Person applying self-tanner tanning lotion

(Photo by Beauty Stock on Shutterstock)

One of the most significant benefits of self-tanner is its ability to provide a safer alternative to sunbathing or using tanning beds. Many people opt for self-tanner as a way to achieve a bronzed and glowing complexion without exposing themselves to the harmful effects of UV rays. Excessive exposure to UV radiation can cause skin damage, premature aging and even increase the risk of skin cancer. Thankfully, some of the best tanning lotions can help you achieve a sun-kissed look without the sun. 

Turns out, the risk of getting skin cancer from tanning beds or sunbathing is even more alarming than we thought. According to a study by Washington State University scientists, exposure to UV light can trigger multiple mutations in DNA. That’s right, those UV rays not only give you a golden tan, but they also have the potential to cause malignant melanoma the deadliest form of skin cancer. But wait, it gets worse. The study also found that even a single intense dose of ultraviolet-B radiation from sunlight can cause abnormal mutations in skin cells. So, make sure to protect your skin and take caution when it comes to UV rays!

Why do people even tan if there are such great risks? A study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that men who regularly visit tanning salons may have addictive personalities. The study surveyed 636 self-reported past or present tanners, and the results showed that those who tanned frequently were more likely to partake in poor health habits, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Overall, a full 49 percent of men who indicated using tanning beds fit a clinical pattern of addictive behavior.

It’s important to note that self-tanners do not offer any protection from the sun. They simply provide a cosmetic color change to skin. Therefore, it’s vital to wear sunscreen and take other sun protection measures while using a self-tanner. But as part of your skin care routine, you can “glow” all out with the five best tanning lotions below. Experts say you won’t have to worry about an uneven or streaky tan with these products. Pro tips for application: Exfoliate your skin beforehand, apply the self-tanner evenly, and wash your hands thoroughly after applying.

The List: Best Self-Tanning Lotions According to Experts


1. St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse

Ranking at number one, CNN calls this product beginner-friendly: “For those starting out, St. Tropez’s Bronzing Mousse is a foolproof product that adjusts to each user’s skin tone and will last up to 10 days with an even and natural fade.” 

St. Tropez Self-Tanner Tanning Lotion
St. Tropez Self-Tanner Tanning Lotion

“This lightweight tanning mousse contains jojoba oil and other skin-friendly ingredients … which can help moisturize the skin. It also contains fragrance, so you won’t encounter any ‘fake tan smell.’” Real Simple reviews.

And even recommends it for wedding days: “St. Tropez is a fan-favorite tanning brand for a reason. Their classic bronzing mousse is lightweight and easy to apply using a self-tanning mitt. It tailors to your skin tone and will last through all of your wedding weekend festivities. Plus, this formula is clinically proven to moisturize for up to 24 hours, so you’ll keep your skin glowing and nourished at once.”

2. St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse

The St. Tropez brand claims the second spot on the list, too. After testing the product, Forbes explains why the Express Mousse is such a great tanner: “St. Tropez’s popular fast-acting self-tanning mousse has a sweet scent that I actually liked. It was the easiest to apply among the six mousses and foams I tested due to its nice, thick consistency that doesn’t drip off the mitt or run on your skin. All testers appreciated that the rich lather goes on evenly without any mess. The color that developed looked deeper and more dramatic than other self-tanners we tried, and it lasted for 3 or 4 days and beyond.”

St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse
St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse

Harper’s BAZAAR says even if other self-tanners have failed you, this is a must-try: “If you’ve struggled with tanners in the past, give this one a chance. It develops the most natural-looking color without streaks when applied with care (and a handy tanning mitt). Over 7,000 Amazon reviewers say it’s the ‘best tanner ever,’ especially for fair skin.”

CNN adds, “‘The best part of this self-tanner is that you can customize the color you want by how long you leave the express tan to develop. Tan and shower off after one hour to achieve your light tan, two hours for a medium tan or leave for three hours to achieve your darkest tan.'”

3. Bali Body Self-Tanning Mousse

For darker skin tones, the New York Post recommends Bali Body, and here’s why: “It’s more of a natural application and this has a very deep color and is made specifically for those with those deep, caramel-y bronzed skin tones. It just kind of gives the skin an extra layer of glow because when you’re dark, you don’t need that much extra color.” 

Bali Body Self-Tanning Mousse
Bali Body Self-Tanning Mousse

And according to Reviewed, it’ll last all week long: “The self-tanner faded evenly over the course of a week, making it great for either one-time use or a multi-day vacation or event where you don’t want to keep reapplying. And while on my skin, the product left behind no noticeable residue or staining on my clothes or bedding.”

“If you’re trying to look like you’ve been on a tropical getaway, try the Bali Body Ultra Dark Self Tanning Mousse for long-lasting results. It’s the deepest formula from the brand and delivers a natural-looking result (no orange hues here). Just apply one layer and you’re good to go — trust us,” assures Allure.

4. St. Moriz Instant Self-Tanning Mousse

Some self-tanners can leave you looking like a Cheeto. But Allure claims this will never be the case with this product: “St. Moriz Professional Tanning Mousse is a traditional self-tanner that comes in two hues, Medium and Dark. This mousse formula glides onto the skin leaving it streak free and never orange.”

St. Moriz Instant Self-Tanning Mousse
St. Moriz Instant Self-Tanning Mousse

Cosmopolitan adds that it’s easy to apply: “If you want to see the tanner as you apply it, opt for a bronzing mousse like this one from St. Moriz. Unlike clear formulations, you’ll be able to tell exactly where this bb is (and isn’t) to avoid streaks. And don’t freak when the color is super dark as it develops — it’ll wash off in the shower!” 

Real Simple also loves the brand’s fast tanning mousse. “For those who want to use self tanner consistently without breaking the bank, this version from St. Moriz is for you. While drugstore self tanners tend to be gradual, this one gives you a tan in one to three hours.”

5. Jergens Natural Glow +FIRMING Self Tanner

InStyle calls this the best gradual self-tanner: “The white, creamy formula feels just like a regular lotion, spreading easily and absorbing quickly into the skin. With no guide color and a subtle floral fragrance, it’s one of the few self tanners you could actually put on and go without worrying about any mishaps.”

Jergens Natural Glow +FIRMING Self Tanner
Jergens Natural Glow +FIRMING Self Tanner

And your bank account will approve of this choice, too! Parade says it’s budget-friendly, writing, “A more affordable sunless tanner, Jergens Natural Glow nourishes skin while giving you a gradual tan with each use. It is also made with collagen, elastin, and green tea infusions to help firm the skin and minimize the appearance of cellulite.”  

We hope this list of expert-recommended self-tanners helps you be a glow-getter without the need for sun! Let us know if you end up trying and liking one of these brands. 

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links. 

About Stephanie Vallette

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StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

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  1. Terry purdy says:

    Any news about vitiligo fake tan successful yet

    1. Karen says:

      I have vitiligo and the darker the spray tan the better. The home versions aren’t as strong as the salon express versions. The DHA is much higher and I get my spots way evened out. I can only wear short sleeves with a Rapid or Express level Spray Tan. Bedtimebronzie 🙂

  2. Karen Leach says:

    Love your article. I own Bedtime Bronzie, the silky sheet protecting sleeping bag. We have a US patent and are a small women owned business from Maui. Your readers would totally benefit from our product. I’d love to send you one !

  3. Shaela Shae says:

    I’ve tried all of these except the last one, I didn’t think at. Tropez or Bali body were anything special. They didn’t give me any color or much change at all.. my favorites are Bondi sands and loving tan.. this are the best in my experience and I have years of jt