The best self tanners to get a natural glow

I love fake tan, and over the years have become a bit of an expert in self tanners (in my opinion).

woman with half face tanned, half naturalAnd why not – my skin’s pale, I burn quickly and it takes forever for me to get any colour, let alone a good one. But I do love a glow – don’t we all feel better with sun-kissed skin?

Self tanning has had a bad name in the past through bad experiences of people using the wrong product or not applying them correctly. But self tanning products have really improved a lot. Even for those of us with dry skin (midlife), you can still achieve a fabulous result.

And what’s the point in frazzling your skin in the sun or under UV lights, particularly with the risk of skin cancer.  Or regularly splashing out for a professional spray tan.

With the right products and following self tanning top tips (see below), you can create the sun-kissed look at home, and have a golden, healthy glow all summer for a fraction of the price.

My top products – the best self tanners

All these products give me a natural tan, and if my husband doesn’t complain about the smell of ‘soggy biscuit’, that’s a bonus.

The newest ones on the market:

I saw the ads and decided to try two of these products.

Skinny Tan: 7-day tannerSelf tanner: Skinny Tan 7-day

  • £19.99 for 125ml
  • Tan lasts 7 days
  • Instant coloured cream
  • Paraben-free, sulfate-free- and says it’s always 100% streak free
  • No animal testing – Vegan friendly
  • Skinny Tan people say it helps disguise the visible appearance of cellulite with a cosmetic effect that lasts until the tan fades.

Firstly the product is a coloured cream so you can get an instant colour and can see where you’ve applied it. Very helpful so you do not miss any areas, especially for a novice self tanner.

There are various colour choices: original, dark and ultimate dark so you can choose your shade. My daughter applied this one, using the original – she has a warm skin tone. The effect the next morning after showering was really natural, warmed her skin without a hint of orange. As promised, no streaks and we both thought it delivered on the cellulite cosmetic effect promise.

Cons

The product itself felt like a thick cream and seemed to clog in her fine body hair. making me wonder if it was going to turn out patchy. It didn’t but worth mentioning if you’re worried about the same thing. We both thought that we should have gone for the mousse for an easier application and we’re both more used to mousses. That said it’s a long-lasting tan so only needs to be applied weekly.

We both thought that this product had more of a self tanner smell while it was developing than the other product we tried.

Self tanners: Skinny Tan Coconut Water Tanning MistSkinny Tan: Coconut Water Tanning Mist

  • £24.99 for 150ml
  • Smells of coconut and was nice and refreshing
  • Says it lasts for weeks but doesn’t specify how long
  • Clear liquid NOT coloured
  • Paraben-free, sulfate-free- and always 100% streak free
  • Skinny Tan people say it contains high levels of the anti-oxidant Vitamin C that can help to defend your skin against the elements and ‘some say even visibly helps reduce the appearance of pores and hydrates your skin without it looking oily’.

The colour does look nice, in fact a very natural looking tan and especially on my arms, shoulders and neck. I even thought it gave a good result on my face. I applied it by putting a couple of spray pumps into my hand and applying thoroughly.

Not as great on my legs but it’s a good product and ankles are tricky with any fake tan product. You could smell the self tanning ingredient as it developed but certainly not as much as some other products I’ve used in the past.

Cons

It would have to be the fact that it’s a clear liquid. My skin is very pale so an error is very obvious and I did feel a little nervous using it, wondering if I was using too much or covering everywhere properly. Now I’ve used it, I’ll feel more confident knowing that it doesn’t streak so I can be more liberal. Not ideal for someone who’s using self tanners for the first time.

Self Tanners Vita LiberataStill my all-time personal favourite: Vita Liberata Phenomenal 2-3 week Tanning Lotion

  • £25.00 for 125ml (was £37.50 for 150ml)
  • Tan lasts 2-3 weeks!
  • Develops in 4-12 hours
  • The product is coloured so it’s easy to see where you’ve applied

This tan is the first of its kind. It combines pHenO2 technology and Moisture Lock™ to last four times longer than other self tanners. The lotion is silky smooth, and although it’s fast drying is still very blend-able so I can get a seamless tan.

This gives me my best natural colour – an olive, golden tan – and fades evenly. Perfect.

It’s currently on special offer at Boots but even at it’s usual price, it’s worth it because the tan lasts such a long time. I apply it once a week so it never really wears off. People think I’ve just had a great weekend in the sun, but no – I’ve just reapplied!

In summary, I still think this is the best self tanner and the best value for money.  It looks great, saves time and, because it lasts such a long time, you need less to keep your glow going.

Cons:

You might prefer to build up your self-tanning expertise before you go for this one – the downside of long-lasting means a longer-lasting mistake for the inexperienced.

Still, Vita Liberata do other, cheaper self tanners with the same great results but they don’t last as long as the amazing Vita Liberata Phenomenal.

Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tan LiquidSelf Tanners Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tan Liquid

  • £25.00 for 170ml with mitt included (1/3 off at Boots)
  • Tan lasts 3-6 days
  • Develops in 4-12 hours
  • The product is coloured so easy to see where you’ve applied

I got a bottle of this on special offer at a beauty show and Boots was out of Vita Liberata, so I gave it a go. But I would pay the full price and it came with a really luxurious mitt so saved me the extra cost of buying one.

It did all it promised – flawless finish and fast drying, in fact faster than my usual product. The end result was a lovely natural-looking colour. I think this is the best self tanner for pale skins and it’s great if you don’t want to go too dark.

I think this self tanner is good value for money. This small bottle lasts a long time. It also smells like tropical heaven – fragranced with black coconut (didn’t know there was black coconut) – and there’s not a trace of chemicals. The big bonus for me is that I can smell that my daughter has borrowed it because it distinctively scents the house!

Cons:

You do have to be very fast blending this tan with your mitt so it might take you a bit of time getting used to it to avoid tide marks. And I use more moisturiser than with San Tropez and Vita Liberata to avoid looking dry.

Plus, it can get a bit messy as it’s a spray – all fake tans should really be applied in the bathroom.

Self Tanners St. Tropez Self Tan Classic MousseSt. Tropez Self Tan Classic Mousse

  • £20.50 for 120ml
  • Tan lasts 4-7 days
  • Develops in 4-12 hours

A widely recognised, well-loved and best-selling fake tan, I think St. Tropez’s Self Tan Classic Mousse is the greatest self tanner St. Tropez has to offer. Best applied with a mitt, this mousse creates an airbrushed effect. While not as fast-drying as the other tans I’ve used, this is actually a bonus, as the whipped loveliness blends perfectly all over your body, creating an even, streak-free finish.

The product is enriched with vitamin E, so your skin feels completely moisturised with no sticky patches.

It smells better than many self tanners I’ve used – it actually smells nice! The colour isn’t my favourite though, creating a more yellow-based finish than a natural sun-kissed shade on my pale skin so may be better if your skin tone is warm.

Cons:

I do have to ‘air-dry’ for longer and never again would I put clothes on before it was completely dry. That’s fine when I’m home alone and don’t mind walking around the bedroom starkers.

If you’re in a hurry…

Fake Bake 60 minutes Self-Tan LiquidSelf Tanners Fake Bake 60 Minutes

  • £27.00 for 236ml including mitt (1/3 off at Boots)
  • Develops in 60 minutes
  • Lasts for 3-6 days.

If you don’t have much time, this self-tanning liquid is a good solution and a great alternative to instant tanners, as it contains accelerators to speed up the process.

You can get a nice glow in just 60 minutes and if you’ve more time, two hours for a golden tan and three for a deep tan.

Like the Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tan liquid, this product dries and absorbs very quickly – so make sure you blend the product with your mitt quickly.

Gradual self tanning products

While gradual tanners promise a quick and convenient way to create a natural tan, I think self tanners work best. Gradual tanners are often untinted, meaning you can’t see where, and how evenly, you’re applying the product… nevertheless, as the results not usually that obvious in one application, you can correct it.

Personally I’ve had more problems with orange palms with gradual tanners – better to apply with a mitt or wash your hands thoroughly after application.

There’s some great ones out if you’re on a budget, for example, Dove DermaSpa Summer Revived Fair – Med Lotion at only £3.89 and L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Gradual Self-Tan Body Lotion at £6.99. These are the best ones I’ve used and are perfect to build a glow before you go on holiday, as an aftersun or to prolong your tan when you’re back.

My favourite is St Tropez Gradual Tan – Light/Medium

  • £14.50 for 200ml (1/3 off at Boots)
  • Develops in 4-12 hours – no need to wash off
  • Infused with vitamin E to moisturise and protect skin

A great alternative to normal moisturiser, with a subtle hint of self tan. Builds to a lovely colour, smells nice, good for a novice tanner and makes my skin look soft and well hydrated.

This one’s ideal if you have just come home from holiday to make your tan last longer. Personally I stick to the light/medium shade. I’ve never gone wrong with this product and it’s always in my bathroom cabinet.

For anyone who’s a little nervous about using self tanners, gradual tanners are a great way to start.

My top tips for self tanners:

  • Always do a patch test before self tanning.
  • I like fake tanning my entire body to avoid the tell-tale signs of legs shades darker the rest of me, and it only takes a few extra minutes.
  • Exfoliate before fake tanning, paying particular attention to dry knees and elbows (but I do this the day before rather than prior to applying the fake tan).
  • Moisturise your body, again paying particular attention to dry areas like elbows, knees, ankles and feet – but leave at least an hour between moisturising and tanning.
  • Make sure you’re squeaky clean before applying self tanners – even deodorant can ruin the finish.
  • Shave your legs before fake tanning. The tan will not only stain your skin, but also the hairs – not a good look.
  • Apply self tanners with a mitt to create the most even finish. Blend the tan in a circular motion.
  • Never apply self tanners with your bare hands.
  • Have cleansing wipes nearby to correct any streaky mistakes – just wipe the area and try again.
  • Be very careful when applying fake tan to your face.. If you must tan your face, use a sensitive self tan specially formulated for your face – I recommend St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Face Lotion, £22 for 50ml, which won’t block your pores.
  • Fake tan about an hour before you go to bed, as this allows the tan time to fully dry, and avoids a smudged, streaky finish, as well as fake-tan-smeared bed sheets! Personally I wear cotton pyjamas.
  • Wash your face, brush your teeth and wash the pots etc before self tanning, as any contact whatsoever with water could streak your tan.

My essential top tip

  • Self tanners never seems to develop evenly on hands and feet. This leaves you with streaky hands, or a tan that’s cut off at the wrist. To avoid this, lightly, but evenly and thoroughly, brush your hands and feet with the remnants of fake tan on your mitt. Wait for a couple of minutes, and then apply a small amount of face cream (or any other light moisturiser) to your hands and feet. This helps to blend the tan evenly, creating sun-kissed hands and feet with no streaky ankles!

Finishing touches

  • Use a damp cloth to remove the product from where the sun wouldn’t normally tan your body, using a dabbing motion in between your fingers, your knuckles and the backs of your ankles. Then use a dry cloth to blend the sides of your hands and feet in a wiping motion. These quick touches will help you achieve a natural finish.
  • If you want your tan to last longer, moisturise regularly. Scaley, flakey tanned skin is a real give-away.

If you’ve any tips or recommendations for products for us to try, let us know.

(Prices as at April 2019)

Please note, we have not been paid for these reviews, we’ve bought all the products to try them out. We love our job!


Deborah Garlick

About Deborah Garlick

I'm the founder of Henpicked. I love reading the wonderful stories and articles women send us - I read every one. I've learnt so much and hope others enjoy them too. I believe life's about being happy and that we're here to help one another. And that women are far wiser than they often realise, so let's stop putting ourselves down. I'm passionate about helping women live better lives by educating on the facts about menopause. I'm a menopause trainer at Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace and one of the authors of Menopause: the change for the better.

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