By now, we all know that the only safe tan is a fake one, but finding the perfect self-tanner can be an agonizing search. You scour reviews and hoard samples, hunting in vain for that one magical product that will give you a natural-looking golden glow.
We know the struggle because we’ve been through it ourselves, so we asked our editors to share their very favorite, tried-and-true self-tanners. If you’re looking for a brilliant faux glow this summer, consider this your ultimate guide to the best products out there.
Jessica Teves, Editor-In-Chief: Aerin Lauder’s Gradual Tan ($65, saksfifthavenue.com) is everything I’ve been waiting for in my adult life! First off, the smell is clean and heavenly—such a departure from every other self-tanner I’ve tried. Also, the color is gradual, so it’s perfectly natural looking, and something you can build day over day—and not end up looking like a character out of Jersey Shore.
Perrie Samotin, Site Director: The thing with self-tanning products is that you have to be insanely precise if you want to avoid patches and streaks, and I just don’t have the patience. I’ve found that super-gradual tanners that are more like body lotions are better for a subtle sunkissed look, and I’m a fan of Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer ($7.40, target.com), straight from the drugstore. You still have to be meticulous when applying, but I’ve found a slight mess-up isn’t nearly as obvious as it is with some more hard-core tanners, and on me, it’s not orange at all.
Rachel Adler, Beauty Director: While I don’t use faux tanner too often, when I need to look a bit darker than my extremely pale complexion, I reach for Kate Somerville’s 360 Towelettes ($45, sephora.com). They come in a wipe form so there is literally no mess—you simply use one all over your body, and your tan settles in a couple hours later. Plus, it’s not sticky and it doesn’t smell, which makes this a win in my self-tanning book.
Alle Connell, Senior Beauty Editor: I like my natural pallor, but if I’m looking to fake a golden glow, the only product I reach for is St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse ($32, sephora.com). It gives me the perfect amount of color without turning my very pale skin orange, and the foam is incredibly easy to apply; I just rub it on with the included mitt after gently exfoliating my skin, and voila! No streaks, no gross smell, no worries—just totally amazing golden color.
Cady Lang, Social Media Editor: As a California girl now living on the East Coast, I’m always looking for ways to maintain my glow even when sunshine is scarce. The best fake bake I’ve found to replicate my natural tan is Lancome’s Flash Bronzer ($42, sephora.com). The bronzer is a gel formula that builds subtly and spreads evenly—ensuring no streakiness or undue color that would have me looking like an Oompa-Loompa. Another plus is the hint of shimmer it gives my skin whenever I apply it.
Sable Yong, Associate Beauty Editor: Paula’s Choice 365 Self-Tanning Concentrate ($12.60, paulaschoice.com) is amazing. It’s a self-tanner concentrate, so you can add it to any face or body lotion you already use and it works without adding an extra step or smelling weird. Also, no dry time required. Praise the fake-bake gods!
Jasmine Garnsworthy, Editor: There is only one fake tan in my life, and that’s Le Tan in Le Can—I’m a devoted fan of the brand’s spray-on “fast tan” in deep bronze. It’s an instant, quick-dry solution that you can use literally minutes before walking out the door—and it smells so much better than any other faux tan I’ve used. But here’s the bad news: Le Tan is an Australian brand, and it’s super tricky to find it anywhere else. Trust me, I scour eBay just about every week.
Cristina Velocci, Managing Editor: I almost never use self-tanner because I’ve been blessed with olive skin but that doesn’t mean my face can’t get pasty in the winter. I love the Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pads ($12, sephora.com) because they are completely foolproof, mess-free and effortless. If you know how to use a face wipe, you’ve got the application on lock—I can’t think of an easier way to get an instant, believable glow.