We all want the gorgeous, bronze sunkissed glow that you get after being at the beach all day. However, by now, we all know that laying out in the sun without SPF is dangerous, and even the best tan isn’t worth the risk. Luckily, there’s a little something called self tanner that can help give you the glow you seek.
Using the wrong self tanner can lead to all kinds of trouble, from orange-hued skin to spending a ton of money on a product that doesn’t work. Pro tip: Houston dermatologist Jennifer Segal, MD, tells her patients “to use self-tanner liberally on the legs, and to apply it lighter on up towards the head, ending at the shoulders.” She warns that self-tanners can emphasize dark spots and sun damage on the face. Studio City, CA dermatologist Gene Rubinstein, MD says this is especially true for sun spots that have a bit of texture to them. “Self tanner will absorb more into those areas. Try to go around them or apply Vaseline or Aquaphor on those spots.” The experts note that self-tanners don’t mean you can skip sunscreen, which Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias says is a common misconception.
Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD, says what’s great about good self tanner products is that they allow you “to get that bronze glow without having to use darker shades of makeup, and of course, stay out of the sun.” We’ve rounded up some dermatologist-approved self tanners that won’t steer you wrong.
Best self tanners as recommended by dermatologists—from lotions to sprays
Dr. Elias recommends this product because it “dries fast and has amazing professional-grade skin care components in it like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide that soothe the skin and keep it moisturized.” Another benefit is that pigment appears immediately, so you know where the product has been applied, but it will also continue to deepen over the next eight hours, says Dr. Elias.
This self-tanning moisturizer that Miami dermatologist Anna Chacon, MD recommends works wonders. It visibly tightens, reduces the appearance of dark spots and fine lines and defends against environmental aggressors while promoting a gradual, gorgeous glow.
Using an exfoliator and self-tanner in one helps ensure the best bronzing results. Dr. Chacon says you can get a “stunning, sun-kissed tan in three to four hours” with this product that multiple doctors recommended.
“This multitasking self-tanning pad contains AHAs to exfoliate rough, bumpy skin and naturally-derived BHAs to help clear pores and prevent body acne,” says Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “This exfoliation helps to ensure a smooth, even tan application.”
Davie, FL dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD says she loves this self tanner “because it’s customizable to different shades of skin types, you can build the tan up as needed.” She says it’s also user-friendly—all you have to do is add the drops to your favorite moisturizer. As a bonus, she adds that it also smells fantastic.
This COOLA self tanner, with a pina colada scent, is a fan favorite of Rochester, NY dermatologist Lesley Loss, MD. Not only does it ease your skin into a natural-looking golden glow, but it also uses shea butter and caffeine to help smooth and firm skin.
While bronzing skin, these self-tan drops will also offer protection against free radical damage with stabilized ascorbic acid and vitamin E, notes Dr. Schlessinger. It’s a great choice for straightforward skin-care lovers since it’s 95 percent of its ingredients have natural origins and adapt to all skin tones, he adds.
New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD suggests this Clarins self tanner. “It can be mixed with your favorite moisturizer and gives a nice, even, subtle tan,” she says.
When you’re a well-renowned dermatologist, you have the benefit of developing your own products. Baton Rouge, LA dermatologist Ann Zedlitz, MD’s favorite self tanner is her own Z Glow & Go Sunless Tanner because “it’s lightweight and absorbs into the skin quickly.” It’s also super easy to apply and doesn’t have a strong self tanner scent—as many others do.
PSD Safe Tanning Facial Towelettes (available in-office)
New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD loves self-tanners “because they can give you nice color and a glow without exposing you to UV rays.” She carries self-tanning facial towelettes, available at her practice, around with her. They’re pre-moistened and infused with antioxidants and hydrating ingredients to promote a natural-looking streak-free tint.
Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Janet Allenby, MD says she’s a “huge fan of self tanners since we work so hard in trying to reverse the effects of sun damage.” Her favorite is this Sunless Tanning Mist. It “develops to a great color, more on the reddish side, along with being really easy to use at home, it sprays upside down, doesn’t streak, and doesn’t have that awful smell.” A pro tip from Dr. Allenby: use a hairdryer after spraying it to help it dry and set faster.
These drops are formulated to be added to your favorite skin care to give you the perfect sun-kissed glow, explains Dr. Honet. “Not only can you adjust the amount of glow, but it is also compatible with all skin types and is non-comedogenic. This one is especially ideal for those susceptible to breakouts,” she adds.
New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD, says this Bronzing Foam is easy to apply and it provides a great color that’s not too orange. This self tanner does it all. It’s anti-cellulite and anti-aging and also helps hydrate and firm the skin.
In addition to giving you a great tan, this pick from Dr. Papantoniou is packed with ingredients that are great for your skin. “The Towelettes have aloe vera, anti-aging properties, and they boost hydration of the skin (due to the humectant, vitamin B5),” says Dr. Papantoniou.
Chapel Hill, NC dermatologist Beth Goldstein, MD surveyed her clinic and found that these towels were a top pick among experts. They allow you to “avoid the sharp edges of the treated and untreated areas with a more natural appearing color.”
Dr. Honet also recommends these towelettes, noting that they’ve been around a long time and are especially great for self tanning on the go. “These towelettes are drenched with self-tanner that’s easy to apply for even application and great for travel.”
Monroe, LA dermatologist Janine Hopkins, MD, suggests St. Tropez brand products. She says they’re always “a great option for a golden, bronzed appearance.”
Dr. Goldstein’s clinic also gave this mousse a vote of confidence as it gives a great natural-looking color. They recommend using it with a tanning glove.
Louisville, KY, dermatologist Tami Buss Cassis, MD, loves Avène Self-Tanning Moisturizer. However, she notes that the product has a bit of a learning curve. She mixes it with her daily moisturizer to “slowly build a tan as the weather gets warmer.”
This is also a favorite of Dr. Segal, although she notes it’s been discontinued in the states, so it can be challenging to get your hands on. She loves this product “not only because it gave a lovely bronze glow but especially because it was not irritating and perfect for sensitive skin.”
This double-duty product gives instant color, which makes it ideal for day-of self tanning, but it also deepens the skin overnight, says Dr. Honet. She warns that it’s quick-drying, so you should apply with a mitt to promote a more even application.
Dr. Papantoniou suggests choosing a product that has additional benefits like anti-aging or moisturizing. This product has “the added benefits of not only being able to be mixed in with a serum or moisturizer to boost the hydration, but it also has hyaluronic acid and is fragrance-free,” says Dr. Papantoniou.
As the name implies, apply this product right after the shower on wet skin. “It moisturizes the skin, doesn’t stain clothes, and spreads on evenly since your skin is wet,” says Dr. Peredo.
Dr. Honet calls this one a “cult classic to give instant color for winter-blah skin and washes off in the shower. Think of it as makeup for the legs.” It comes in a spray and lotion version with a variety of color depths.
Dr. Honet notes that there is also a glow version called Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Illuminator ($9), “which adds the effect of a light-reflecting highlighter for the legs and other parts of the body.” Dr. Segal also loves the tried and true Sally Hansen products. They’re “reasonably priced, readily available, and effective,” says Dr. Segal.