The Ultimate Guide to the Best Tanning Lotions

When it comes to getting a bronzed summer glow, a lot of women prefer opting for tanning lotions that will get the job done without overexposure to the harmful rays of the sun.

With skin cancer rates on the rise due to the depletion of the ozone layer, these products offer a much safer alternative than sunbathing.

Another benefit to using tanning lotions is that they don’t cause premature signs of aging like wrinkles and age-spots, something all of us would like to avoid for as long as possible.

There are dozens of tanning lotions out there, so you’ll never have a shortage of options, which is a good thing, but it can also lead to overwhelm when you’re trying to select the perfect tanner for your skin’s needs and the desired level of color you’re hoping to achieve.

This guide will help you pare down the products out there to the best of the best, so you can get the summer look you want without logging countless hours sweating on a beach blanket or risking your health.


Avoiding the Pitfalls of Subpar Tanning Lotions

Do you remember the self-tanners of years gone by? Almost all women have recollections of using these tanners in junior high or high school.

If so, you’re probably groaning with dread and possibly able to drum up a mortifying memory or two of carrot-orange skin, uneven coloring, streaks, strangely dirty looking skin, and unnatural fading as the product wore off.

You may have also experienced stained sheets, ruined clothing, and a hint of orange tinging anything you came in contact with after sweating even the slightest bit.

The good news is that the science and technology behind self-tanners has come a long way since then, so this is no longer the inevitable outcome of getting your tan from a bottle.

It is now possible to get a completely natural looking tan without ever setting foot in direct sunlight.

The bad news is that apparently not all of the companies selling tanning lotions have figured out how to do it better than their predecessors.

If you’re not careful about the tanning lotion you choose, you can still end up a vibrant shade of orange instead of bronze, or striped with streaks of uneven color.

Another major concern is that of sensitive skin.

If you’re prone to skin sensitivity, it’s important to choose a product that is hypoallergenic and won’t leave your skin itchy, inflamed, or breaking out in a terrible rash.

As you research the tanning lotions in this guide, you can rest assured that we’ve eliminated those that will cause a carrot-like hue or messy streaks that give away the origins of your tan.

If a product is either specially formulated for sensitive skin, or known to be inappropriate for sensitive skin or those with acne, we have noted the information in the product’s description.


The Top 10 Best Tanning Lotions Available

1. Black 20x by Desinger Skin

This tanner has been around for a long time, and it’s still a favorite amongst tanning lotion devotees. The silky silicone based formula leaves your skin feeling soft, smooth, and supple.

The activated amino acids contained in the lotion aid the bronzing power of this tanner, turning your skin a glowing shade that will make it look like you spent hours in the sun.

It resists fading and unevenness, giving you a natural looking and long lasting tan.

If you don’t keep reapplying, it will, of course, begin to fade over time, but it does so in such a gradual and even way that it isn’t apparent.

It simply looks like a sun tan fading.The light citrus scent is pleasant and not at all chemical in nature, making it pleasant to use.

This product is available through a number of online retailers, including eBay and Amazon, as well as brick and morter salons.

If you purchase from eBay or Amazon, be sure to check feedback before buying, as cheap, ineffective fakes are oftentimes sold on these sites.

It Retails for $50.50, so if you’re finding it at prices that seem too good to be true, it’s probably not the real deal.


2. Shiseido Brilliant Bronze Tinted Self-Tanning Gel

If you adore a touch of shimmer to your tan, you’re going to love this self-tanning lotion.

It goes on smoothly, making application easy, and won’t splotch or smear, ruining your look.

It leaves you with a glowing, natural looking sheen, with just the slightest hint of gold flecks.

This product is great for those who want a light, natural, sun-kissed hue.

If you’re looking for a super deep brown color, you’ll probably want to try another tanning lotion.

The coconut scent is reminiscent of your favorite tropical tanning oil, without being overpowering.

It does, however, have a hint of the typical chemical scent that most people associate with self-tanners within a few hours of application.

It is available through many brick and mortar retailers, including Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Dillard’s.

Purchase it online through Shiseido’s website or on Amazon.

The gel retails for around $30.


3. Smoke Black by Supre

If you’re hoping for the deepest, darkest tan available, Smoke Black is the bronzer for you.

If the only reason you don’t spend your days slathered in baby oil, baking in the sun, is to avoid skin cancer, here’s your compromise!

The application process takes a bit more in the way of attention to detail than some of the lighter tanning lotions, but long-time users swear up and down that it’s worth the extra effort for the results you’ll achieve.

Steps you will want to be sure to take are scrubbing your hands, especially between the fingers before and after application in order to avoid unnatural darkening, and making sure to rub the product into your skin thoroughly to prevent spots. Contains light, tropical fruit fragrance.

This lotion retails for around $60 in salons, online bargain hunters can find it on Amazon for $20 or less.


4. Clarins Delicious Self-Tanning Cream

Not only does Clarins Self-Tanning cream provide you with a flawless looking tan, you may have to stop yourself from eating it. Infused with pure cocoa extracts, it will make you smell as good as you look.

But the cocoa extracts delicious scent is just a wonderful side effect, its real job is to nourish and smooth your skin, and it does just that.

The caramel coloring ensures even application, so you won’t end up with a splotchy looking tan.

Most people with sensitive skin find that they can use this product without any reaction, but due to its slightly heavy texture, it isn’t recommended if you’re incredibly prone to acne, as it can exacerbate the problem.

This product can be purchased at Sephora for $43.


5. Clarins Intense Bronze Self-Tanning Tint

Clarins claims two of the top ten spots on our list of best tanning lotions.

This company gets it right when it comes to skin care products, and their line of self-tanners are not an exception!

Intense Bronze Self-Tanning Tint is meant for the face, and your complexion will have a healthy sun-kissed glow that looks completely natural.

It works beautifully for those with fair skin, and it won’t cause breakouts or blackheads if you have oily skin.

Many regular users of the product recommend wearing gloves in order to avoid unnatural looking staining, and note that the best results come from applying this tanner with a cotton pad, rather than with your fingers. It can be purchased at Sephora or Clarins’ website for $36.



Streak-free, non-oily formula will leave you with a natural, glowing tan that lasts for ten days.

With initial use, you will see results after a few hours, and with subsequent uses it works much faster, typically within half an hour, to darken skin.

It leaves skin feeling hydrated without even a hint of greasiness, making it perfect for those with dry skin.

The formula is quick-drying, which is great news for your clothing and sheets, but do take heed that it also means you need to wash your hands immediately after application in order to avoid unwanted staining, especially between fingers.

The one complaint many users have is the scent, which is a common issue with self-tanners, and one that is difficult to avoid.

When it comes to tanning, St. Tropez has an established reputation as an industry leader, and the company’s products live up to the hype. Retailing at $50 a bottle at Sephora, this high-end self-tanner isn’t cheap, but it is worth every penny.


7. Charlotte Ronson Summer Always Scented Gradual Tan Body Lotion

Use this product over three days for a flawlessly glowing, natural looking tan.

Moisturizing and nourishing formula soothes sensitive skin with a combination of avocado, Vitamin E, and jojoba oil.

It’s a perfect self-tanner for those with very fair to medium skin tones, as it offers a light tan, not a deep bronze.

Those with olive complexions might be disappointed by the lack of results, as it is meant to tan fair skinned individuals to the hue that those with an olive complexion naturally possess.

This is one of the better performers at a lower price point, available for $13 at Sephora.


8. Vita Liberata pHenomenal 2-3 Week Tan Lotion

If you want a tan that is deep and dark, this lotion will take you there.

For optimum results, apply the lotion three times over a period of twelve to twenty-four hours.

You’ll end up with a long-lasting tan that fades as smoothly and naturally as one obtained from the sun.

One note on application; the lotion comes with a mitt, but many users find that using their bare hands or wearing rubber gloves to protect from staining offers a more even finish.

It retails for $54 on Sephora.


9. Bareminerals Faux Tan Body Sunless Body Tanner

A single application will give you a sun-kissed glow, and multiple applications will produce a deeper, darker tan.

Whether you prefer your sun-drenched look to be light or dark, the bronze sheen looks natural, without a hint of orange.

Vegetable-based emollients and aloe vera extract condition and hydrate your skin naturally, leaving it silky smooth.

The tinted lotion ensures that you can see where it has been applied, so you won’t end up with unattractive patches of pale skin.

Those with fair skin will appreciate the gradual looking tan that doesn’t make it look like you spent a little too long baking on the beach.

Retails for $24 and is available for purchase on Sephora.


10. Clinique Self Sun Body Tinted Lotion

If you want some color without looking overly tanned, Self Sun Body Tinted Lotion will give you a light to medium tan that looks completely natural, even on the palest skin. Shows where it goes tinting allows you to see exactly where you’ve applied the lotion, so you won’t experience streaks or uneven coverage.

You’ll see a slight glow immediately after application, with full effects within three hours.

Dermatologist tested, this lotion is suitable for those with sensitive skin.

The oil-free formula also works well for those who are acne-prone, as it won’t lead to blemishes and clogged pores.

It’s also quick drying, so you won’t have to worry about staining your bedding or clothing.

If you’re looking for a super dark tan, you may not be able to achieve the depth of color you’re hoping for, but for those wishing for a light to medium glow, it is a top-notch tanner.

Retails for $23 and is available at Sephora.


Glowing Summer Skin is Just an Application Away

Now that you’re hip to the best tanning lotions available, you’re armed with information and ready to buy.

You can ditch your pale skin without the dangers of using the sun to transform you to a deep, golden brown.

If you’ve had negative experiences with self-tanners in the past, you’re going to be amazed.

Glowing summer skin is just an application away.

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