We have to admit, having a year-round bronzed glow is very satisfying. But honestly, we don’t all have the time to go tanning at the salon. Most of us also avoid sitting at the beach for hours to get a tan. Many women are especially concerned about sun damage and prefer sun protection over a sunburn.
The solution is the trusty gradual self-tanner. There’s a reason gradual self-tanners are so popular. They’re the best for getting and maintaining a tan when you can’t go to the indoor tanning salon and can’t spare all those hours sitting outside in the sun. Thus, it is essential that you pick the best gradual self-tanner for your skin, or else you won’t get results that will satisfy you.
Sel-tanners are also known as ‘fake-tan,’ but you should know that gradual self-tanner is more subtle. It gives your skin a glow, so it’s really not that fake tan look you’d expect. Women love these products because they involve less procedure and application time than your classic fake tans. All you have to do is rub the spray or lotion into the skin after you come out of the shower.
It’s not an instant tan, but it is a buildable, subtle, and beautiful glow that flatters all skin tones.
What is a gradual self-tanner?
It is a lotion formula that gives you a glowing tan over time, in approximately one week. Think of this product as a moisturizer combined with a hint of fake tan. It is subtle and gradual, so you need to use it daily to achieve a tan. It’s basically a suntan in a bottle.
A gradual tanner is subtle in comparison to classic tanning lotion. It is intended for people looking for a natural-looking tan, and it makes your skin looks as if you’ve just come back from a beach vacation. Through the repeated application of a gradual self-tanner, you can build up the color until you achieve the desired level of tan.
With the help of a good self-tanner, you can avoid indoor tanning salon prices and stay away from the sun.
Here are our top picks for the 8 best gradual self-tanners.
Best Budget Pick: Jergens Natural Glow Sunless Tanning Lotion Self Tanner
When it comes to gradual self-tanners, the drugstore has some of the best options out there. The prices are affordable, and the products do the same thing as their more expensive high-end counterparts. This Jergens lotion is formulated for a darker bronzed look. It is targeted at medium skin tones, looking to go a few shades darker.
You can expect to get a natural-looking glow before and after heading to the beach or pool. The lotion gradually deepens your skin color, giving you the appearance of a darker fake tan. It’s easy to apply because it doesn’t leave any streaks and absorbs into the skin quickly.
This lotion has a hydrating and revitalizing formula with antioxidant ingredients and vitamin E. These nutrients make the skin look healthier and enhance its glow. Therefore, you get the best type of fake-looking tan within a week. For the best results, use the lotion every other day.
- It has a light, fresh scent that’s not too smelly.
- It has hydrating ingredients that keep the skin moisturized the whole day.
- Very affordable.
- Vitamin E enhances your natural skin tone.
- Applies streak-free,
- This product won the Allure Beauty Award for the best gradual self-tanner.
- You need to use the cream sparingly on knees and elbows, or they may appear darker than the rest of the skin.
Best for Face: Jergens Natural Glow Face Fair to Medium
There’s nothing worse than having a mismatched tan between the face and the body. To get the same gradual tan on your face, we recommend the Jergens natural glow formula for the face. It comes in shades ranging from fair to medium-dark. It’s an excellent way to gradually give your face a bronzed glow without breaking the bank.
Combined with the Jergens Natural Glow for the body, you can have the same colored tan head to toe.
To get the best results, use the lotion once a day. You can use it before applying your makeup. It’s great because it also contains an SPF 20 that protects your complexion from harmful UVA & UVB rays.
The formula is an airy mousse texture, and it blends onto the skin smoothly if you apply it with your fingers. Mousse formulas are great because the skin absorbs them easily, and you don’t feel greasy and sticky. It dries down in a maximum of 60 seconds. You’ll see the full result of using this cream after just one week.
When you use a gradual self-tanner on your face, it gives you such a nice glow that the complexion appears more even. As a result, you might not even need to use a foundation anymore. Makeup-free days are going to be your new favorite days.
- This formula is hydrating and offers your skin a good dose of moisture.
- Contains nutrients and skin tone enhancers.
- The mousse formula is very easy to blend into the skin in 60 seconds.
- It contains SPF 20 for sun protection.
- Doesn’t cause acne and other skin breakouts.
- It has a chemical-like fruity scent that can be irritating for people with sensitive skin.
Best Self-tanning Milk: Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk
A milky formula is lightweight and very easy to blend into the skin. Many women actually prefer self-tanning milk to lotions because these formulas are very nourishing and easy to apply. This particular product has a 24-hour moisturizing effect, and it gives the most beautiful glow. After all, Bondi Sands is one of the top manufacturers of tanning products.
You can start to see the tan develop after the first application. This self-tanning milk is ideal for those of you looking for a healthy-looking bronze year-round. It doesn’t give a very dark type of tan, but it’s a subtle glow that makes your skin look flawless. Customers rave about the beautiful color of this self-tanner as it rivals a natural suntan.
The formula is enriched with vitamin E and aloe vera, so it feels nourishing and hydrating as you apply it to your body. To get great streak-free results with this product, exfoliate and hydrate the skin properly and then apply this milk.
- It has a lightweight milky formula.
- Contains vitamin E and aloe vera for extra moisture.
- It is great for lighter and fair skin tones.
- Coconut scent.
- You’ll start to see results in 1-3 days after the first application.
- Great value/price option as you get 13.2 Oz for $19.
- Dual-action formula.
- After a few hours of wear, the scent turns into a classic fake-tanner smell.
- It does streak if you apply it on dry skin.
Best Premium Brand: St. Tropez Gradual Tan Tinted Body Lotion
This tinted lotion feels like you’re putting on a premium body lotion. It doesn’t have that classic fake tan scent, and it applies like a fresh moisturizer. It is easy to apply and goes on streak-free, so there’s no need to worry about patchiness.
The effect of this gradual self-tanner is visible almost immediately. It gives the skin an illuminating glow that lasts longer than other similar lotions. The color looks like you’ve got a natural sunkissed glow from a tropical vacation. It’s rich, deep, and healthy-looking, so you don’t need to worry about looking like you’ve slathered on a ton of fake tanner.
St. Tropez self-tanner also has a lightweight formula that blurs and covers imperfections. It leaves the skin hydrated for up to 48 hours, which is longer than most other products. Since this lotion is powerful, you can use it every other day for a buildable and flawless tan.
- Not streaky at all
- Mood-boosting fragrance
- Gives an instant hint of bronze for healthy-looking glowy skin
- Natural tan color that doesn’t look orange
- Mousse formula that absorbs well into the skin
- Offers up to 48 hours of hydration, so the skin doesn’t feel dry and flaky
- St. Tropez is one of the most trusted self-tanners in the world
Best for a Dark Tan: VITA LIBERATA Advanced Organics Fabulous Self-Tanning Tinted Mousse, Dark
If you like a deep and dark looking tan but don’t have the time for indoor tanning, this mousse is the best choice. This tinted mousse applies like a lightweight moisturizer and absorbs into the skin smoothly for a streak-free glow.
The formula is great for beginners and experienced tanners alike because it is so simple to use. After you exfoliate, simply rub the mousse into the skin in a circular motion. It gives the skin an instant colored tint, but after several uses, you’ll notice that you’ve got a gradual glowing tan.
Vita Liberata products are such cult favorites because they also have skincare benefits. The marula oil in this formula makes the skin look and feel hydrated, and it helps prevent any dryness for up to 72 hours. This product is formulated with certified botanicals, so it’s free from harmful ingredients. Vita Liberata is a must-try if you want a dark tan.
- Contains certified organic botanical and clean ingredients
- Doesn’t have a chemical smell thanks to the odor-remove technology
- Offers a rich caramel color, perfect for those with darker skin
- Mousse formula dries in seconds
- Applies streak-free
- Has a moisture-lock system, so it’s a very hydrating formula
- Contains aloe vera, which offers anti-aging benefits
- Stains clothing
- The newer formula seems to be lighter than the old one
Best Spray Mist: Neutrogena Micromist Airbrush Sunless Gradual Tanning Spray
There’s nothing easier than spraying this fine mist from Neutrogena all over the body for a sunkissed bronze. A spray mist formula is simple to use because you don’t need to keep applying in small pumps. Step into your bathtub or shower and spray the fine mist all over the body. You can easily cover the hard-to-reach places like your back with a hands-free application. Think of it like airbrushing a tinted moisturizer onto your skin.
The formula is alcohol and oil-free, so it’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. The color is a medium-dark, but the formula is very buildable so that it will take you to your desired shade in less than a week.
Unlike a lotion, there’s no need for deep rubbing, and the spray dries down entirely in about 5 minutes. This product is ideal for streak-free and even looking tans. So, if you’re always running late, this spray can be the solution to your tanning needs.
- Contains moisturizing ingredients such as witch hazel
- Doesn’t clog pores (non-comedogneic)
- A good spray bottle that sprays a very fine mist
- Hands-free and no-rub application
- Applies evenly and streak-free
- Dries in 5 minutes
- Oil-free and suitable for sensitive skin
- Need to blend around the armpits and knees to avoid patches and streaks
- Comes off quite easily
Best Mix-in Liquid Self-Tanner: Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster
As far as innovative products go, Clarins has nailed this one. It is a liquid serum formula that you mix into your daily moisturizer to create a gradual self-tanner. The best part of this method is that you can add as many drops as you need to get the color intensity you want.
This radiance glow booster contains DHA bronzer, which gives your skin the appearance of a light tan, almost instantly. It’s the best way to get a safe fake tan in the color that you want. Since you can customize and tailor the product to your skin tone, it’s a great investment.
The serum is packed with moisturizing and firming ingredients for skin that looks youthful and glowy. It’s not surprising that this formula keeps winning beauty awards over and over. It allows every person to customize and control how tanned the skin looks.
- A mixable formula you can use with any moisturizer
- You can customize the color of the tan
- Contains bronzers
- Serum oily formula that blends into the lotion well
- Gives a natural glow
- Long-lasting effect
- Contains erythrulose (self-bronzing active ingredient)
- Can’t be used on its own
Best Illuminating Lotion: Tan-Luxe The Gradual illuminating tanning lotion
Imagine if your self-tanner could look like a beautiful bronzer and highlighter for the body. Well, that’s the effect you get with this illuminating self-tanner. It makes the skin glow, and it looks so much more radiant after each use. Experienced tanners swear by this product because it gives the perfect caramel bronze color every time.
This lotion gives results after the first application, and the tan is impressive, especially after prolonged use. The lotion is not streaky when applied correctly, and it doesn’t have an orange tint to it. As for the scent, it’s not odorless, but it has a subtle cookie type of fragrance so that it won’t irritate you.
We recommend this product for those of you who are experienced using gradual self-tanners because you need to rub this in precisely to avoid uneven streaky patches. Give yourself enough time to work the lotion into the skin carefully and avoid putting too much product on elbows and knees.
- You can use the product on the face too
- Contains aloe vera to provide hydration
- Great for fair skin
- Doesn’t leave an orange tint
- Illuminates and leaves skin looking glowy
- Makes the skin softer
- Light scent
- Not tacky, greasy, and sticky
- Streaky if not blended well
- Not a very dark tan, more light to medium
How to use a gradual self-tanner
It is almost effortless to use a gradual self-tanner, but you still need to do just a little bit of prep work. You’ll see the best results if your skin is in top condition. The idea behind gradual tanners is that they turn your skin darker after about a week of use. Before you apply the self-tanner, you still need to exfoliate your skin to absorb the product well. Dead skin cells will cause your tanner to apply unevenly in streaky patches. So, prepping the skin is the necessary first step.
Keep in mind that you DO NOT need to use a moisturizing cream or lotion before you apply this type of tanner. The gradual self-tanners already contain moisturizers in the formula, and they do an excellent job of hydrating the skin.
Step 1: Take a shower and use a skin buffer all over the areas you’ll be applying the gradual self-tanner. You may need to wait several hours after exfoliating. Check the product label.
Step 2: Take one small blob of lotion at a time and rub it into the skin in a circular motion. Make sure that you rub it in properly. It’s best to use your hands and fingers to do this; you don’t need special accessories.
Step 3: Apply a smaller quantity on the elbows and knees because these get darker quicker.
Step 4: Always wash your hands after you apply the self-tanner to avoid stains.
Step 5: Repeat the steps daily, and you’ll start to see the color develop in as little as three days.
As the tan starts to fade, you need to keep using the lotion daily to keep it looking bronzed and even.
How do I choose a gradual self-tanner?
The first step to choosing the best self-tanning lotion is to pick the type of formula that works well on your skin.
There are three popular formulas: lotions, sprays, and mousses.
Sprays and mists are the best options for people looking for a very speedy application. You simply spray the product all over the body and let is dry. The disadvantage of sprays is that they will make a mess in the bathroom since it’s hard to be precise when spraying.
Mousse formulas are lightweight, nourishing, and easy to apply. They are applied in the same way you apply a lotion by placing small amounts of product on the skin and rubbing in a circular motion.
Lotions are the most popular gradual self-tanners. They’ve been used for decades to get a natural-looking tan. Pros and beginners use lotions because there is no overspray, and most lotions have a light scent, so you don’t smell like a typical fake tanner.
Another thing to think about is how you apply the self-tanner. Experts recommend you use an applicator mitt to avoid stains. The mitt also helps ensure the product applies evenly. But, it’s perfectly okay if you use your hands to rub the product straight into the skin.
With all the gradual tanners on the market, it’s cheap and easy to have glowing skin all year round. As long as you exfoliate and cleanse your skin before applying a gradual self-tanner, you can’t really go wrong with these products. We recommend them because you avoid exposure to harmful UVA and UVB rays, yet you end up with a sunkissed glow. Once you start self-tanning, you’ll see how quick and effortless it is!