Updated 19 April 2022
Are you longing for a nice tan but want to say out of the sun's harmful rays? Look no further - self-tanners are here to help. We have tried a wide variety of self-tanners, to find the best choice out there - one that smells good, isn't too sticky and results in a natural looking tan.
Our tests are independently conducted and reflect the test editor's honest and objective opinions. Selection of products and test results are in no way influenced by manufacturers, retailers or other internal or external parties.
We carry out our tests ourselves and test all products as they are intended to be used in reality. In our test of self-tanners, the products were evaluated both after first application and after repeated use, in order to determine how the product performs and whether you can build up a darker shade. In the test, we used the parameters below to assess the products:
Colour: What colour does the self-tanner produce? Is it a brown tone, and does it look natural? How intense is the colour and can you build up a darker shade over time? Does the product add lustre?
Application: Is the product easy to apply? Is it easy to avoid stripes and white patches?
Stickiness: Is the product sticky on application? How quickly it is absorbed by the skin? Does it leave stains on clothes and sheets?
Scent: What scent does the product have? Can you smell the unique scent of self-tanner? How long does the scent last?
The assessment of the product is based on the overall experience, including the packaging. The score is then based on the assessment in relation to the product price to determine value for money.
Easily applied self-tanner for anyone that doesn't actually like self-tanners
Formula: Spray Packaging: Plastic bottle Tan level: Medium Application glove required: Yes
St Tropez are true veterans when it comes to self-tanners, but that doesn’t mean you always get a perfect colour from their products. With St Tropez Self Tan Purity Vitamins Bronzing Water Mist, however, it’s incredibly easy to get wonderful sun-kissed skin.
This spray product is completely transparent. This has both advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that it’s not entirely clear where you’ve already sprayed yourself. The advantage is that it's not sticky and you avoid ugly stains on clothes and other things nearby. In the end, it turns out to be quite simple to get an even tan – even though the spray is uncoloured.
As with most self-tanners, it’s best to use an applicator glove. That way you simply spray your body then rub the product in using the glove. The spray is then evenly distributed. However, do remember to do one body part at a time – otherwise the spray is likely to dry out before you have time to rub it in with the glove.
The colour develops gradually over a few hours and is really nice. It looks just as if you've spent a lot of time outdoors in the sun. Of course, it’s important to do good preparation first – if your elbows are dry, for instance, the result will be patchy. But if you make sure you exfoliate and moisturise before use, the colour will be nice and even.
It’s impossible to completely mask the smell of a self-tanning product – but during the actual spraying, St Tropez Self Tan Purity Vitamins Bronzing Water Mist smells beautifully tropical. But for hours afterwards it smells clearly of self-tanner. For a nice, even colour, combined with simple application, St Tropez Self Tan Purity Vitamins Bronzing Water Mist is a great choice.
Quick acting but natural and clear result
Formula: Cream Format: Plastic bottle Colour level: Strong Application mitt required: No
The first thing that strikes you when you open Tan-Luxe The Gradual is how fresh it smells – there’s none of that overwhelmingly strong classic self-tanner smell, just a fresh summery scent. The formula is surprisingly runny, so you have to be careful when you apply it. The Gradual doesn’t require an application mitt, but if you already have one at home it’s not a bad idea to use it because it will make the result more even.
The Gradual gives a fast and thorough result. Don’t be fooled by the name – the colour doesn’t appear gradually but all at once. It’s very quick, and within just a couple of hours you can be proud of really nice suntan. Because it produces so much colour all at once, you have to be careful not to over apply it. You can get a long way with a thin layer, which also makes The Gradual economical, and means it lasts longer than you’d think when you first see the bottle.
The product is absorbed quickly and feels light but moisturising on the skin, and as long as you work it in thoroughly (just like any normal body lotion), Tan-Luxe’s The Gradual gives an unbeatably fresh and natural result.
Effective, economical and with a pleasant scent – The Gradual by Tan-Luxe will become a favourite in your bathroom cabinet.
A fake tan for natural-looking colour if you don’t want to pay the earth
Sunkissed Gradual Tan - Light Medium is an incredibly affordable, no frills self-tan lotion. One of our testers commented that the packaging looks like something you can buy at the supermarket. And that’s actually true – Sunkissed is a brand that’s as easy to shop IRL as it is online.
And while the bottle may not be the most attractive, it is generously sized. It’s easy to squeeze out too much lotion, which makes it a bit difficult to dose. However, the lotion is easy to apply and also feels really moisturising. Even testers without freshly exfoliated legs ended up with an attractive faux glow. The colour didn't look at all orange, even if you had very fair skin to begin with. Skin looked perfectly and naturally sun-kissed.
Sunkissed Gradual Tan has a pleasant, fresh smell with a hint of sweetness. The fragrance is neither heavy nor cloying, and actually smells surprisingly nice. Obviously, that unmistakable self-tan scent is till detectable but not unacceptably so.
The lotion is absorbed quickly and leaves no mess. You don’t need to wear gloves when you apply it, but make sure to wash your hands immediately afterwards to avoid staining. Our testers were impressed by how this really cheap self-tanning lotion doesn’t compromise on either result or fragrance.
Non-sticky cream that's straightforward to apply and gives great results
Formula: Cream Packaging: Plastic tube Colour level: Strong Application mitt required: No
Decléor Aroma Sun is straightforward to apply. Forget the application mitt and worrying about an uneven result, as this cream can simply be applied with the hands, just like a body lotion. The consistency is just soft enough, which makes it easy to apply uniformly, and it's not sticky either. Although the fact that the formula feels like a body lotion and that it dries quickly can be deceptive, because the results are pretty strong. If you put your clothes on too soon, or if you sweat after application, you can risk getting an uneven result. And even though the cream is very moisturising, you will still need to moisturise dry areas in advance so that they don't get too dark, something that it's very easy to forget.
Decléor Aroma Sun produces a nice brown shade. One application gives a light, sun-kissed shade, while two result in a clear suntan. The tone of the colour is quite cool, and not at all orange. This is obviously good, but depending on your skin type you may feel that it lacks something in terms of lustre. However, you can supplement this with normal body lotion when you've developed the right colour. The scent is summery but weak, both during application and after a little while. Given how fast the tube gets used up, the price of this product is rather high. But with Decléor Aroma Sun you do get a really good tan very simply and quickly, so of course it can be worth it!
Non-sticky and easy to apply with a natural result
Formula: Mousse Packaging: Spray bottle Colour level: Weak Application mitt required: Yes
Cocoa Brown has exploded on the market and become very popular recently. When you spray out the firm mousse it gives off a soft, sweet scent that smells like a handful of summer. The light brown colour makes it easy to apply in an even layer. The mousse is also slightly golden, which gives a pleasant lustre and immediately makes you feel more attractive. One of the best characteristics of Cocoa Brown, and an aspect that makes it stand out from other products, is that it's pretty much not sticky at all. It's absorbed by the skin very quickly without it being at all difficult to spread the mousse evenly over the skin.
Cocoa Brown can be rinsed off after one, two or three hours depending on how dark a colour you require. So you can't apply it in the evening before going to bed. Obviously this is a problem if you have an active lifestyle. On the other hand, it's a great way to control the result. Sadly a result that produced more colour would have been helpful, as it's a very weak shade. Although it is natural and attractive. The scent of the self-tanner comes through quite a lot, but because you do shower off the product that doesn't matter too much. Cocoa Brown has become popular for good reason. With an attractive result and a good price, this product deserves a top position.
Easy to apply and gives natural results with lots of colour
Formula: Mousse Packaging: Pump bottle Colour level: Strong Application mitt required: Yes
This self-tanner delivers a wonderful golden and natural shade. St. Tropez has quickly become one of the most popular manufacturers in this area, and that's no surprise. The results are quite simply very good. For application, you use an applicator mitt which makes it easy to spread the mousse over your skin. The product is brownish, which makes it easier to get an even result as you can see where you've already applied it. This bronzing mousse gives a good result even after one use, which means that you have to be extra careful to apply it everywhere. If you miss a bit it's guaranteed to be visible the next day.
St. Tropez have succeeded pretty well in concealing the typical self-tanner scent. When the mousse is applied it takes a while for it to dry, which means it's best to apply it in the evening. The brownish colour means that white sheets risk being slightly stained, but you can get rid of the colour by washing them. At first glance, the product may seem expensive, but it's economical and so it lasts a long time. In combination with the simple application and fantastic end results, this means that St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse gets a good score.
Easy-to-use product that gives a natural, lustrous result and smells good
Formula: Cream Packaging: Soft tube Colour level: Gradual build-up Application mitt required: No
Dove's cream gradually creates a beautiful, natural suntanned shade. As the colour is built up gradually over several applications, you don't end up with stripes or dark patches. In combination with the light consistency, this makes the cream easy to use. Dove's self-tanner can be used to advantage on already naturally suntanned skin to reinforce your suntan and create more lustre. As the cream is quite sticky after application, you should wait until it's been completely absorbed before getting dressed if you want to avoid unsightly stains.
One positive characteristic is that Dove have pretty much succeeded in concealing the unique scent of self-tanners. Instead, DermaSpa Summer Revived has a pleasantly mild perfumey scent. The cream is available in two different shades, so that you can adapt the suntan better to your own skin tone. It produces a pale shade of brown, which means that you can even use the darker shade on lighter skin if you want a more intense result. The fact that Dove DermaSpa Summer Revived can so easily be adapted to the depth of effect you want is only one of this self-tanner's strong points. It's also extremely cheap in comparison with similar products, which makes it a very good-value-for-money option.
Face serum that combines tanning with deep hydration
With its Super Glow Hyaluronic Self-Tan Serum, Tan-Luxe is flirting with skincare, not only in terms of ingredients but also with the look of the packaging. This self-tanning serum comes in a stylish frosted glass bottle equipped with a pipette, which is undeniably reminiscent of skincare. With hyaluronic acid, coconut oil and raspberry seed oil on the list of ingredients, it’s also plain that this serum is intended to do a little more than just gradually build a tan. It also offers a moisturising and slightly firming effect.
Tan-Luxe Super Glow Hyaluronic Self-Tan Serum has a rather peculiar smell when you sniff the bottle. Luckily, you hardly notice this smell when applying the serum to your face. Nor did the test person’s partner – who usually reacts to the classic “yeasty” smell of self-tanning lotions – notice anything.
The product, which you apply like a normal serum, is quickly absorbed and works well as part of your normal skincare routine. Even on very fair skin, the result is subtle and looks natural. If you apply it in the evening and find the result a bit too light in the morning, wait a day or so before reapplying, as the colour will continue to deepen throughout the day.
It gives a nice and even result – on drier areas of skin as well. As the serum is transparent, it’s important to keep track of where you’ve applied it, so you don't miss any part of your face. This serum also made our skin feel plumper and well moisturised, which we really liked. A radiant glow and deep hydration are a winning combination.
An organic self-tanner that’s easy to apply and gives a natural result
Formula: Cream Format: Plastic tube Colour level: Light Application mitt required: No
Maria Åkerberg Tan in a Bottle is an organic self-tanner that comes in a stylish white tube. Other than the name, there’s really nothing about this product that makes you think it’s self-tanner in a tube.
Even if you can never conceal the classic self-tanner scent completely, this one smells more herbal than many other products we've tested. When you apply it, you’re not at all struck by the scent of dihydroxiacetone (which is the ingredient that makes you brown, and has a very distinctive smell) – instead it creeps up on you after the product has been on your skin for a while. But even then Tan in a Bottle smells herbal and really rather pleasant.
When you apply this self-tanner, you discover it’s a white and creamy product – in fact so creamy that it’s very clear where you’ve applied it. This makes the process much easier as you don’t have to guess. It takes a while before the cream is completely absorbed, so avoid applying it if you need to get dressed immediately afterwards.
It produces a relatively mild colour. The description says that you won’t go brown immediately, but will achieve maximum colour after 3-4 days’ use. But on our tester, who was quite pale to begin with, there was quite a clear difference after the first application. It’s a pleasant colour that looks very natural – in other words, there’s no risk that your legs will be mistaken for a couple of carrots with Tan in a Bottle.
After a couple of weeks the majority of the colour has disappeared. It fades evenly and attractively, which is also very important if you want to avoid looking patchy.
Long lasting self-tanner that gives a natural sun-kissed colour
BareMinerals Faux Tan Body Sunless Tanner is a coloured cream, which means you never need to worry that you've missed a bit because you can see where the cream has been applied. Worryingly, when first applied your skin turns a dirty brown colour, but this goes away when you have a shower. And the finished result is good and lasts a long time.
In fact, because it lasts so long it’s a good idea to start carefully if you’re very pale. It’s annoying to end up with a deeper colour than you wanted, especially when you can’t get rid of it. But if you get the result you wanted, the fact that it lasts a long time is a real bonus.
BareMinerals Faux Tan Body Sunless Tanner has a thick consistency, but it’s still absorbed into the skin surprisingly quickly. Consequently we recommend that you're careful about washing your hands immediately after you’ve applied it, or that you use an application mitt to completely avoid discoloured hands.
With BareMinerals Faux Tan Body Sunless Tanner, you get a natural colour the day after application. But you get what you pay for and this is one of the more expensive products in the test.
Self-tanning drops for your face at an easily affordable price
Ida Warg has a reputation for effective and affordable self-tanning products. Ida Warg Tanning Drops are no exception.
These Tanning Drops come in attractive transparent plastic packaging that clearly lets you see how much is left. The packaging has relevant information that the product is vegan and fragrance-free, but the instruction text and list of ingredients on the back of the bottle are almost too tiny to read. The instructions in this case are also important, as you should mix these drops with your ordinary moisturiser and it would be a pity to miss this vital detail.
The product is fragrance-free, but of course this doesn't mean that the dreaded self-tan smell isn't there. DHA, the substance that develops the tan and reacts with your skin, is the reason for this smell. As long as a self-tan product contains DHA, there’s really no avoiding this smell. This also applies to Ida Warg Tanning Drops.
To achieve an even and natural-looking tan, you must be careful not to add too many drops to your face cream. It’s better to start sparingly with just one or two drops. If you add too many, there’s a good chance your skin will look orange. So start cautiously! Mixing the drops with your skin lotion makes them easy to apply evenly to your skin. The result is free from blotches. One advantage of mixing these drops with your favourite cream is that it’s easy to combine with your regular skincare routine.
The price is very reasonable and it’s surprising to find such an easy-to-use and effective product with such a modest price tag.
Strong scent, but attractive results with this self-tanning gel
Formula: Gel Format: Plastic tube Colour level: Medium Application mitt required: No
This is a transparent self-tanning gel in a substantial plastic tube. The problem with transparent products is usually that it’s difficult to apply them evenly, but this turns out not to be the case with Loreal Sublime Bronze Fresh Self-Tanning Gel Face & Body.
In fact, it's surprisingly easy to apply the gel. Although it is transparent, it has a very light brown colour, which on pale skin is enough to help you apply the gel evenly. But if your skin’s already a little darker it won’t help much. Though it takes a while for the product to be absorbed, which also means you can see where it’s been applied as the skin is shiny until the gel has dried.
And talking of absorption, your skin will feel sticky for quite a long time. This means you have to think carefully before you use it. If you’re in a hurry to go out, it’s better to wait. The best thing is to apply it a couple of hours before you go to bed, but make sure it’s completely dry before you slide in between the sheets.
Another reason why it’s a good idea to do it in the evening is that the smell develops and becomes really quite strong. Even as you apply it the scent is quite sharp, and as the colour develops the smell of self-tanner becomes really obvious. To avoid having to put up with the smell throughout the day, we recommend you to use the gel at night and start the next day with a shower to get rid of the scent.
But what about the results? They're really good. The colours develop relatively quickly, and the day after application your legs have a lovely sun-kissed colour. If you have very pale skin, it’s best to apply it sparingly. And never forget to exfoliate beforehand. Even though this product contains exfoliating AHA acids, it’s highly recommended to prepare your skin by exfoliating and moisturising to avoid the dry parts becoming patchy.
Immediate, really good results produce a great last-minute suntan
Formula: Spray Packaging: Spray bottle Colour level: Strong colour Application mitt required: Yes
You get an immediate suntanned and beautiful result with Marc Inbane Natural Tanning Spray. The product combines the effects of a coloured spray and the normal self-tanning process. So in addition to the immediate suntan effect, the product also continues to work, just like a normal self-tanner. This means you still have a good brown colour even when you've showered away the upper layer of colour. As the scent conceals the self-tanner scent well, this is truly a product that can be used at the last minute. If you realise an hour before the party that you need a bit more colour for the dress you've chosen, Marc Inbane Natural Tanning Spray is your saviour.
You spray the product on your body, and the idea is that you don't need an application mitt. However, if you want a uniform result, you really do need to use one. Also, despite its spray format, the product is a bit tricky to get in the right spot. Obviously the best thing to do is get someone else to help you spray your back or other inaccessible areas. Unfortunately the spray spreads out and you get a brown layer all over the bathroom. Even in places you were nowhere near. To avoid having to clean the entire bathroom, it's pretty well essential to apply the product in the shower or another enclosed space. This is a shame as it's otherwise a very good product, and the drying time is fantastic. This, together with the scent and the results it produces, means that Marc Inbane Natural Tanning Spray is perfect for a last minute suntan.
Self-tanner that requires several applications but produces a soft, attractive colour
Clarins Liquid Bronze Self Tanning is a product with many loyal fans.
But while this is a self-tanner that’s easy to apply and adapt to your own skin tone, there are other aspects that are more difficult to deal with. For example, it takes a long time to produce a result and requires a number of applications before you achieve the desired colour. Of course this can also be an advantage if you’re really pale and you sometimes feel that this type of product gives too much colour.
If you have a skin tone that’s already a little darker, this self-tanner will probably be frustrating to use. But if you’re pale and want to take a cautious approach, this can be a good product to start with.
Economical concentrate that gives a good shade
Formula: Concentrate Packaging: Plastic bottle Colour level: Weak Application mitt required: No
Clarins Radiance Plus Golden Glow Booster is a sun-tanner unlike most others. The product consists of an oil that you mix with normal body lotion. Simply add four to six drops to a squirt of body lotion, depending on the result you want. To give you an idea, this will be enough for almost an entire leg. The small bottle of concentrate is easy to handle and it's no problem to get out only one drop at a time. However, it's hard to say how practical it is to have to mix the product with lotion. If you've got a really good cream, of course there's a point, but otherwise it's mainly just a pain. The concentrate also dilutes the cream somewhat, so that it becomes thinner than it was before.
Unfortunately, the unique scent of self-tanner also emerges when you apply the concentrate. How much you notice this obviously depends on the lotion you've mixed it with. The colour from the product is very good, quite warm in tone, and gives a sun-kissed look. However, it's rather weak and you need several applications before you have a good result. The product is easy to apply and get an even result from, because once mixed it's essentially just a normal skin cream. And it's also very economical and lasts a long time as a result. Unfortunately this isn't enough in comparison with its competitors. We would have rather seen Clarins Radiance Plus Golden Glow Booster as a product that could be used on its own.
Nice result but terrible smell
Formula: Liquid Format: Spray bottle Colour level: Weak Application mitt required: No
Sometimes it makes no difference how good a result you get from a product if it smells so bad you have to hold your nose and then quickly have a shower to get rid of your headache – it’s just not worth the struggle. And James Read Gradual Tan H2O Illumination Tan Mist Body is just such a product.
Looking on the positive side, this is a self-tanner that produces a nice, natural colour. The liquid also has a little shimmer added, which gives your body a nice glow even before the colour has started to emerge. But, and it’s a BIG but...
James Read Gradual Tan H2O Illumination Tan Mist Body smells dreadful. It’s a heavy smell with a touch of urine, and it’s simply inexcusable. Self-tanning products often smell a bit odd, but they rarely smell this disgusting. The scent is so intensive and so overwhelming that you soon find yourself with a headache and it’s hard not to throw yourself into the shower to get rid of it immediately.
The nozzle doesn’t spray the product evenly, and although you’re not supposed to need an application mitt, it’s probably best to use one to avoid a patchy result. But application mitt or not, you’ll never escape the smell.
In the summer, many of us want our skin to look sun-kissed. But increasing numbers of people are starting to choose alternatives other than being out in the sun, and it's now possible to have fresh-looking tanned skin all year round. It used to be the case that you could tell whether the colour had b een created using a self-tanner or was natural because the artificial shade was more orangey and often patchy. But these days there are lots of good options that produce a nice tanned colour where it's impossible to say whether or not it's a natural suntan. A major contributory factor to this is that researchers have discovered that the active substance DHA (dihydroxyacetone) takes on an orange tone in alkaline solutions, but a brown tone in acidic solutions.
Self-tanners are available in a number of different formats, such as gel, spray tan, cream and mousse. The format that gives the best results depends on what you're used to using. In general, mousse and spray dry more quickly, while cream is often greasy and takes longer to be absorbed by the skin. Mousse and spray can also be slightly easier to spread evenly over the skin.
DHA reacts with the amino acids in the skin's proteins, which creates the darker shade. To begin with, you can't see what shade will develop. It can take up to six hours before the reaction is finished and the darker shade has emerged. So it's a good idea to wait at least six hours before you have a shower to avoid rinsing the brown colour away. The fact that it can take so long for the product to be absorbed by the skin means that there is a risk you'll get stains on light-coloured clothes and sheets. However, these stains can often be removed by normal washing. Self-tanners only sink into the very outermost layer of the skin and therefore disappear naturally when the skin cells flake off after a few weeks. If you want to remove the colour more quickly, you can buy special removers, but it can still be difficult to quickly get back to your natural skin colour.
Many people feel that self-tanners have a very specific scent. This is a result of the reaction that takes place on the skin, so it's not possible to make a product that doesn't smell like this. What most manufacturers instead do is try to mask the scent with different combinations of perfumes that make it more difficult for our sense of smell to pick out the scent of the self-tanner. This has developed more in recent years, and today there are many effective products that smell really good.
Because the product only sinks into the very outermost layer of the skin, you can go out in the sun after applying self-tanner. A natural suntan affects the deeper layers of skin and so it lasts longer. But it can be a good idea to wait for at least eight hours before sunbathing, because the reaction taking place on the skin can make it rather sensitive. Nor is it a good idea to sweat too much immediately after you apply self-tanner, because you may end up with a blotchy result.
One of the challenges of using self-tanners is getting a uniform result that looks natural. To succeed with this, it's important to exfoliate the skin before use to remove dead skin cells. This reduces the risk of dark patches. Another tip is to moisturise dry areas such as cuticles, elbows, knees, hands and feet before applying self-tanner. Otherwise, these areas are likely to absorb more of the self-tanner and become darker than the skin around them. Apply a thicker body lotion and wait until it has been properly absorbed by the skin.
When you then apply the self-tanner, the process is much easier if you use an application mitt. This makes it easier to spread the cream out over your skin and gives you a bigger chance of getting a result without patches and stripes. Use a little less of the product on the areas which would naturally become less tanned, such as armpits or the inside of your arms. It's always very difficult to get an even application on your back. The easiest solution is to ask somebody to help. If that's not possible, an application mitt is at least useful for evening out the edges.
After application, it's important to wash your palms and between your fingers, as otherwise the accumulation of self-tanner in these areas will tend to make them darker and unnatural looking. Wait until the product has dried properly and then wear clothes that aren't too tight, to reduce the risk of your clothes messing up the result if the product hasn't quite dried completely yet.
To obtain a good result on your face, apart from exfoliation and moisturising, it's also important to use a product intended for your face or which can be used on both body and face. Products intended for your body are generally a little bit greasy and can cause skin problems.