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Which drugstore self-tanner is best?

Drugstore self-tanners are a safer, cheaper alternative to traditional tanning beds and offer fast results. Similar to spray tanning, drugstore self-tanners use topical ingredients to create a natural-looking tan you can apply at home without the harmful effects of UV rays. Achieving a sun-kissed glow on a budget is easier than you may think. The L’Oreal Sublime Bronze self-tanner is the top choice for easy application, light scent and affordability. 

What to know before you buy a drugstore self-tanner

Skin preparation

Regardless of which drugstore self-tanner you choose, you’ll need to prep your skin before application. Drugstore self-tanners work best on clean, exfoliated skin. A good tip is to exfoliate your entire body in the shower before applying self-tanner. Also, apply a light lotion on the joints to avoid any blotchiness that may occur. 

Gradual vs. instant tan

Drugstore self-tanners come in many formulas, like lotions, sprays and gelee. All provide a gradual or instant tan. Gradual self-tanners give you more control over color. You can create a buildable, natural look over the course of a few days, achieving a full tan in about a week. Instant self-tanners apply rather quickly and develop a tan within hours instead of days. Consider the differences between products if you have a special event coming up. 

Color transfer

An unfortunate issue with self-tanner is accidentally transferring it onto your clothing or bedding. This happens when the product is not completely dry or comes off as you sweat. When using a self-tanner, you may want to wear a robe or loose clothing after it dries. Additionally, using a portable fan can help the product dry faster, so there is less chance of the tanning formula staining your clothes. 

What to look for in a quality drugstore self-tanner

Decent drying time

You have places to go and people to see, and the last thing you need is a self-tanner that takes forever to dry and develop. Some formulas can be left on for a couple of hours up to overnight and rinsed off in the morning. Others dry fully before developing—no rinsing required. Once applied, a self-tanner should dry fairly quickly, usually within the first 10 minutes. Testing a small spot in an inconspicuous spot will give you an idea of what to expect if applied all over. 

Streak-free formula

Streaking can happen if the product is not applied correctly. Some formulas can be too thin, causing streaking on the arms or legs if not corrected before drying. To help prevent this, it’s best to use small amounts of tanner at a time. Apply it in circular motions, gradually adding more self-tanner as you go. 


Both gradual and instant self-tan formulas can provide a lasting tan. The choice between them really comes down to personal preference. Gradual self-tanners are usually lotions and can be applied daily to build a tan that lasts as long as you continue to use the product. Instant self-tanners only take a few hours to develop; however, you do not need to apply the product daily to get a lasting tan. You can even combine them in a routine to get the best benefits of both by using an instant self-tan first, then following up with gradual self-tanner later in the week. 

How much you can expect to spend on drugstore self-tanner

Drugstore self-tanners are relatively inexpensive. Depending on brand, quality and features, prices typically range from $9-$30. 

Drugstore self-tanner FAQ

How do you prevent streaking and missing spots?

A. The best way to avoid streaking is to prepare your skin prior to application by exfoliating and moisturizing dry spots. Apply the product in a well-lit room with a fan. Apply evenly in circular motions starting from one side to the other, checking all over for any places you may have missed. 

Why should you avoid applying tanner to elbows and knees?

A. Joints like your elbows and knees tend to be on the drier side and naturally have more creases than the rest of your body. When you are applying self-tanner, it is recommended to use it sparingly on these areas, as they can turn darker than intended. 

What’s the best drugstore self-tanner to buy?

Top drugstore self-tanner 

L'Oreal Sublime Bronze

L’Oreal Sublime Bronze

What you need to know: This lightweight clear gelee applies easily and dries fairly quickly. 

What you’ll love: Ingredients like vitamin E and alpha hydroxy acids aid with hydration. You can apply it a couple of times a week to maintain your tan. 

What you should consider: Some users did not like how quickly the formula dried. The clear formula can be difficult to see once applied. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top drugstore self-tanner for the money

Jergens Natural Glow +FIRMING self-tanner

Jergens Natural Glow +FIRMING self-tanner

What you need to know: This is a gradual self-tanning lotion that helps reduce the appearance of cellulite with ingredients such as collagen, elastin and caffeine from green tea. 

What you’ll love: You can achieve a noticeable tan and firmer skin within a week of daily use. 

What you should consider: Some users said the smell was unpleasant.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tanning Liquid Spray

Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tanning Liquid Spray

What you need to know: This fast-absorbing spray creates a natural-looking tan.

What you’ll love: This spray includes a tanning mitt and gloves for easy application, and is a quick-drying formula that adapts to every skin tone, taking the guesswork out of which shade to buy.

What you should consider: This spray is recommended for medium to dark skin tones. It does not offer a buildable tan and is better suited for occasional usage.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Shelby Sears writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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