The 11 Best Self-Tanners For A Healthier Glow, Sans Sun Damage
If you're looking to get that sun-kissed glow sans sun damage, consider a self-tanner. It's a safer alternative to baking in the sun (which can cause accelerated skin aging) or using tanning beds. And when it comes to picking a self-tanner, the options are endless. You can reach for a tinted mousse, a spray-on formula, a gradual tanning lotion, or customizable drops.
When choosing a product you use daily (like a body lotion), you want to make sure the ingredients are clean, as you're getting repeated exposure. With self-tanner, though, you likely use it once a week at most and wash it off after a few hours (depending on the product). As a result, finding completely natural self-tanner formulas can be a difficult process. Nevertheless, the hunt for the best clean self-tanner continues—and we've uncovered some pretty worthy picks, below. (FYI, some of these options contain ingredients that are not the cleanest, but we'll call those out so you can be in the know about what you're putting on your skin.)
How we picked:
We prioritized clean, natural ingredients when choosing the best self-tanners. We looked for products free from questionable ingredients and disclose when there's a red flag.
We selected a variety of self-tanner products including mousse, drops, gradual-tan lotions, spray, and face tanners.
We tested out products firsthand to see what worked and what didn't. When this wasn't possible, our editors utilized verified customer experiences.
We prioritized finding options with clean, natural ingredients as well as formulas that have more skin benefits than just a nice tan.
mbg's picks for the best self tanners of 2022:
Best overall: Vita Liberta pHenomenal 2-3 Week Tan Mousse
- Not meant for face
This mousse easily earned its place as our top pick for a few reasons. The formula contains 90% organic ingredients, including powerful botanical hydrators packed with antioxidants. Application is also a breeze: It comes out a slightly brown color, so you can see where you've applied the tan to ensure an even, streak-free bronze glow. Beyond that, the tan lasts up to 10 days, according to our testers.
Best lotion: Beauty By Earth Self-Tanner Lotion
- All-natural option
- Less pigmented
This tanning lotion is a natural option that's especially good for someone with dry skin, as it doubles as a powerful body moisturizer. This blend is chock-full of skin-loving ingredients like pomegranate extract, aloe vera, shea butter, and green tea. Wondering what makes this lotion work for a golden glow? It's the DHA (what makes you look tan) derived from sugar beet. Once applied, it takes up to eight hours for the bronze color to set in. Our testers noted the lotion was less pigmented than other formulas, but it's easier to apply than a mousse and creates a more natural-looking tan.
Best color-correcting: Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Glow Drops
- Won't transfer
- Difficult to apply
Tanning drops are a great way to begin exploring self-tanner because the intensity is buildable. Want a lighter glow? Add two to four drops to your go-to body lotion. What about a darker tan? Kick it up to 10 to 12. These drops specifically come in peach (light), green (medium), and violet (dark). No, that's not going to be the color of your tan—it's just balancing out certain colors within your skin. Peach will help brighten the skin, green will correct redness, and violet will help you get that deeper bronze. Just be sure to take your time with the application, as the clear formula makes it hard to see where you applied (but also prevents bedsheet stains).
Best quick tan: Coco & Eve Sunny Hunny Bali Bronzing Foam
- Develops quickly
- Pigment is dark for super-fair skin
- Contain lilial
Dark mousse and a tanning mitt is a classic combo because it's easy to use; you can see where you've applied and easily avoid blotchy patches. This quick-drying mousse develops in just two hours, which is speedy for a self-tanner. If you're looking for a deeper tan, it's best to leave this mousse on overnight. Our testers confirmed the formula didn't give off an odd smell, like many others, so you won't mind sleeping with it. Plus, there's a green-gray base to the color, which helps eliminate any orange hues. The formula does contain lilial, which the EU's European Commission has linked to fertility concerns. (There are no human studies at the moment to prove the link, but they regulated its use out of an abundance of caution).
Best distinct tan: St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse
- Dramatic color
- Contains lilial
- Contains Benzyl salicylate
St. Tropez's mousse is a classic—but it doesn't have the cleanest ingredients compared to other options. You'll find lilial and Benzyl salicylate, which is being studied as a possible hormone disrupter. However, the formula comes with a few unique perks that still made it worthy of a call-out. The dark tint of the mousse makes it easy to track application and doesn't easily transfer to sheets or clothing, according to our testers. And the end result? A bold glow that screams vacation. Just beware, the mousse does have a self-tanner smell; however, it rinses away in the shower.
Best buildable tan: Tan-Luxe The Face Illuminating Self Tan Drops
- Not great for acne-prone skin
Just like you use different skin care products for your face and body, the same goes for self-tanner. These drops are packed with skin-loving botanical extracts like raspberry seed oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E, all of which support skin hydration. This blend is made with organic tanning actives that work with your skin for a buildable, custom tan. Plus, it comes in a mini size, so you can try it out before you commit. Pro tip: Avoid face exfoliators post-application to ensure your new bronze glow stays in place.
Best subtle glow: The Organic Pharmacy Self Tan
- Natural ingredients
- Doesn't dramatically tan (if you're looking for that)
If you're in the market for a light glow rather than a transformative tan, this lotion might be your best pick. It's made with tons of hydrating ingredients like aloe vera, jojoba seed oil, and shea butter. Sugar-beet DHA helps to tan your skin naturally, sans harmful chemicals. If you want something that hydrates while helping your complexion glow, this is an A+ option. It does contain essential oils, so keep that in mind.
Best spray : Isle of Paradise Pro Glow Spray Tan Kit
- Easy application
- Hard to see where you've applied it
Spray tans more your speed? This phenomenal clean option is bound to be your new go-to. The kit contains a mister and refillable self-tan water. You may think spray-on tanners are not as hydrating, but don't be fooled; this product is chock-full of moisturizing ingredients. A few notable ones include coconut oil, chia seed oil, and avocado oil. Prep your skin as you would for any type of tan, and be sure to blend in the water on your hands and feet with a mitt or brush for an even look.
Best hydrating: Suntegrity 5-in-1 Natural Self Tanner
- Easy application
- Orange hue
This lotion is another great clean option if you're looking for a rub-on self-tanner. It gives a golden glow from beet-derived DHA and contains hydrating additions such as almond oil, shea butter, and coconut oil. Some reviewers did warn the lotion gives an orange hue on paler complexions, but others found it was the perfect natural tan. Just be sure to apply this lotion evenly to avoid any patches and let it dry completely before putting on clothes or hopping into bed.
Best oil: Josie Maran Argan Liquid Oil Gold Self-Tanning Oil
- Easy application
- Less pigmented
Not into the mousse, lotions, or spray-on tanners? Here's a new one: self-tanning oil. This unique formula has an oily consistency that works wonders to create a natural glow. Among the clean ingredients, you'll find argan oil, which keeps skin hydrated and glowing so you don't feel dry while letting your tan set. Because its a gentle tanner, you can build up the intensity as you see fit by applying it multiple times (at least eight hours apart to let the product set).
Best face tanner: Typology Progressive Self-Tanning Serum
- Safe for acne-prone skin
Meet the holy grail of natural face tanners. It uses carob pulp to activate your skin's natural tan, making the bronzing effect stronger and long-lasting. It can be used on the body but is really formulated for the face. The dropper applicator makes it easy to build your tan as you see fit. It realistically lasts three to five days, but you only have to use a few additional drops to keep up a natural, glowing effect. Plus, the ingredients are both clean and noncomedogenic, so it's safe for acne-prone skin.
How to use self-tanner:
Although you should follow the instructions on your tanning product, there are a few general guidelines when it comes to using self-tanner. Here's a quick step-by-step for tanning your body, regardless of which form of self-tanner you use:
- Exfoliate and shave your body (where you want to).
- Let your skin dry, and apply moisturizer to the knees, elbows, and wrists.
- Apply tanner evenly, making sure you get every spot to avoid streaks.
- Let the tanner sit for a few minutes.
- Put on loose clothing.
- After it's set (check the product for the exact time needed), rinse off.
- Moisturize your body.
Following up with body lotion is perhaps the most forgotten step—but it's one of the most important. Make sure your pick is a simple, hydrating formula with zero chemical exfoliants, like mbg's postbiotic body lotion. This will ensure your tan stays longer and flake-free. Not to mention, hydrating your skin daily is generally important for the health of your moisture barrier and microbiome.
mbg review process.
At mbg, high standards are earned—and there are no shortcuts. Our beauty editors stay up to date on the latest ingredient research and innovation. It's a dynamic, continuously evolving space, and it's important we look into the science so we can make informed choices about which formulas earn our stamp of approval (figuratively speaking).
Our high standards also come from testing products—many, many products. Our editors and writers rigorously test and research the products featured in our roundups to offer you the best, most informed recommendations. When we write reviews, you can trust we spend quality time with the formulas: We don't simply rave about products we've slathered on the back of our hand. We endorse products we've tried and loved.
Learn more about our testing process and clean beauty standards here.
Using self-tanner is a great way to achieve a bronzy glow without subjecting your skin to sun damage. It's important to remember that nobody is an expert at self-tanning right away, and it takes some practice. But once you get it down, you'll be so glad you did. There are some high-quality tanners on the market with natural ingredients, and now you have plenty of options to choose from. Remember to follow up with a moisturizer after your tan sets to make it last even longer.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.