Skip the skin-damaging sun (or, heaven forbid, tanning booth!) and get your glow the safe way with the best self-tanning lotions, creams, sprays, mousses, wipes, and more guaranteed to give you a faux bronze that looks so real no one will believe it's from a bottle.
"The active ingredient in most self-tanners is DHA or dihydroxyacetone, which has been allowed by the FDA for external use," says Sabina Wizemann, a senior chemist at the Good Housekeeping Institute's Beauty Lab.DHA works by temporarily tinting the dead cells on the surface of skin to darken them.There are instant self-tanners, which develop color immediately or over a few hours, and gradual self-tanners that develop more subtle color over a period of a few days.
Over the years, self-tanners have become better-performing overall thanks to advances in product formulation that help address issues such as the orange cast (using cooler, more brown tones), unpleasant scent (helped by superior odor-neutralizing and masking fragrances), and streaking (better formulation bases such as lotions, creams, mousses, wipes, and mists that apply and spread smoother and easier).
How we test self-tanners
The GH Beauty Lab scanned the market for the best self-tanners spanning from inexpensive drugstore picks to high-end formulations. including lotions and creams, mists, mousses, oils, wipes, and gel formulas. Beauty Lab scientists then mask the labels of each product and distribute them to hundreds of consumers across the country, who use the product daily until they reach their desired shade (for no more than five days). Testers then stop use and observe how the self-tanner fades for three days before completing a standardized questionnaire, rating them on everything from ease of application to scent, look and feel on skin, and how well they built up color and faded over time.
Keep reading for best self-tanners as tested by the GH Beauty Lab, plus online best-sellers, including the best drugstore self-tanners, self-tanners for the face, for fair skin, and for beginners to help you look sun-kissed for any occasion. Remember that s elf-tanners will not protect against sunburn or sun damage because they do not contain sunscreen ingredients (unless indicated on product packaging), so apply a top rated sunscreen with broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen before spending time outdoors to protect skin.