Perhaps no beauty product is a riskier investment than self tanner. When used incorrectly, it can go really wrong, really fast. However, when used correctly, it’s the equivalent of glowy vacation skin in a bottle—no flights or TSA checks required. To be clear, gradual self tanner is meant to enhance your natural complexion, not to completely change it, so using one that's suitable for your skin tone is of the utmost importance.
Application is also important. Self tanner isn’t the kind of product we recommend skipping the directions for. Oftentimes, self-tanner products are specified for the face, body, or both because how you treat those areas will vary. What makes gradual self tanner the more desirable type of glow enhancer is that more of the control is left in your hands. Unlike traditional self tanners that are typically a one-time application requiring the use of gloves and precise waiting times, gradual self tanner is typically used over a period of days, the exact number dependent on the type of results you want. Plus, the application process is usually low maintenance and similar to that of regular body lotion.
How We Found The Best Gradual Self Tanners
It may still be winter, but if you’re always in a summer state of mind, gradual self tanner is probably at the top of your beauty wish list right now. Lucky for you, we’ve unearthed the most talked-about gradual self tanners for you to choose from. Our top-of-the-line list is courtesy of an unbiased algorithm that never fails to identify products you’ll love. The proprietary tool does this by analyzing data from a variety of sources, including beauty editor reviews, expert recommendations, and social media buzz. Ahead, shop the glow getters that will leave others wanting to know your skincare secrets.
Next up, check out the 10 Best Face Self Tanners. Opening image: @luxunfiltered
Top 10 Lists serve as unbiased shopping guides to the most trusted product recommendations on the internet. Products are scored and ranked using an algorithm backed by data consumers find most valuable when making a purchase. We are reader-supported and may earn a commission when you shop through our links.
M-61 PowerGlow Peel Gradual Tan
WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT: M-61’s concentrated one-step pads enhance your complexion in more ways than one. In addition to their tanning properties, the pads are also infused with glycolic acid, an ingredient that smoothes and brightens uneven texture.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: The concentrated formula is fragrance-free and has calming chamomile, so sensitive skin types need not be afraid to try.
Coola Sunless Tan Firming Lotion
WHAT IT DOES: Formulated with an exotic blend of green caffeine, alaria esculenta seaweed, and pea extract, this double-duty self tanner provides a gorgeous glow all while tightening and toning the appearance of the skin.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: The DHA (or tanning agent) in Coola’s formula is derived from sugar beet.
Beauty By Earth Self Tanner Tanning Lotion
WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT: Beauty by Earth’s self tanner is ideal for the face and body, and reviewers love its all-natural formula that's packed with botanical extracts and hydrating nutrients (think aloe vera shea butter).
HELPFUL TIP: Those with fair or pale skin should choose the “fair to medium” option, while those with olive or dark skin should opt for the “medium to dark” bottle. This will ensure that your tan is golden and not orange.
Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: This Australian import is basically a moisturizer with the added benefit of a sunkissed glow. With just one to three applications of the cocoa buttery formula, expect a golden tan.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: Thanks to vitamin E and aloe vera, you can also expect hydrated skin.
St. Tropez Gradual Tan Tinted Everyday Body Lotion
WHO IT'S FOR: For a quick, non-greasy glow, grab St. Tropez’s gradual tanner, which delivers a glow in just four to eight hours (or a night’s sleep).
HELPFUL TIP: You can apply this with or without a mitt—just be sure it’s on dry skin.
Tarte Brazilliance Plus Self Tanner
WHO IT'S FOR: Tarte’s body self tanner is a godsend for dry skin types, as the brand’s star ingredient, maracuja oil, is rich in fatty essential acids and brightening vitamin C. It also includes another hydration hero, squalene, and citric acid for gentle exfoliation with each application.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: This formula boasts a proprietary technology that neutralizes that "self-tanner scent" that can often feel overpowering.
St. Tropez Gradual Tan Everyday Body Lotion
WHAT IT DOES: Available in just two shades, this fuss-free body lotion keeps the skin ultra-hydrated and creates a healthy-looking tan that suits all skin tones—even the fairest ones. Bonus: it's formulated with mood-boosting fragrances.
HELPFUL TIP: You can also use this lotion to extend the life of your professional spray tan or post-vacation color. Apply it once for a subtle glow, or use it daily to build the depth of your tan.
Jergens Natural Glow + Firming Daily Moisturizer
WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT: Though it may be hard to believe, a drugstore self tanner that moisturizes and tones the skin actually exists. Jergens’ solution is a cult classic, and this version is particularly loved for its firming ingredients (which include collagen and elastin).
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: With daily application, you can expect results in seven days.
Lux Unfiltered No. 32 Gradual Self-Tanning Cream
WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT: Once you can stop obsessing over the luxe, Instagrammable packaging, you’ll fall in love with the dewy finish of this self tanner, infused with shea butter, cocoa butter, and passion fruit oil.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW: No need to spritz on your perfume. This self tanner comes in two intoxicating scents: santal and rosewood.
Tan-Luxe The Gradual Illuminating Gradual Tan Lotion
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Tan-Luxe’s head-to-toe gradual self tanner is a top-seller for a few reasons. One, reviewers love how natural it looks, especially on fairer skin. The formula itself is lightweight and slippery for easy distribution. And finally, it addresses a number of other skincare concerns, such as texture, dullness, and lack of firmness.
HELPFUL TIP: No gloves are needed to apply this formula—just be sure to wash your hands afterward.