The 12 Best Self-Tanning Lotions for a Healthy Glow

Keep a tan year round minus the skin damage with picks from St. Tropez, Isle of Paradise, and more.

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The Best Self-Tanning Lotions for a Healthy Glow

Shape / Alli Waataja

Summer is around the corner. After a long winter spent indoors, it’s natural to feel a sense of the blahs and your skin can be impacted too. If your skin has lost its mojo, a self-tanner may be the beauty ritual to kickstart your glow. Paler, dry skin may appear dull and without radiance and a hint of a tan can bring it back to life. 

While there are a multitude of self-tanning products available now, including oils, mousses, sprays, and mists, the classic self-tanning lotions have come a long way — and they're still one of the easiest and fastest ways to achieve a streak-free application.

Because there are so many self-tanning lotions out there, it can feel overwhelming to figure out which ones are actually worth buying. Instead of wasting money on options that will turn your skin orange, we found exactly which ones will give you the sun-kissed luminous quality.

These top-rated self-tanners have an overwhelming amount of glowing reviews and get our stamp of approval. From affordable drugstore self-tanners to super hydrating options, keep reading to see which self-tanning lotions shoppers love the most.

Best Overall

St. Tropez Classic Bronzing Lotion

St. Tropez Classic Bronzing Lotion


Why We Like It: The tan lasts a full week. 

It’s Worth Noting: This may be too dark for some skin tones.

St. Tropez is synonymous with self-tanning for a reason. The brand has built a reputation off innovating in the tanning space, launching new formulas and applications to suit all of their customers. One of their first, and most well known, products is the classic lotion. It squeezes out as a lotion that can be rubbed on with a mitt or your hands (just be sure to wash off to avoid orange palms). The lightweight lotion dries fairly quickly and then you can go about your day — or go to sleep — until it is time to rinse off. Once the tan develops and sets, you can squeak out nearly a full week of color before reapplication. Applying lotion everyday can help increase the life of your tan, too. 

It is only available in one shade and that may be too dark for those with pale skin, who only want a hint of bronze. However, you can control the depth by how long you leave the product on your skin — four hours for a lighter color and eight hours for a full tan. 

Price at time of publish: $44

Size: 8 oz | Shades: 1

Best Budget

L'Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Tinted Self-Tanning Lotion

L'Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Self Tanning Lotion


Why We Like It: The formula has an instant bronze. 

It’s Worth Noting: This has a fairly dramatic level of shimmer.

A high-quality self-tanner that doesn't break the bank? You've found it here with this lotion from L'Oreal Paris. The affordable product delivers a shimmering streak-free golden glow with every application. You’ll get an instant hint of bronze when you smooth the tinted lotion on and a more lasting tan develops throughout the day. Let the product fully dry before getting dressed to avoid transfer. 

While the shimmer adds a pretty radiance to the skin, it isn’t subtle and may not be to everyone’s tanning tastes. 

Price at time of publish: $11

Size: 6.7 oz | Shades: 1

Best Mix-In

Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Firming Body Drops

Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Firming Body Drops


Why We Like It: These can be added to any lotion of your choosing. 

It’s Worth Noting: There’s no guide color.

Isle of Paradise self-tanning drops have a loyal following and for good reason — the mix-in innovated the self-tanning industry with a customizable product. If you’re not familiar, the product comes in a serum-like bottle with a dropper, you then add four (or more) drops into your favorite moisturizer and smooth over your face, neck, and chest. Over the course of four to six hours, your light tan will develop. These body drops follow the same concept. They come in three shades — light, medium, and dark — to mix into your body lotion for an allover glow. Along with a tan, the drops have caffeine, to tighten and smooth the appearance of your skin, plus oat extract to hydrate.

Because there is no guide color to these drops, you’ll need to take extra care to rub in evenly over your whole body. We recommend working in small sections and giving yourself plenty of time to apply aka not when you’re running late to work. 

Price at time of publish: $38

Size: 2.54 oz | Shades: 3

Best Gradual

Bondi Sands Skin Illuminator Gradual Tanning Lotion

Skin Illuminator Gradual Tanning Lotion

Bondi Sands

Why We Like It: There’s three different formulas to choose from. 

It’s Worth Noting: The shimmer particles can transfer.

Bondi Sands launched a line of three gradual tanners to complement their range mousses, lotions, oils, and sprays. The products are designed to give a subtle sun-kissed tan to the skin when used on their own or enhance the look of your already developed tan. The options are: firming, which has an ingredient complex thought to tighten the skin, perfector, which is tinted to instantly even out your complexion like a body makeup, and illuminator, my personal favorite, which adds a golden glow to your skin as the tan gradually develops. 

The shimmery lotion is beautiful when it catches the light — either in a fading sunset or candlelight and gives your skin a healthy dose of radiance. However, the particles can transfer even after the lotion is dry. The swipe away or wash off easily, but that is something to note, if a bit of glitter transfer bothers you. 

Price at time of publish: $21

Size: 2.54 oz | Shades: 1

Best Body Butter

Tan-Luxe THE BUTTER Illuminating Tanning Butter

Tan-Luxe THE BUTTER Illuminating Tanning Butter


Why We Like It: The formula is super moisturizing.

It’s Worth Noting: This skews a bit orange.

A self-tanner that moisturizes and applies like your favorite lotion is the dream. This body butter gets close. First, it comes in a tube, making it easy to squeeze out and not contaminating a tub with your fingers. Plus, that ensures it’s easier to travel with if you want to top up your tan. Then, it contains lots of hydrating ingredients, such as cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, and raspberry seed oil. Hydrating skin is the key to a longer-lasting tan, afterall. 

The color of your tan is one consideration, but the undertone is another. A too green tan looks wildly unnatural and a too orange tan crosses into Oompa Loompa territory. While some customers loved the intensity and undertone, others found it to skew a bit more orange than they preferred. 

Price at time of publish: $38

Size: 6.76 oz | Shades: 1

Best Long-Lasting

Tanceuticals CC Self Tanning Lotion

Tanceuticals CC Self-Tanning Body Lotion


Why We Like It: There’s no self-tanner scent. 

It’s Worth Noting: This is a smaller bottle for the price.

Looking for a self-tanner that lasts longer than a few days? Check out this option by Tanceuticals. Not only does the natural-looking glow last an entire week, but it won't rub off on your sheets or clothing like other self-tanners do. Customers love that the cruelty-free formula doesn't contain any artificial coloring and is filled with healthy ingredients for your skin, like vitamin E, mango butter, and acai berry.

The self-tanner scent is well-known and not for the positives, but this formula has a light beachy, coconut smell instead. While most self tanners last for a long week, maybe five days, this one boasts up to seven days of wear time. 

And while the longevity of the formula warrants the cost, it’s important to point out that you get less product in a bottle for the price. 

Price at time of publish: $37

Size: 4.2 oz | Shades: 3

Best for Fair Skin

Jergens Natural Glow Self Tanning Daily Moisturizer

Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer for Body


Why We Like It: This natural looking tint won’t turn you too tan. 

It’s Worth Noting: You’ll need to be careful with streaking.

If you have fair skin and are worried that a self-tanner will leave you looking orange or too dark, try this Jergens option. The subtle self-tanning lotion is formulated to enhance your natural skin tone so you are left with a natural-looking glow every single time. The self-tanner also works as a moisturizer, leaving your skin super soft and hydrated, and has been a customer classic for years. 

The gradual tanner comes in two shades — fair to medium and medium to deep — and is developed to tint your skin one to two shades darker, rather than completely change your complexion. This does not have a guide color and slowly develops over several days, you’ll need to take care to cover all areas and smoothly rub it in to prevent streaks. 

Price at time of publish: $12

Size: 10 oz | Shades: 2

Best for Darker Skin

Tanologist Express Tan Self Tan Mousse

Tanologist Extra Dark Self Tan Mousse


Why We Like It: This has the best shade range.

It’s Worth Noting: It gets patchy as it fades.

Technically, this product is a mousse. However, we hope you’ll overlook that since it has the best shade range for the widest number of skin tones. Similarly to hair mousse, the bottle pumps out a cloud of foam that you then smooth over your entire body — it has a guide color, so you know where you applied it. Then, wait one hour before rinsing clean. Yep, this is an express formula that develops in just 60 minutes. If you’re wanting an ultra, ultra dark result, you can leave it on overnight for max color. 

The tan will last you a solid four or five days, however instead of fading evenly, it does get patchy as the week wears on. 

Price at time of publish: $22

Size: 6.67 oz | Shades: 4


Bahama Tan Self Tanning Lotion

Bahama Tan Sunless Lotion


Why We Like It: The tan shade has ideal undertones. 

It’s Worth Noting: The texture stays tacky for a while. 

If the chemical smell of self-tanners deters you from getting a safe sun-kissed glow, check out this delicious-smelling option from Bahama Tan. The product is made with natural ingredients, like shea butter, coconut oil, and argan oil, that not only moisturize your skin but also smells great. Users with fair to medium-tan skin say it delivers the ideal level of color and has beautiful undertones — not too orange or green. If you have really fair skin and still want a natural-looking result, apply a regular body lotion before putting this on to dull the effects and get a lighter color. 

The bottle says you can put clothes on after about 15 minutes but some customers found it took an upwards of 30 minutes to lose its tacky texture. 

Price at time of publish: $23

Size: 7.5 oz | Shades: 1

Best Body Makeup

Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Makeup



Why We Like It: The application is goof-proof. 

It’s Worth Noting: This is a one-day only formula.

If you grew up in the 90s and early 2000s, you likely recognize this formula. And it has stood the test of time for a reason. The formula acts more like makeup than a tanner, evening out dark spots or imperfections in your skin to create a flawless canvas and it has a hint of color to give yourself a very natural-looking tan. It also now comes in three shades to better find your match. Since you don’t need to mess with a gradual result or waiting for it to develop, this product couldn’t be easier to use — grab a brush or simply your fingers and glide it over any exposed skin. It sets in just a few minutes to become transfer-proof. 

This product is not for those seeking a long-lasting result. Once you shower, the product goes down the drain too — it is only meant to last one day. 

Price at time of publish: $12

Size: 4 oz | Shades: 3

Best Kit

Tarte Brazilliance PLUS + Self-Tanner with Mitt

Tarte Brazilliance Plus + Self-Tanner + Mitt


Why We Like It: This has everything you need to self-tan. 

It’s Worth Noting: This only has one shade.

While self-tanning lotions can be easily applied by hand, using a self-tanning mitt can also help you achieve an even, streak-free application, which is why shoppers love this kit from Tarte so much. It comes with the brand's best-selling self-tanning lotion as well as a custom application mitt. The mitt will soak up some of the product but also helps you get at hard to reach areas — like the center of your back. Plus, it ensures a more even tan and clean palms. The formula also has some skin-loving ingredients like maracuja, squalane, aloe to hydrate. 

The self-tanning industry has a bit of an inclusivity problem and this product is no exception. It comes in only one shade and is better suited for light to medium skin tones. Not every skin tone wants to be super dark and on the other hand, medium to tan skin tones may also want to deepen their glow and there should be more options available. 

Price at time of publish: $39

Size: 5.5 oz | Shades: 1

Best for Wet Skin

Jergens Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer

Jergens Natural Glow in Shower Lotion


Why We Like It: The wet skin application makes this great for busy mornings. 

It’s Worth Noting: The first application of this may appear streaky.

Many tanning routines need a full night devotion: The hot girl shower of shaving and exfoliating, the application, and eight hours of marinating before another shower in the a.m. Unlike other tanning lotions on this list that are applied to dry skin, this innovative formula is designed to work on wet skin, so you can apply it after a shower like you would a regular body lotion — meaning it's ideal for a quick morning application. It can be used as a gradual tanner or to amplify the results of your overnight tan. The hydrating product helps lock in moisture, and reviewers say you don't have to worry about the tan transferring from your body to your towel or clothing after since it sinks in like a normal lotion. 

It may just be the nature of a wet skin application, but many testers noted that the first application appears a bit streaky. This goes away after consecutive days of applying and wasn’t an issue if topping another self-tanner but is something to be aware of. Apply for a few days before your big bikini vacation to ensure an even, beautiful tan. 

Price at time of publish: $12

Size: 7.5 oz | Shades: 1

How We Selected

If you decided to make the switch from tanning bed or sun tanning — congrats!, your future skin thanks you for it — you’ve likely discovered how overwhelming the world of self-tanning can be. There’s mousse, oils, sprays, gradual, express, and overnight tanners, not to mention the range of shades and undertones. We know it well. To make it easier on you, we narrowed your search down to just lotions and from there down to the 13 best. 

To do that we first tapped an expert, Sophie Evans, St. Tropez Skin Finishing Expert & Celebrity Self Tanner, and got her tips on what to look for in a self tanning lotion and understand how the product works. We then considered skin tones — what self-tanning lotions would work for fair versus dark skin as well as texture preferences — a classic lotion, such as St. Tropez Classic Bronzing Lotion, or a mix-in drop, such as Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Firming Body Drops. Finally, we got our master list shrunk down to the formulas that deserved to be crowned the best on the market. These are the self-tanning lotions that are worth trying. 

What to Know About Self Tanning Lotions


The self-tanning market does have some work to do to ensure that there are formulas for a wider range of skin tones and that is something to consider when shopping for your perfect match. Many of the products on our list are sold in one to two shades with some standouts that are sold in three or four. If you’re fair and only want a tint, looking for options that are designed for your skin tone, like Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer for Body. If you have darker skin and struggle to find a formula with enough intensity, consider Tanologist Extra Dark Self Tan Mousse


Like any lotion, the texture and your experience with the product matters. A tan will only develop if you actually use it and in the case of a gradual self-tanner, apply it regularly. If you’re short on time and like the idea of a lotion you can apply to wet skin, the Jergens Natural Glow in Shower Lotion is your best bet. For a super thick and moisturizing formula, Tan-Luxe THE BUTTER Illuminating Tanning Butter is a great pick. 

Amount of Time

Traditional self-tans need to be left on the skin to develop for 8 hours, which are great if you plan to tan before bedtime, says Evans. “If you are a busy person who loves exercising or even swimming, a faster developing self-tanner may work better for you. Faster developing self-tanners allow you to apply and rinse off in as little as one hour,” she explains. 


A traditional self-tan typically lasts four to five days. You can extend that wear time by adding a gradual self-tan lotion over the top every day. For a tan that lasts longer, Tanceuticals CC Self-Tanning Body Lotion squeaks out a few more days to get a full week of color. For last minute, one night only tans, reach for Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How does self tanning lotion work?

    All self-tanners function the same. It is the percentage of tanning agents, extra additives and colorings that differentiate self-tanners. “All self-tanning lotions use Dihydroxyacetone ( DHA) as the main ingredient to tan your skin,” Evans says. “DHAs comes from sugarcane, it is the bark of the sugar cane that is heated up, that turns to a clear sticky liquid.” When DHA comes into contact with your skin, it has a natural chemical reaction with the amino acids on the skin’s surface which makes it start to turn brown. “The easiest way to describe it is if you were eating an apple, take a bite and leave on the side, you will notice the apple starting to turn brown. This is the same natural chemical reaction with the oxygen hitting the exposed apple core and then turning brown,” explains Evans. Express self-tans use a penetration enhancer, so you don’t have to wait, and allow you to shower quicker. 

  • How do I remove self tanning lotion?

    A self-tan will start to fade naturally after about 5 days. If you went too dark or don’t like the result and want your self-tan off as soon as it develops, there are a few things you can do. “Hair removal cream is a good way: leave the cream on your skin for half the recommended time and you will see your tan lighten. If you want it completely off, leave for the full time,” Evans says. Exfoliation, hot baths/showers, chlorine swimming pools, and waxing will also get the self-tan off, she explains.

  • Can I put lotion on after self tan?

    Absolutely yes! If it is an express development tan, you will be advised to rinse only when taking your first shower and to not use lotion until the second day, recommends Evans. “But after using a traditional self-tan and every day after showering/bathing we want you to moisturize. Hydrated skin will hold a tan for the longest amount of time.” Use a moisturizer that is not a true oil, oils make the skin more susceptible to exfoliation and can help the tan come off faster. You can also apply a gradual self-tanner mid-week to optimize your results. 

Why Trust Shape

Shannon Bauer is a Senior Commerce Editor for Shape. She has seven years of experience writing, editing, and producing beauty and wellness content for top print and digital publications. Shannon seeks out opportunities to be more informed about product science and formulation by interviewing experts, reading studies, and diligently testing any and all products she can get in her hands. She has tested self tanners from St. Tropez, Isle of Paradise, Bondi Sands, Jergens, and Sally Hansen.

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