These self-tans recreate sunshine.
Lay to rest the fluro orange ghosts of self-tans past. Formulas have dramatically improved since those streaky, biscuit-tinged bronzing mousses. Scratch that. They’re infinitely better, with less DHA and more skin-loving, moisturising ingredients so you look glowy, not half-baked. Proof is our pick of the best fake tan for 2021.
Think foams that give a natural sun-kissed finish; creams that build gradually and even serums that combine the best in skincare with tanning agents.
Before you get to the products, though, you need to first follow our fool-proof fake tan tips. Then select the right self-tan for your skin type and tone to get the most convincing coverage.
Types of Fake Tan
There are only three golden rules for choosing a self-tan.
Namely, opt for a gradual tan if you have pale skin or are a complete self-tanning novice. These contain less tanning agent than regular fake tans to steadily boost your colour. Use daily and you can control how dark you go.
Consider your skin type. If you suffer from dry skin, chose a self-tan lotion or serum. Tanning water, which you spray on much like a face or body mist, also promises hydration alongside a sun-kissed glow.
‘Gels offer oily skin the added bonus of a quicker tan result,’ says Michaella Bolder, St.Tropez’s Tanning & Skin Finishing Expert. ‘While mousses and multi-angle spray tans work on everyone.’
Fake tan mousses also come with the benefit of immediate results; there’s often a guide colour, meaning you can see where you have and haven’t bronzed up. Just remember to use a mitt and work fast as mousse tans have quick-drying formulas. You’ve been warned.
And finally, use a different fake tan for your face than your body.
The skin on your face requires a completely different formula as it’s far more sensitive.
‘It also has a tendency to go a little darker as your PH balance is higher,’ says James Read, the man responsible for Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Lady Gaga’s tans. ‘Facial self-tans contain humectants and anti-ageing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and are formulated to be slightly lighter.’
Tanning drops, which you add to your face cream, are a good option, too, as the tanning agent is diluted in a nourishing base and you can customise your colour with the preferred amount.
The Best Fake Tan For Your Skin Tone
Here’s some breaking news for you: everyone’s skin benefits from a slick of self-tan. In the same way that the pale-skinned among us love a hint of bronze, many women of colour want a deeper glow, too.
‘If you have a fair skin tone and you freckle in the sun, then a red-based tan will complement your colour. It will also counteract an orange look you sometimes get,’ says A-list tanning pro, James Harknett. Sienna X Gradual Untinted Self Tan Lotion, is a good example of the best fake tan for pale skin.
And aim for levels of DHA (the sugar-cane derivative, which makes you tan) that are between two and five per cent, so that you don’t look like you’ve overdone it.
In fact, Tan-Luxe founder Marc Elrick believes four percent is the sweetspot for tanning actives, especially when talking about lighter skin tones.
‘The ethos behind Tan-Luxe is that it starts life as a skincare product,’ he says.
‘We then work backwards to incorporate the tanning actives. You get glowing results from 4% DHA after the first use, but the effect is much more subtle. Plus you can really enjoy the skincare benefits as you gradually build up the colour with each application.’
Olive and Dark Skin Tones
‘Olive skin tones and those who tan well on holiday should choose a green base to counteract an orange tinge,’ says Harknett.
Black skin can push the boat out with the darkest fake tan. These contain around 18 per cent DHA and, says Harknett, ‘effectively cover up blemishes and even-out skin tone.’
For more of our top-rated best fake tans, keep scrolling…
A milky liquid that is like a tall glass of water for skin that normally finds fake tan dehydrating. Simply mist onto face and body for a finish that looks like it was sprayed on by a pro.
The darkest colour in the range, this foam sets fast and leaves you with a deep hue when buffed into the skin with a mitt.
As well as making your limbs look like they were dipped in caramel, this self-tanning foam also boasts skin-smoothing peptides and antioxidants including goji berry and pomegranate.
What if you could magically multiply the benefits of a self-tan so it also makes skin look smoother and primed for make-up? You’d get this product, plus peptides to plump skin and organic DHA verified by Ecocert.
This fake tan for the face allows you to dip your toe in gradually. Slowly build up your confidence and colour while the relaxing scent of lavender helps you get a good night’s sleep. What’s not to love?
These beauties are a totally different way of applying your tan. The AHAs nibble away at dead skin cells, encouraging cell turnover and smoothing the skin's surface. Whilst at the same time delivering a gradual tan, so that you get a natural glow and an enhancement.
The original. The classic. The one we all start our tanning journey on. And guess what? Just because it was our intro into DHA, does not mean that it isn't a really decent product. Use this every three days in place of your normal body moisturiser for round-the-clock glow.
Not only is your daily dose of glow, but it's also packed with hyaluronic acid, the gold standard ingredient for drawing moisture into the skin that you usually find in expensive facial formulas. The result is touchably soft skin and a glowy, sun-kissed colour that’s cool-toned.
We all know that Ashley Graham always looks stunning. But do you know what she also always looks? Tanned. Turns out she loves St Tropez and has used it for years. This is her favourite product and who are we to argue with that?
Whilst you might think that this looks like just another gradual tanner, you would be wrong. It is in fact much more than that. Because, you see, you only need to apply it twice to get a tan that looks like you've been on a two-week holiday and done nothing but lie on a sun lounger.
Each summer, beauty bloggers of colour give this classic St Tropez tan a shout out. It’s rated one of the best as it’s specifically formulated to react well with the natural melanin in black skin. Another bonus: as black skin tends to be oilier, a mousse formula won’t dry it out.
Enriched with skin-brightening vitamin C, soothing aloe vera and mega moisturiser hyaluronic acid, you can use the syringe-like dropper to add self-tan to your SPF or moisturiser. Prepare to look smug as your skin tone gradually deepens without the usual tanner smell.