A self-tanner is the only way to get a tan without damaging your skin. Although the majority of self-tanners have more similarities than differences, those that made the Best Products list stood out because:
- They contain a range of beneficial extras (such as antioxidants) to benefit all skin types
- They contain minimal to no fragrance
- They omit skin irritants such as alcohol and fragrant plants
- They're easy to apply and produce a natural tan color
By and large, almost all self-tanners will work as indicated, because 99% of them contain the same "active" ingredient, dihydroxyacetone (DHA).
DHA reacts with amino acids found in the top layers of skin to create a shade of brown; the effect takes place within two to six hours, and color depth can be built each time you reapply.
DHA has a long history of safe use, but it is critical to keep in mind that the "tan" you get from DHA does not provide any sun protection. If you decide to use a self-tanner, be sure you continue to protect exposed skin every day with a well-formulated sunscreen rated SPF 15 or greater and that contains the UVA-protecting ingredients of avobenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, Mexoryl SX (ecamsule), or Tinosorb.
If all self-tanners are similar, how did we decide which ones to rate as Bests? Good question! Although we have no doubt you will have success with any self-tanner rated with a happy face on this site (for best results, be sure to follow the application instructions exactly), the handful of options on this list are the self-tanners that, for the most part, are also state-of-the-art moisturizers or gels that just happen to turn skin a beautiful shade of tan.
We recommend starting with any of the options below before others because what each contains will prove helpful for skin (especially normal to dry skin) while imparting a sunless tan, which is the only kind we (and any dermatologist informed on the dangers of tanning in the sun) recommend.
Self-tanners with sunscreen tend to be a problem if used as your sole source of sun protection. The reason is that ideally, a self-tanner should be applied sparingly while a sunscreen requires liberal application. If you apply a self-tanner with sunscreen liberally, you risk a blotchy or too-dark result. Conversely, applying a self-tanner with sunscreen sparingly will not get you to the level of protection stated on the label, and that puts your skin at risk for damage.