
For an even tan on every skin tone, preparation is key. "Exfoliating the skin is essential before applying a self-tanner because our skin continuously sheds in different areas—exfoliating ensures the area to be treated is on a level playing field so the self-tanner goes on evenly and produces an even color," says Dr. Lal. More on this and the process below.
"Don't get too overwhelmed with the choice of products on the market," says Agresta, recommending to consider what you want from your self-tan and what best suits your lifestyle. If you're on the go and don't have a ton of time, a multi-use product can be a lifesaver. Some options include a gradual tanner that doubles as a moisturizer, a serum with a bronze tint, or even an easy spray solution that develops throughout the day. "If you love to sleep overnight in your tan, a clear tanner without a color guide is your best friend—waking up in the morning with a deep tan and crisp white sheets and no transfer of color? What a great start to the day!" says Agresta.
Choosing the best self-tanner is only the first step, applying it correctly is what makes all the difference. Here is my tried-and-true process with tips from Cook:
Siena Gagliano is the associate editor at Cosmopolitan, where she primarily covers beauty in the makeup, skin, and hair spaces, as well as some fashion and lifestyle. Wanna know how to get the best brows of your life? Gotchu. What about how to achieve ridiculously glowing skin, a super bouncy blowout, or exactly how to use that viral face mask? Check, check, and check. Before joining Cosmopolitan, Siena was a writer at Bustle and several other media outlets. As NYC's newest resident, she has vowed to find the best (extra) dirty martini this city has to offer—and yes, that means ~attempting~ to try every cute cocktail spot in the city (hit her up with some recs, pls). Follow Siena on Instagram where you'll see that her account is mostly dedicated to pics of her cute dog and that magazine life.
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