Finally the sun is out, and temps are rising. You pull out the box of shorts stashed at the back of your closet, and slip on your favorite pair. While you’re holding up floral tops as candidates to wear with those shorts, you realize something awful. Your legs, in the dead of this long, cold winter, are so pale that the sun itself might run and hide from them.
Those are the moments we thank the beauty gods for the modern generation of self-tanners. These days, we moved well past the stinky, orange-y and streaky lotions of the ’80s, into a realm of towelettes, mists and dry oils that’ll give you the glow you crave. Here’s a rundown of the best self-tanners to try out this spring!
Lotions, for the Traditionalist
Early generations of self-tanners were only available in one form: a lotion you’d apply and let dry. That format is still popular, and many formulations are adding in other benefits too — like moisturizing and firming.
The best products are those the offer “buildable” color. You apply the lotion daily and the color gradually deepens over time. This keeps you from showing up at work on a Thursday looking like you went to the tropics the night before.
If you’re on a budget, reach for the Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer formulations. The original formula is a 2016 Allure Best of Beauty Award Winner, gets consistently strong reviews, and retails for less than $10.
A splurgier option is St. Tropez Gradual Tan Tinted Everyday Lotion, which’ll set you back about $30. This formula has a touch of bronze for quick results, but then also builds your tan gradually with daily application.
Towelettes, for the Practical
Tanning towelettes are perfect for packing — with no worries about spilling funky-smelling lotion all over the clothes in your overnight bag. But there are advantages to using them at home, too. No mess, and no turning the bottle upside down to get the last drop. Simply wipe a towelette over your face and body, and then toss it.
Two options fashionistas love are Sun Bum Self-Tanning Towelettes ($9 for a 5-pack) and Somerville360 Face and Body Self Tanning Towelettes by Kate Somerville ($45 for an 8-pack).
Mists, for the Diva
There’s something very lavish about misting yourself — it’s a palm-free application, after all. And in this case, the mist is both a light bronzer and a gradual self-tanner.
James Read H20 Illuminating Tan Mist Body ($35 for 6.7 fl.oz.) adds moisturizing and firming to that list of benefits, by including Hyaluronic Acid and caffeine in its formulation. Another option is St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mist ($40 for 6.7 fl.oz.), which is applied and then rinsed off. You can control the depth of your tan by adjusting the time you keep the product on your skin before rinsing.
SPF Tanning Lotions, for Everyone
Of course you’re wearing sunscreen daily, right? If you need to get more efficient with your morning routine, combine your sunblock and self-tanner application into one step. Two options that’ll help you do that are Supergoop! Healthy Glow Sunless Tan SPF 40 ($38) and Jergens Natural Glow and Protect with SPF20 ($8). Both offer buildable, streak-free color as well as the sun protection.
Dry Oils, for the Overachiever
The best dry oil self-tanners deliver on the promise of quick absorption. They go on luxuriously to nourish and moisturize your skin, and then seem to disappear in a flash (so you don’t have to hang around naked for 30 minutes waiting for your legs to dry).
Bondi Sands Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Dry Oil ($38) has a tropical coconut scent and uses Argan Oil for long-lasting moisture. A less spendy option is Body Drench Quick Tan Dry Oil for $20.
No DHA Formula, for the Chemical-Averse
Many self-tanners use a compound called DHA to change the color of your skin. DHA is approved by the FDA for topical use, but it’s gotten some bad press, for sure. I’m no expert and so I’ll claim allegiance with Switzerland on this issue.
If research tells you to avoid DHA, know that you can do it without giving up on your sun-kissed glow. You can try a non-DHA formula, but most use compounds very similar to DHA. The safest route is to skip the self-tanner entirely, in favor of a tinted body lotion that’ll wash off daily. Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs ($9) has been around forever, and has a permanent spot on the shelf of your favorite drugstore. Or, try Soap & Glory The Righteous Butter Sunkissed Tint Body Lotion for $17, available on Amazon.
Now, pick your tan strategy — and get back to more important things, like choosing a top to wear with your favorite spring shorts.
Catherine Brock is a St. Louis style editor and writer who caters to the budget-minded fashion enthusiast on her website thebudgetfashionista.com. You can also connect with Catherine on Instagram @budget.fashionista