Rocking a stunning tan without the sun is totally within reach with the right fake tanner. Finding the best formula for you, however, can be a little bit more difficult. Available in light, dark, cool, and warm tones, self-tanners have many other features that are critical to consider before you buy and apply. But the ultimate bronzed-goddess glow is totally achievable—as long as you follow these guidelines for finding the right sunless tanner for you!
Choosing the Right Fake Tan
Choosing the right fake tanner comes down to a few key elements: how quickly you want your tan to develop, your level of experience, and the correct undertones for your skin.
Gradual vs Instant Tanner
Choose a self-tanner that best suits your desired time frame. If you’re hesitant to try self-tanner or find instant tanners tend to look streaky on your skin, a gradual self-tanner is an excellent choice. Gradual formulas let you slowly build up to the colour you’d like your skin to be while minimising the visibility of any slip-ups.
If you’re a practised self-tanner or you’re looking for a quick route to a gorgeous glow, an instant tanner will be your best bet. These products tend to develop over the course of 8 hours and leave you with the most colour you’ll develop by the end of that processing time. Those who are experienced in self-tanning or looking for a quick fix for an event will do best with this type of self-tanner.
Inexperienced vs a Tanning Pro
When you’re just starting out, it’s best to start slow—or rather, gradually. This will allow you to perfect your technique over time. Inexperienced self-tanners should also avoid choosing too dark a formula at first. Even the most gradual tanner can show streaks and patches if you go for the wrong shade.
Experienced tanners can go for just about any product! Those who are familiar with self-tanner and use it often will have a better handle on how best to apply their products. Thus, it’s safe to go for bolder, deeper tones.
When it comes to undertones, it’s best to consider the colour wheel.
When choosing a self-tanner that contains a colour-corrector, you’re essentially choosing a tone that cancels out another tone. That would be the opposite colour on the colour wheel. For example, a violet-based self-tanner is ideal for naturally olive and dark skin shades, as violet cancels out unwanted yellow tones. Green-based self-tanners cancel out red tones, making them ideal for pink complexions. Check out our guide to finding your skin’s undertones to help direct your choice of self-tanner.
Sunless tanners aren’t created equal, but quality isn’t the only characteristic separating them. There are tons of options with varying undertones and depths of tan to choose from. We’ve gathered our best options for every skin tone, so read on to find the best option for your desired look.
Fake Tan for Fair Skin
Self-tanner for fairer skin can be a little scary. We’ve found that the best options for very fair skin tend to be those that pack less of an immediate punch. Less intense formulas help you prevent an accidental orange glow. Lighter self-tanners don’t often contain colour-correctors or other added benefits, so being ultra-careful and gradual with your self-tanning is key.
Our top choices for a fake tan for fair skin are:
Designed for the palest of skin, this ultra-hydrating option is ideal for those with fair skin tones. Those with dryness or those who find they’re often reactive or irritated by self-tanner will love the gentle, organic formula as well. This gradual lotion is safe for daily use and builds up to a soft, honeyed bronze. Eco-Tan doesn’t use any additional dyes or colouring in its products. In short, Winter Skin is a great option for fair skin and warm/neutral undertones that needs no colour-corrector.
This luxe, pleasantly scented self-tanner comes in a Light-Medium shade for fairer skins and delivers a natural-looking, deep tan that lasts for 4 to 7 days. Like most tanners for fair skins, this self-tanner doesn’t contain any additional dyes or colour-correctors, allowing a rich, natural-looking tan to develop. With no transfer and a luxe, even finish, Invisi-Foaming Tan Water is an ideal instant tan for fair skins.
A gradual tanner is always a great choice for fair skins, but this uniquely nourishing formula from TAN-LUXE packs an additional punch of hydration and skin-healthy ingredients. The product guarantees even deposition of colour for whatever level of tan you’re building up to. This gradual tanner doesn’t contain any undertones other than caramel, leaving skin with a warm, rich glow. This richly bronzing body butter is a great choice for those with dry skin looking for a soft, buildable finish.
Fake Tan for Light to Medium Skin Tones
If you tend to tan beautifully naturally but want to avoid sun exposure, finding a killer self-tanner that won’t wind up too dark or patchy is ideal. From gradual tanners to instant perfection, there are tons of options to choose from. We’ve rounded up our favourites to help you rock a flawless, fresh-off-the-beach look.
Our top choices for a fake tan for light to medium skin are:
Build your tan up to perfection with this luxe lotion gradual tanner. The unique formula is pH-balanced to adjust to a perfect shade for your skin tone, eliminating any worries about winding up more carrot than chic. This buildable tanner is great for those on the lighter side of medium, with no colour-correctors present and thus no potentially problematic undertones. Designed for daily use, Ella Baché Great Tan Without Sun helps you rock your perfect tan every time.
If you need a fabulous finish without the wait time, Loving Tan has you covered with this ultra-quick route to a natural bronze. Loving Tan, one of the premier brands of self-tanner across the world, has earned its excellent reputation with a range of uniquely natural looking self tanners, and this instant tanner is no exception. Green undertones, present throughout the entire Loving Tan line, elevate olive tones and minimise unpleasant orange/yellow shades from appearing. With no orange base and an easy-to-use mousse formula, Loving Tan 2HR Express Mousse will have you evenly tanned in a snap.
Hydrate and nourish with natural ingredients while achieving a smooth, even glow with Vita Liberata. This unique self-tanner helps you identify exactly where your self-tanner should go while giving you some instant gratification with its instant tint. You get the best of both worlds: an in-the-moment glow while building a true tan. This self-tanner doesn’t contain any undertones or colour-correctors, allowing you to build your colour up naturally. Never orange, always bronze, you can rock an instant tint and a long-lasting look with this luxe cream from Vita Liberata.
Fake Tan for Dark/Olive Skin
If you have a naturally dark or olive skin tone, it’s important to pay attention to undertones and colour-correctors in your sunless tanner. A deep, dark shade can often wind up ruddy or yellow, so look for a self-tanner with colour-correctors to balance out these tones.
Our top choices for a fake tan for dark or olive skin are:
Designed to balance out yellow tones, this violet-based self-tanner is an ideal choice for darker skins. This product helps you go deeply golden without winding up a deep yellow. Enhanced with superfood greens and easy to apply, Great Tan Mousse in Dark leaves you with a rich, golden finish.
Olive skin tones will love this stunning formula, designed specifically with olive skin in mind. Ultra Dark provides a deep, luxe tan without even a hint of orange present. This tanner, like all Loving Tan products, contains a green undertone to elevate olive tones without going too orange. An easy-to-apply mousse with a cult following, Loving Tan leaves you in good hands with your deep tan.
For a long-lasting, rich, dark tan, it’s hard to do better than Vita Liberata pHenomenal 2-3 Week Self Tan Mousse. This quick-drying formula creates a natural-looking tan using pHenO2 technology, which also helps lock that tan down for 2 to 3 weeks. This self-tanner is made with violet-green undertones to counteract any red or yellow tones, leaving you with a perfect bronze every time. Never streaky, orange, or messy, Vita Liberata has you all set for a long-lasting look.
Now that you’ve found your perfect self-tanner, it’s time to get to tanning! So, how can you ensure your flawless shade is applied flawlessly? The proper prep steps, of course!
Prepping Your Skin for Fake Tanner
As with makeup, the prep steps are equally as important as the application when it comes to self-tanner. For a flawless fake tan, follow these tips:
Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate. The most critical step in sunless tanning prep is exfoliation. You want to ensure the self-tanner you choose can penetrate evenly, so it’s important to slough away uneven, dead skin cells before application. This helps your tan appear smoother and more even, and can also help improve how long your tan lasts. For a quick, thorough exfoliation before tanning, try Eco Tan Organic Pink Himalayan Salt Scrub or Alpha-H Liquid Gold Resurfacing Body Cloths
Hydrate dry areas. You’ll want to ensure that drier areas of your body, such as elbows, knees, and feet, are sufficiently hydrated before using self-tanner on them. These areas, due to their naturally drier state than the rest of the skin, tend to soak up more product, which can cause condensed amounts of self-tanner to accumulate there. To properly protect these areas, use a rich, hydrating cream like Weleda Skin Food or Bioderma Atoderm Ultra-Nourishing Cream before applying sunless tanner.
Cover those hands! The palms are much more absorbent than the skin on other areas of the body. Ensure your hands are covered with tanning mitts before sunless tanner application. Tanning mitts not only protect your skin from stains but also help you apply your self-tanner smoothly and evenly to minimise streaks or stripes. Eco Tan Tan Applicator Mitt and Loving Tan Deluxe Applicator Mitt are great options for smooth, orange-hand-free application.
Once you’ve completed these prep steps and you’re all ready to go, consult your product of choice. Every self-tanner is just a little bit different, so be sure to follow the instructions exactly to ensure the best possible result.
Once you’ve applied sunless tanner, you’ve got just a little wait time before you can rock your gorgeous new look! In the meantime, check out our guide to the best fake tanners for more options to get your glow on.
Want to find out more about getting glowy, shiny skin? Check out our guide - The 7 Best Body Shimmers