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The Best Fake Tans, According to Experts

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

The fake-tan sector has moved forward astronomically since the days of gloopy formulas, and mahogany end results. “Self tans are so advanced these days. They are a far cry from the first ones which I remember, which smelt like the McVitie’s factory and turned you a ripe shade of orange,” says Susannah Taylor, beauty editor and columnist.

A variety of options, from mists to mousses, and technology borrowed from the world of skin care means you can get a truly streak-free, sun-kissed finish. We asked Taylor, along with nine other experts — from a dermatologist to a West End star — to share the products they rely on for tanning, including the best exfoliating tan, the best option for oily skin, and how to protect your bed sheets from staining.

Best overall tan for body

Three of our experts named the Tan Luxe the Body Illuminating Self-Tanning Drops as their number one. “It’s my absolute favourite,” says Joelle Dyson, an actress and singer currently starring in Tina the Musical. “I use Medium/Dark as I have a darker skin tone. It’s so easy to apply and leaves an amazing colour behind. Having the flexibility to customise the finish is so useful, and it always fades evenly.” All you do is add the drops to your standard body lotion (Tan Luxe also makes a face version); the more you add, the darker the tan will be. At £42, it’s expensive but as you only need one to three drops per application, one bottle goes a very long way. Stylist beauty director Shannon Peter, who received the drops as a press sample and uses Light/Medium, added, “It’s super simple to dial up the intensity simply by shifting the tan to cream ratio.” Our experts also noted that you don’t need to be particularly precise to get a good result. Dyson explains, “I get a bit slap dash with it, but it still looks beautiful! As long as you wash your hands immediately after applying it there is no staining, so you don’t need a mitt or any tools either.” Makeup artist Cher Webb also rates the soft-focus effect from the drops, saying “they illuminate the skin in such a flawless but natural-looking way.”

Best (less expensive) tan for body

“Palmers Cocoa Butter Gradual Tan is an absolute godsend for maintaining your skin’s natural glow,” says Dyson. “Although I’m mixed race and naturally darker skinned, I can easily start to look quite sallow, ashy, and lacklustre with the change of weather or after a few heavy nights, and this lends my skin the warmth I’m after. They only do one shade, but I find it’s very adaptable. I use it all over my body a few times a week. It’s not a dramatically dark tan, more of a subtle healthy glow.” Dyson is also a fan of the hydrating properties the cocoa butter adds, while also celebrating the “no tell-tale fake tan smell or colour transfer.” One final benefit? “As for the price tag — you’d be hard-pushed to beat it!”

Best tanning mousse for body

“My all-time favourite tanning product is the Isle of Paradise Mousse,” says influencer Chloe Plumstead. “I’m naturally very fair so I do like to opt for the Ultra Dark shade which develops fairly quickly, and I find that this one hydrates my skin and doesn’t crumble away with wear like some other fake tans,” she explains. Ultra Dark is the deepest, but there are three other shades on offer, too. As an added bonus, it’s also vegan, and the longevity is impressive — Plumstead said she can get away with once-weekly applications, as long as she dutifully moisturises every other day. A note: Plumstead has worked with the brand on paid campaigns but also buys this tan for herself.

Best wash-off tan for body

Vita Liberata is an Irish brand which uses certified organic ingredients and offers a variety of shades for different skin tones. Vita Liberata Body Blur has zero transfer (this writer once applied it and then sat on a pristine white sofa without a trace), and it has colour-correcting pigments to help give the impression of more even skin, which is great news for clumsy shavers or the easily bruised.

With shea butter, Body Blur is as hydrating as it is concealing. “It’s an absolute lifesaver!” enthuses Webb. “The texture glides on easily and it’s super blendable. The medium shade [there are four on offer, from Light to Extra Dark] is so natural looking on my fair skin, and never looks orange – it’s more of a soft warm tone which is what got me hooked.” With light-reflecting particles to help smooth the appearance of the skin, a light layer will serve to cover spider veins and irregularities, while heavier application will give you a tanned effect. “It’s an essential part of my beauty routine when on holiday and during the summer months,” added Webb.

Best tan for body for beginners

Expert facialist and skin-finishing expert Nichola Joss recommends Isle of Paradise Tanning Water. She says, “[It] allows you to customise your individual tan. It’s colour corrective, really easy to apply, absorbs quickly and leaves a smooth texture on the skin.” A product needs to both be versatile and quick to apply to get a space in Joss’s kit, and she noted that she finds it works well on a variety of skin tones and textures. “There’s three shades on offer, but I personally use the Dark Self Tan Water spritzed straight onto the skin and buffed in with a mitt to give an even glow.” The water-like consistency makes it easy to apply, with buildable colour you can tweak as you like with adjusting the applications throughout the week.

Best overall tan for face

For glowy skin, Taylor recommends Clarins Radiance Plus Golden Glow Booster. “Every time I add it to my moisturiser, people comment on how good I look. It gives a really smooth radiant glow and slightly evens out your skin at the same time.” Much like Tan Luxe, you simply add more or less of these drops to get your desired level of bronze. The real draw is that you don’t have to extend your skincare routine or skip a product you love — you just mix them in. They also have skin-friendly ingredients such as aloe to calm the skin and glycerin to hydrate. The effect is more of a soft, diffused tan that you can increase to bolder bronzing with subsequent applications.

Of their speedy, four-hour development time, Taylor adds, “It’s one of those products that you can apply in the morning and forget about it, but when you see yourself in the mirror midmorning, you look much better than you did when you left for work.” There’s a larger version available for the body, but this 15ml size is perfect for your makeup bag. There’s just one shade available, but it’s easy to customise to different skin tones — fewer if you’re naturally fair, more if you’re darker.

Best less-expensive tan for face

For a slightly cheaper option, Strategist writer Rachael Griffiths recommends the tan drops from St. Moritz. “I used to use my normal tanning mousse on my face, but it always caused me to break out,” recalls Griffiths. “Once I started adding these drops to my moisturiser, not only did it keep my skin clear, but the result was far more natural, and long-lasting.” As you only need to use one to two drops per application, Griffiths finds a bottle can last her up to six months. She also had one final tip: “If my tan isn’t quite faded enough to warrant another layer, or I want an added glow, I add a drop or two into some Garnier tanning moisturiser and apply to my entire body, for a quick and subtle top-up.”

Best face tan for oily skin

“As an acne sufferer, avoiding breakouts is paramount for me, so I love that the Sisley Hydrating Self-Tanning Facial Skincare isn’t greasy or pore-blocking. It also has moisturising agents such as glycerin to hydrate the skin,” says dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk.

This self-tanner that could replace your usual face moisturiser a few days a week. It hydrates like a lotion and gives a soft, buildable bronze. Another bonus is that it doesn’t smell biscuity, thanks to a lower percentage of DHA. “DHA is a three-carbon sugar that interacts with the amino acids in dead skin cells to produce a brown colour change,” explains Dr Kluk. “It’s the most widely used tanning agent, lasting around five to seven days.” Sisley combines DHA with another sugar molecule, erythrulose, which cancels out the usual odour and helps prolong the life of the tan. “Erythrulose takes longer to develop its full effect, therefore lasting longer,” added Dr Kluk. There’s one shade available, with fairer complexions advised to use it every three days or so, while warmer skin tones might want to apply everyday or every other day to reach a deeper glow faster.

Best exfoliating tan for face

Exfoliation is the key to healthy, happy skin, but doing so also removes your self-tanner. Dr Dennis Gross sought to alleviate this problem by bringing out something that can do both at once: Alpha Beta Glow Peel Pads, which come in a Gradual and Intense offering for a lighter and deeper shade respectively. “The quickest and most convenient facial tan has to be this!” said Webb, who doesn’t like to be without them. “I always have two or three of the sachets kicking about in my beauty bag. All you have to do is smooth the little towel over your face and neck before bed, and then you wake up to a brighter skin and sun-kissed glow.” Suitable for all skin types (though sensitive folk should patch test beforehand) and part of the brand’s best-selling Alpha Beta range of exfoliants, these pads have glycolic and lactic acids to slough off dead skin alongside DHA to offer a buildable glow. Use twice a week as a gradual tanner, and be sure to stop using any other chemical exfoliants on other days to avoid stripping the skin. 

And a Strategist-approved tanning sheet

After noticing the stain buildup from fake tan on her bedsheets, beauty writer and Strategist contributor Daniela Morisini decided to try the slimline, silk sleeping bag from Tann Co. “I followed the instructions and washed it once before use, then put it on top of my bed sheet and under my duvet and applied my tan as usual before getting inside the sleeping bag to snooze,” she explains. “The next morning, I gingerly peeled away the sheet protector, unsure if there would be a tell-tale outline stamped on my bedding — but there was no trace that I’d been tanning at all.” With a zipper running up the side, the bag is easy to get in and out of, and the comfortable silk also prevents overheating, making for a comfortable night’s sleep, even for a ‘fussy-sleeper’ like Morisini.

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The Best Fake Tans, According to Experts