13 Natural-Looking, Fuss-Free Self-Tanners That Live Up to Their Promises

Going the self-tanner route no longer means risking looking like a burned turkey. In fact, self-tanners are so great these days there’s really no reason to splurge on spray tans (though they do come in handy for occasions when every square inch of skin needs to be perfectly tan). Today’s home-tanning products are natural, fast-acting and don’t smell too bad (some might even say they smell good).

Creating a natural, at-home tan does, however, require not only opting for the right product but also putting in some prep work, according to experts.

“Make sure your skin is exfoliated and moisturize all dry areas (think: elbows, knees, hands, wrists, feet and back of the heels),” says St. Tropez’s skin-finishing expert Sophie Evans. She also notes that it’s important to never over-apply a self-tan — don’t keep putting layers and layers of self-tan on top of the old tan. “I swear by Tan Remover; I use it every two weeks to detox my skin from old self-tan applications and to prepare my skin for the best, deepest, hydrating and longest-lasting tan application,” says Evans. 

As for the scent, Evans explains that DHA (the active self-tanning agent) smells very unpleasant. Unfortunately, when other scents are added to cover up that scent the overall scent can take a turn for the worse. “St. Tropez Tan is the first company to use a special fragrance technology that works in synergy with the DHA smell,” says Evans. While it’s true that St. Tropez does smell better than some competitors on the market, the scent does remain an acquired taste … at least according to this writer.

When it comes to scrutinizing the ingredients of a self-tanner, there are a few things to know. “SPF and self-tanning agents are not the best mix,” says Evans. “When you apply a self-tanner that contains SPF, you still have to reapply SPF every few hours for protection from the sun, but high SPF levels can strip self-tanners when applied onto developed self-tanned skin because of high chemical levels found in some brands.”

Evans also notes that oils and self-tanners typically don’t mix well. “Applying oils on top of a self-tanners can cut down the life of your glow because oils speed up skin rejuvenation. If you’re using products with a lot of oil, SPF or alongside products that contain glycolic acid, you will need to re-apply your self-tanner more often,” she says.

Now that you’re prepped on the ins and outs of self-tanners, check out the slideshow above to see some of the cutting-edge options ruling the market, including those that work in as little as one minute and—gasp—go on clear.

[ Next: A Celebrity Esthetician Guide to Your Best Summer Skin Yet ]