The Best Self Tanner

Beauty by Earth Organic & Natural Sunless Self Tanner

Our Top Pick for 2017: Beauty by Earth Organic & Natural Sunless Self Tanner
Read our full review.

In the past, achieving a flawless bronze glow has meant exposing your skin to the sun’s harsh rays. More than a few of us are guilty of slathering ourselves in baby oil and laying in the sun for hours in an attempt to channel our inner bronze goddess. But with the dangers of excess sun exposure becoming more and more apparent, we’ve started turning to a safer option: self-tanning. Beauty companies have begun to perfect their formulas to eradicate the streaky, orange self tanners of the past. Today, a good self tanner will deliver long lasting, natural-looking bronze color to replicate a true Bora Bora suntan.

#1. Beauty by Earth Organic & Natural Sunless Self Tanner

Beauty by Earth Organic & Natural Sunless Self Tanner Gold Pick

View it on Amazon: $24.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

Beauty by Earth’s natural self tanner provides gorgeous color in an all-natural formula with skin-friendly ingredients. Organic jojoba oil, coconut oil, green tea and witch hazel are among the high quality ingredients designed to nourish the skin while providing color.

Customize your tan with this buildable formula, which can be applied once for light color or reapplied a few days in a row for a deeper tan. Users with pale skin loved that they could achieve a believable tan with one application, versus self tanners that immediately darken to a deep bronze. Those who desired darker results said that reapplying once or twice yielded excellent results.

Users saw results 4-6 hours after application. Most recommend applying before bed and allowing the tan to develop overnight, then showering in the morning to rinse off the residue. Just be sure to give yourself about an hour to dry before hitting the sheets to avoid color transfer. Although it claims to have a 20 minute drying time, most users said that they experienced a small amount of color transfer on their clothes and sheets after 20 minutes.

One of the most common complaints in self tanners is an unnatural orange color (think Willy Wonka and his Oompa Loompas). The color provided by this formula is a true bronze with no orange undertones, so you can rest assured knowing that your tan looks genuine. Even users with pale skin found that they were able to achieve a realistic and natural looking tan.

When applied correctly, users were able to achieve a streak-free tan. As with any self tanner, it is imperative to exfoliate beforehand to remove dead skin cells. Failure to do so will allow the tanner to sink into the skin and leave behind obvious dark patches. As long as users thoroughly exfoliated prior to use, they were able to achieve an even tan all over. Take extra care to exfoliate tough skin – like the elbows, ankles, and knees – to prevent patchiness.

You can expect 4-7 days of glow from one application of the Beauty by Earth tanner. The tan will lighten slightly throughout the week, but can be reapplied at any time to maintain color. A consistent tan can be achieved by reapplying every 5-6 days, or you can shorten the time between applications to continue to build to a darker color.

For the most part, users found this lotion to be easy to apply and easy to work with. However, it is worth noting that it doesn’t have a color guide. A color guide shows you where you have applied the product so you can see any streaks or missed spots before the color develops. The guard washes off once the actual color develops. This can be especially helpful for beginner tanners who need some guidance to achieve an even tan.

The scent was described as fairly subtle upon first applying, although most users say that it did develop a typical “self tanner smell” about a day after application. However, most said that it was much more subtle than other self tanners on the market. This is most likely due to the natural ingredients, which are far less odorous than their chemical counterparts.

Although a 7.5 ounce container retails for $34.99, it can be purchased on Amazon for $23.99. This is comparable to many mid-range self tanners. Users of all skin tones and experience levels raved about its performance, resulting in an overall 4.5 star rating on Amazon. A whopping 90% our of over 900 of reviewers rated this tanner 4 stars or higher. Given its performance and price, the Beauty by Earth self tanner is one of the best values on the market.

#2. Art Naturals Organic Self Tanner

Art Naturals Organic Self Tanner

View it on Amazon: $21.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

Paired with the included tanning mitts for face and body, this Art Naturals organic self tanner delivers a beautiful bronze glow without unflattering orange tones. Jojoba oil and Shea butter nourish and moisturize the skin for a gorgeous, healthy-looking tan for up to a week.

Similarly to the Beauty by Earth self tanner, this formula is buildable to allow you to customize your end result. Those with fair skin said that they were able to achieve the results they desired after just one application, while others reapplied multiple times to build a dark tan.

After application, the Art Naturals tanner develops within 3-4 hours. Applying before bed and rinsing off the excess in the morning yielded the best results, and users were consistently pleased to find that the color did not transfer to their sheets. Art Naturals suggests 10 minutes as the estimated dry time before putting clothes on, and most users said that this was sufficient. Stick to dark, loose clothing after application to avoid transfer to clothes.

The color provided by this tanner was described by most users as bronze and realistic. The undertones were not at all warm or orange, even on extremely fair skin. When used as instructed – after exfoliating and on clean, dry skin – users reported no streaking or blotchiness. Those who reported some streaking said that it was most likely the result of not using the included mitt for application.

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Like the Beauty by Earth tanner, you can expect anywhere from 4-7 days of color from this product. This will depend upon how much you exfoliate in between applications as well as your skin’s natural reaction to the product. To build color, apply a few days in a row until you achieve your desired tan. If you’re just looking to maintain color, apply every 5-6 days, being sure to properly exfoliate before each application.

Users said that this lotion was easy to work with and lightweight enough to easily blend into the skin. However, it does not contain any color guide to show where product has been applied. To achieve an even and streak-free tan, work in small areas, rubbing the lotion in with small circular motions. Before using the tanner, apply a regular oil-free moisturizer to tough areas like the elbows, knees, ankles, hands and feet. This will prevent extra tanner from sinking into these areas and creating dark patches.

Regarding the scent, most users said that there was no lingering fake tan smell after their first shower. The scent was somewhat apparent upon application, which is to be expected with any self tanner.

Users loved that this product came with two application mitts: one large mitt for the entire body and a smaller mitt for the face. Both mitts are soft and comfortable to use even on sensitive skin. Using a mitt when self-tanning will help eliminate streaking while protecting your hands from dreaded orange palms.

An 8 ounce bottle of lotion and both mitts are available as a package on Amazon for an incredibly reasonable $21.95. Considering its normal retail price of $67.95 – which is typical of most self-tanning packages that include a mitt – this is a steal for the dedicated self-tanning enthusiast.

Out of almost 300 customer reviews, the Art Naturals self tanner received an overall rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. One user in particular raved that this lotion “deserves 10 stars” for its easy application, natural buildable color and subtle scent.

#3. Sun Self Tanning Lotion Ultra Dark Instant Tint

Sun Self Tanning Lotion Ultra Dark Instant Tint

View it on Amazon: $15.45*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

For those of us who crave a deep tan, this Sun Ultra Dark Instant Tint is a quick way to look like you’ve just spent a week in the Bahamas. The unique sugar-based formula absorbs quickly into the skin to create a bronzed finish in as little as 3 hours. Hazelnut and pecan oils combined with Aloe Vera extract nourish and protect the skin to leave it soft and healthy-looking.

Unlike the previous two self tanners, this formula is designed to develop into a deep tan in just one application. Users with naturally deep skin tones said that this was one of few self tanners that developed into a dark enough color for their liking. Despite its dark finish, even users with fair skin were able to achieve a natural-looking tan. One reviewer with extremely fair skin said that this developed into a natural, beautiful color that made it look like she had spent weeks at the beach. If you are extremely fair, you can mix this tanner with an oil-free, AHA-free lotion to thin it out and make the color lighter. To achieve the deepest tan, it can be reapplied consecutively.

The fast-acting formula develops just 3 hours after application. It can be applied before bed and left on overnight before showering. Or, if you prefer, you can apply and wait a few hours before rinsing off to reveal the developed color. Whichever method you choose, be sure to wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid color transfer. Because this particular tanner includes a color guard, some color transfer is inevitable. Many users recommended putting a towel down to protect your sheets and bedding if you plan to leave it on overnight.

With an even amount of warm and cool tones, this tanner develops into a natural looking bronze finish. Users recommend applying with a tanning mitt to avoid streaking and keep the product from staining your palms. Because this tan develops into a deep color, staining on the palms should be avoided as much as possible. If you do get product on your palms, it can be removed by scrubbing with whitening toothpaste or using lemon juice to dissolve the pigments.

The Sun lotion comes out of the bottle a deep brown. Once applied, the color guide is an olive green shade to make it easy to see any streaks or uneven patches. Color guides are especially helpful for beginner self tanners who might not be familiar with the process.

Out of all the lotions we’ve listed so far, this one had the best scent according to reviewers. It was described as a subtle cherry almond smell – one user even said it smells like a cherry lotion. As with any tanning lotion, there is a slight fake tan smell. This is the result of dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. This substance is present in virtually all self tanning products and is responsible for darkening the skin by reacting with the skin’s natural amino acids. Don’t worry – we know the name is scary, but DHA has been approved as safe for external use by the FDA.

At $24.95 for an 8 ounce bottle, the Sun Ultra Dark self tanner falls into a typical price range for comparable products. Because the tint is so dark, many users preferred to mix equal amounts of this lotion with a normal lotion to achieve more subtle color. By doing so, these users were able to make one bottle last for nearly a year even with once weekly applications.

Sun’s self tanner earned a 4.3 star rating out of almost 900 reviews on Amazon, making it a consumer favorite for those who craved deep lasting color. The color guide was a hit among reviewers who struggle with unevenness or streaks, and users appreciated the depth of the tan it provided.

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#4. Fake Bake Flawless

Fake Bake Flawless

View it on Amazon: $9.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

From one of the most popular brands in self tanners, Fake Bake Flawless is a self tan liquid made to quickly build a natural-looking tan. A unique “triple tan formula” combines DHA with DMI and Erythulose to extend the life of your tan. For years, men and women alike have sworn by Fake Bake’s tan products for an easy, natural-looking alternative to sun tanning. At a killer price and with a 95% score on Top Beauty Brands, it’s tough to pass this one by.

The color that develops from this tanner is a natural-looking golden brown that suited users from fair to deep skin tones. Depending on the depth of color you wish to achieve, you can build color by applying several days in a row. For those with fair skin tones who wanted a noticeable but subtle tan, one application was sufficient. Those who wanted a deeper tan said that 2-3 applications provided the color they desired.

For the guy or gal on the go, this ultra-quick drying formula is transfer resistant and can be worn throughout the day. It is important to note that the color guard will run if exposed to water, so if there’s rain in your forecast, it’s best to apply the night before and then wash the color guard off in the morning. After application, the color develops in just 2-3 hours. The color guard makes it easy to apply evenly without missing any spots or leaving streaks behind.

The included tanning mitt makes it a breeze to apply without streaks or uneven patches. Fake Bake recommends working in long gliding movements, working quickly as the product is very quick to dry. Even with the mitt, it is advisable to wear latex or plastic gloves underneath to prevent the product from soaking through to your skin. Don’t skimp out on washing your mitt – users stress the importance of washing it after every use to prolong its use and prevent product buildup. Using a gentle shampoo and scrubbing under warm water will keep your mitt in prime tanning condition.

Reviewers loved the light, tropical scent of Fake Bake Flawless. Most described it as a subtle coconut scent with almost no noticeable tanning smell. The smell is boyfriend-approved: one user said her boyfriend loved the scent and thought it was a new body lotion.

A 6 ounce bottle with mitt can be purchased on Amazon for only $11, making this one of the most affordable self tanners in its class. Users love that they can save a fortune and achieve salon results at home. Over 4,000 reviews have been left for Fake Bake’s cult favorite self tanner. Out of these reviews, 86% have left 4 stars or higher, earning it a 4.4 star rating and a place on our list as the Best Budget Pick.

Pre-purchase considerations


Few things are less flattering than the skin tone of an Oompa Loompa (sorry, Willy Wonka.) Look for a self tanner that develops into a true brown color and not an overly warm orange tone. Many beauty blogs and websites offer in-depth reviews on self tanners with pictures to show the final color. Some dedicated Amazon reviewers also post before-and-after photos so you can get an idea of what color you’re in for post-tanning.

Instant vs. gradual

Do you want something ultra-subtle that you can gradually build to a deep bronze, or do you want to score an ultra-dark tan right off the bat? There’s no right or wrong answer here – it just depends on your skin tone and experience with self tanner.

Those who are new to tanning might benefit from a more buildable formula as it will be easier to conceal mistakes. If you’re very fair-skinned and don’t want a drastic overnight change, stick with something light and buildable. You can always go darker, but it’s hard to wash away the color once it’s developed.

If you are an experienced self tanner or you have fairly deep skin that needs a darker formula, you can jump right into a tanner that develops right into a deep color.

Drying time

All self tanners require some drying time to prevent color transfer and streaking. If you’ve got some down time, you can afford to pick a formula that takes a little longer to dry. But if you’re looking for something that you can slather on and run (okay, maybe not that quickly), keep an eye out for something that is specially formulated to dry quickly.


Nobody wants to spend hours prepping, applying, and maintaining a fake tan just to have it fade out or become blotchy the next day. The best self tanners will last from 4-7 days when properly applied and maintained. Keep in mind that your prep routine is imperative to the longevity of your tan. Thoroughly exfoliating will slough off any excess skin cells and prevent premature flaking.


Besides being a dead giveaway that you’ve been getting your faux-glow on, an overpowering tanner smell is just plain unpleasant. Although some of that DHA smell is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Look for something with a scent that is, at the very least, tolerable. Self tanners today have evolved significantly since the days of their smelly ancestors.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

Beauty by Earth has developed a self tanner that is taking the beauty community by storm. The natural-looking color and long-lasting formula have given millions the beautiful glow they desired. All natural, organic ingredients nourish the skin for a soft, supple finish and healthy moisture. Top ratings from consumers and critics alike have earned the Beauty by Earth self tanner our Gold Pick.