The Top 7 Best Sunless Tanning Lotions

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Sunless tanning lotions are the fastest and as far as we know, safest way to go. Just put some on and in a short time you have a nice tan that could take weeks to achieve in the sun. Not to mention the best sunless tanning lotions vastly reduce the chances of wrinkles, premature aging, skin cancer and age spots due to the sun. Another great thing is that you can have a tan all year round! Screw those winter blues!

Finding the best sunless tanning lotions can be difficult though. Many have been known to give you an orange look, create streaks, stain clothing, melt off, smell, etc.  There are tons of different products on the market but who wants to spend money on something unless they know it works? Not me! So hopefully this guide will help you find a good sunless tanner that meets your expectations! This guide contains the best sunless tanning solutions with the highest ratings as well as plenty of reviews to read.

Best Sunless Tanning Lotions Comparison Chart

Also check out our reviews of the best organic self tanners

Picture Product Type Use Our Rating
St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse Mousse Self Tanner 4.4
Thermalabs Self-Tanning Towelettes Glow2Go Towelettes Self Tanner 3.5
Thermalabs Natural Self Tanner The Golden Standard Lotion Self Tanner 4.0
Beauty by Earth Self Tanner Lotion Self Tanner 4.5
Darksyde Ultra Bronze Self Tanning Lotion Lotion Self Tanner 4.1
Tanwise Dark Bronzing Sunless Mousse Mousse Self Tanner 3.7
Fake Bake Flawless Spray Self Tanner 4.4

How To Apply a Self Tanner

1. Prep Your Legs – If you shave or wax your legs regularly, be sure to do this first and foremost! Shaving and waxing can remove self tanners and cause fading quickly!

2. Exfoliate – This is a very important step! If your skin is not freshly exfoliated, the self tanner will sink into the dry skin and you will end up with dark spots and splotches. No one wants this! Be sure to focus on specific spots that are rougher than others such as your elbows, ankles, heels, and knees.

  • Face: Be sure to use an exfoliate that is gentle but cleanses deeply such as the Olay ProX Advanced Cleansing System. Not only is this a great exfoliate for you body but it comes with a brush specifically designed for gentle use on your face!
  • Also, be sure to avoid using oil based products as this can cause unwanted streaks!

3. Dry Off – Though this might seem blatantly obvious, be sure your skin is completely dry after showering. It is recommended to wait at least 10 minutes after you towel off to ensure your skin is 100 percent dry.

4. Soften Your Skin – Take a lightweight and oil-free moisturizer such as Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture Sensitive Skin and dab it lightly around dry areas such as your nostrils, knees, ankles, elbows, and heels. Since these areas seem to be rough and dry for most people, this helps put a little moisture back into the skin in order to avoid dark or orange patches.

5. Choose Your Self Tanner – There are a few different types of sunless tanners to pick from such as mousses, lotions, sprays, and towelettes. They all work well and it really depends on your personal preference. One important rule however, is to always pick one according to your skin tone and gradually work your way to your desired result.

  • For example, if you have a fairer skin tone you are going to want to opt for a self tanner that is light to medium. If you have an olive complexion you can go for a darker formula.
  • Some self tanners are made for gradual build up and if this is the case, be patient. Remember, it’s not how you start, but how you finish!

6. Apply in Sections – It is recommended to start from the bottom and work your way up. This prevents unnecessary marks to appear from bending over. Leave your arms and hands for last. Be sure to apply a small amount (around one teaspoon at a time) in circular motions, using your hands, gloves or a tanning mitt.

7. Wash Your Hands After Each Section – In order to avoid orange hands and build up, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water after you’ve finished each section.

8. Be Sure to Blend Well – When focusing on areas such as your wrists to your hands or your ankles to your feet, lightly extend the tanner so it looks natural.

9. Dilute Around Your Joints – Areas such as your knees, ankles, and elbows tend to absorb more self tanner than the rest of your skin. You’re going to want to dilute these areas by taking a damp towel or a thin layer of lotion and lightly rub it on top of the tanner. This prevents unnatural looking areas and dark spots.

10. Don’t Go Crazy on Your Face – Your face tends to have dry areas such as your nose and above your top lip. Be careful with how much tanner you use as more color can sink to these dry areas and cause dark spots.

  • For areas where you naturally tan (chin, nose, cheeks, forehead, bridge of nose) take a dime sized amount and blend outward with your fingertips. Using what’s left on your fingers, lightly feather the remainder past your jawline and into your hairline.

11. Allow Your Skin To Dry – Wait AT LEAST 10 minutes before dressing (recommend loose clothing), unless the self tanner instructs longer. Avoid showering or sweating for the next 6-8 hours unless the self tanner instructs longer.

  • Optional – A great tip is to take talc-free baby powder and brush it all over your skin. This helps to prevent the tanner from transferring to your clothes!

12. Fix Mistakes (If Need Be) – Applying self tanner isn’t easy and we all make mistakes. If you find streaks or splotches, don’t worry – you don’t have to start over! Simply take half a lemon and rub it on the area for approximately two minutes. Then lightly buff it with a damp towel. Easy peasy!

13. Keep It Up – Different self tanners have different lifetimes. There is no guarantee on how long each tan will last but there are things you can do to help prolong it. Be sure to always keep your skin moisturized and when you are washing up, use a gentle cleanser. Acne treatments and retinols can dissolve the self tanner so try to avoid these if possible.

14. Apply Sunscreen Daily – Don’t let that fake tan fool you! You still need to protect your skin. It is recommended to use a sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 or higher, offers broad spectrum protection (UVA/UVB), and is water resistant.

15. Rinse and Repeat – Once your tan starts to wear off and you want to freshen up you look, simply rinse and repeat!

Reviews of the Best Sunless Tanning Lotions

St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse


An amazing self tanner made by a well known brand, we give you St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse.

Unlike most self tanners, St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse is a super lightweight formula that dries almost instantly after application – only 60 seconds! Just apply the mousse to your skin using a good tanning mitt and 4-8 hours later you have a beautiful, steak-free, natural looking tan.

This super lightweight mousse is infused with vitamin E to keep your skin soft and youthful looking. It also contains St. Tropez Aromaguard Technology which eliminates that odorous DHA self tanner smell, leaving behind a fresh fragrance instead.

This self tanner is great for all skin types and results last anywhere from 4-7 days!

Thermalabs Self-Tanning Towelettes Glow2Go

Thermalabs Self-Tanning Towelettes Glow2Go is a brand new product that just made it’s debut in 2015 and I’ve got to say, I’m impressed. Many products have been out on the market for some time and to already be on the top this quickly says a lot. This product comes with 20 towelettes that are guaranteed to be streak free and waterproof. It is made with 70% organic body cream and works for all skin types no matter how fair or dark your complexion may be. Once you apply this self tanner it takes about 4 hours for a natural looking tan to appear. It also has a nice storage system so you can pull one towelette out at a time with a ‘press to open’ area so you don’t have to open the entire box.

I also like the fact that you can easily transport these. Unlike lotions that occasionally leak or crack, this product is completely sealed in a packet. The reviews on this product are fantastic and there are plenty of before and after photos to prove these towelettes work. So go and check it out! 🙂

Thermalabs Natural Self Tanner The Golden Standard

Another product made by the same company as the previous review is Thermalabs Natural Self Tanner The Golden Standard. Seriously, this company must know what they are doing to hold two top rated self tanners. This moisturizing, organic self tanner gives you a streak free, natural looking tan within 4 hours that is also waterproof. As an added bonus you will receive a free guide – “Self Tan Secrets”. I’ll take it!

Just like their previous product, there are many outstanding reviews and a few before and after photos to look at. The only real difference between this and the towelettes are that most people prefer to apply this before bed time and let it work its magic over night. Of course there’s always personal preference between the lotion and towelettes as well!

Beauty by Earth Self Tanner

For those of you out there who love a good self tanner but prefer all natural and organic, check out Beauty by Earth Self Tanner!

Have no worries about what you’re putting on your skin when you use Beauty by Earth Self Tanner. This sunless tanner only uses simple, natural ingredients to give you a beautiful sun-kissed glow. It is packed with non-toxic ingredients like organic shea butter, organic coconut oil and Japanese green tea leaf extract. You’ll also have the added comfort of knowing that no animals were harmed as this self tanner is vegan and cruelty free!

This sunless tanner has a white tint to it and is rather thick, allowing you to see where you have already applied the lotion. This helps to ensure that you will have a streak-free tan, so forget about those dark spots and blotches. Simply apply one layer at a time and build up to your desired level of bronze!

Darksyde Ultra Bronze Self Tanning Lotion

Darksyde Ultra Bronze Self Tanning Lotion is gaining popularity especially among those with fairer skin. So if you have a light complexion then you’ll definitely want to give this a try. This lotion is sulfate free and infused with botanical oils as well as aloe vera to keep your skin soft and hydrated. It is great for achieving a perfect, streak free tan as the bronzed tint allows you to see where it has already been applied. Upon initial application, the lotion appears to have a green color but turns into a deep, natural looking tan within 1-4 hours. The fragrance is light and does not give off that generic and offensive self tanner smell.

I also love the fact that the lotion is quickly absorbed into your skin and dries very fast so you don’t have to worry about it ruining your clothes. If any does get on your clothing, all you have to do is wash it and it comes right out! Sounds like a keeper to me!

Tanwise Dark Bronzing Sunless Mousse

Tanwise Dark Bronzing Sunless Mousse is another great self tanner with high ratings. This product is a mousse and has a different texture than the standard sunless tanning lotions. It has a watery consistency and doesn’t give off a nasty odor which is nice. If too much is applied it can feel very sticky so a little goes a long way with this stuff. This lotion is very dark in color right out of the bottle but don’t panic. It develops into a really nice deep, rich, and natural looking tan which lasts anywhere from 3-7 days. It is also easy to avoid streaking as you can clearly see where you have applied the mousse. When you apply this product I would definitely recommend using gloves so you don’t stain your hands.

I will say that this product received a lot of reviews regarding how beautiful the color was. 🙂

Fake Bake Flawless

Fake Bake Flawless is one of the most popular self tanners on the market. This liquid sunless tanner is not meant to be sprayed directly on the skin but instead uses a professional mitt for application. This mitt is great for even application, buffing the product in, and preventing streaks. I would recommend washing the mitt after every application as it helps keep it soft and in great shape. Fake Bake Flawless is also another one that is very popular among people with lighter complexions. It is also one of the best smelling self tanners out there, hands down. It dries quickly after putting it on and gives you a great, natural looking tan.

Additionally, the price is already low for a self tanner but getting the mitt is an added bonus. So if you think you’d like this stuff then check it out! 🙂

Types of Sunless Tanning Lotions and How They Work

There are different types of sunless tanners such as sprays, lotions, towelettes, mousses, gels, foams, etc. All of them essentially work the same way and it really depends on your personal preference. The majority of these products contain DHA or dihydroxyacetone which is not to be confused with a dye. This causes a chemical with the amino acids on the surface of your skin to replicate a tan. This process is different from UV exposure in that it works similar to the browning of food such as fruits. The effects of self tanners do not last very long and fade in about a week or so. Continuous applications are required to maintain a tanned appearance. If you would like to read a more in depth explanation, you can check that out here.

 Are Self Tanners Safe?

This question is really up to debate so it’s hard to say. There hasn’t been many studies regarding the effects of DHA and other products included in sunless tanners. Concerning risks include inhalation of DHA, effects on amino acids, effects on nucleic acids, free radicals, mutations and more. Considering there is not a whole lot known, precautions should always be taken. Here is a recommended list of safety tips when applying sunless tanners.

  • It is highly recommended to avoid sunlight for at least 24 hours after applying a self tanner. Your skin is highly susceptible to UV exposure within this time frame. Studies have shown that high amounts of free radicals have formed on skin using self tanners that contain DHA and similar products.
  • Prolonged sun exposure should be avoided when using self tanners. These products do not protect the skin from UV radiation whatsoever. Some self tanners do contain sunscreen but this shortly wears off and applying additional is recommended.
  • Using an antioxidant cream might be a good idea when going outside as this could lessen radical production.
  • Be aware that some self tanners contain fragrances that could cause adverse reactions to your skin.
  • When applying self tanners be sure to protect your eyes and be careful not to inhale or ingest the product. The effects of this are not well known and should be avoided.

If you want to read some more information on self tanning and safety, you can find it here.

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