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The best self-tanners for an instant glow up

Self-tanner options now come in mousse, cream, drops and even individual towelettes for a gradual glow that looks natural and sun-kissed, but never orange.
 nastya_ph:Royalty-free:Getty Images
The best self-tanners for hands and face from luxury brands to drugstore favourites.

Want that sun-kissed, “I spent the summer on a yacht in Italy and definitely not at my desk” glow without the sun damage?

Self-tanners have come a long way from the orange hue and off-putting smell of the early-2000s. Today's formulas are subtle in both scent and hue, with plenty of colour blends (from barely-there to dark) and application options (cream, mist, mousse and drops).

When choosing a self-tanner, it’s best to separate the face and body because the skin has different needs: look for face tanners with ingredients that won’t cause breakouts and at the same time nourish skin, whereas body self-tanners should focus on being streak-free and moisturizing. 

To incorporate self-tanner, start with freshly exfoliated skin (it help with evenness), always wear gloves and wash hands immediately after using. It never hurts to do a skin patch test to ensure there’s no irritation and proceed accordingly. And be patient with layering — allow the self-tanner to dry and check it in natural light before deciding if you want to go darker.

Best self-tanners for the face

St. Tropez Tan Tonic Glow Drops

St. Tropez glow drops

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants a customizable glow — the St. Tropez drops can be mixed in with a serum or moisturizer or applied directly to skin. The unique formula has nourishing hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, vitamin E and echinacea to help plump skin and even out tone.

Why we're endorsing it: Brand trust (St. Tropez is a pioneer in self-tanners), skin care ingredients, excellent user reviews.

Where it could use improvements: It takes four to six hours for the effect to be fully seen.

Size/weight/dimensions: 30 mL bottle.

Price (subject to change): $49.99 at Sephora

Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster

Clarins glow boosters

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants to build a subtle and gradual glow.

Why we're endorsing it: The Clarins booster is meant to be added to a moisturizer and many users feel it helps them achieve a healthy and bright “no makeup” look.

Where it could use improvements: This is meant to layer so the results can be subtle.

Size/weight/dimensions: 15 mL bottle.

Price (subject to change): $35 at Shoppers Drug Mart.

L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Towelettes

Loreal towelttes

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants to try a self-tanner but isn’t keen on drops or creams.

Why we're endorsing it: These individual towelettes are great for travel and go on even (no streaking). It's a one-and-done application with little guess work, but it does take two to four hours for the full effect to show. 

Where it could use improvements: Towelettes are not biodegradable.

Size/weight/dimensions: Six wipes per box.

Price (subject to change): $13.49 at Shoppers Drug Mart or $17.09 on Amazon.

Best self-tanners for the body

Jergens Natural Glow

Jergens glow tanner

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants to incorporate a tan without adding an extra step or a lot of extra cost to their routine.

Why we're endorsing it: This is a tried-and-true gradual self-tanner that takes about a week to build up to maximum glow. It’s formulated for dry skin and goes on smooth.

Where it could use improvements: It has a very faint smell. 

Size/weight/dimensions: 200 mL bottle.

Price (subject to change): $9.95 on Amazon.

St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse

St. Tropez mousse

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants to get serious about a self-tanner at home.

Why we're endorsing it: The bronzing mouse is very light and oil-free, and it feels smooth and velvety on skin. This formula is unique in that you can apply it, let it dry and then get dressed but it should be washed off after six hours.

Where it could use improvements: For ideal coverage, getting sweaty or wet is not recommended for at least six hours. Using a mitt is a must.

Size/weight/dimensions: 237 mL bottle.

Price (subject to change): $53.99 at Well.ca or $54 at Sephora.

COOLA Sunless Tan Dry Oil Mist

COOLA sunless tan

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants to try spray self-tanner, rather than a lotion.

Why we're endorsing it: COOLA is made with 79% certified organic ingredients. This misting spray has vitamin C and dries quickly. Allow two to four hours for it to settle and shower after six hours. Many users describe the finished result as “golden.”

Where it could use improvements: COOLA is best known as a sunscreen brand but note that this is a sunless tanner and does not have SPF.

Size/weight/dimensions: 100 mL bottle.

Price (subject to change): $70 at Well.ca.

Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Oil Mist

Isle of Paradise

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants colour options (this one comes in light, medium or dark).  

Why we're endorsing it: Isle of Paradise is all about self-tanners, so their highly specialized product lines include drops and mousse as well as this mist that includes squalene, glycerin and hyaluronic acid.

Where it could use improvements: Tanning mists can require a bit of trial and error when applying (and some users recommend a mitt).

Size/weight/dimensions: 100 mL bottle.

Price (subject to change): $42 at Sephora.

b.tan Love At First Tan

b. tan

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants to achieve the darkest self-application possible.

Why we're endorsing it: If “gradual” is not fast enough, this violet tanner is activated in about an hour and can be left on up to four hours for maximum glow. Once the ideal tone is reached, it should be washed off in the shower.

Where it could use improvements: Violet-based self-tanners are meant to produce the darkest colour possible so this is not for newbies.

Size/weight/dimensions: 200 mL.

Price (subject to change): $23.08 at Amazon.

Helpful self-tanner accessories

Dove body polish

For self-tanner prep, exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate. Dove’s body polish (pictured) has a slightly gritty texture but won’t strip skin (the macadamia nut and rice milk has a subtly sweet scent). Combine with a spongy shower loofah for best results.

Dove Exfoliating Body Polish, $9.97 at Amazon.

Set of four loofahs, $12.47 at Amazon.

St. Tropez tanning mitt

To minimizes the risk of streaks, a glove can help apply product evenly all over the body, except the palms of hands (where self-tanner seems to annoyingly stick).

St. Tropez Double Sided Tan Applicator Mitt, $10 (pictured) at Sephora.

Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun Sunless Glow Tanning Applicator Mitt, $9.99 at Shoppers Drug Mart

Self tanner kit

For full body coverage (particularly if wearing a tank top or bathing suit), this tanning body kit includes a back band, exfoliating gloves and a mini finger mitt to help with hard-to-reach spots. $14.99 at Amazon.

St. Tropez tanning removal mitt

If the self-tanner experiment didn’t work out or you want to start fresh, St. Tropez Tan Build Up Remover Mitt sloughs away the old product and leaves skin soft and clean, but not stripped. This also doubles as a very effective exfoliator. $9 at Sephora.