Ask Julia: What is the best self tanner?

March 23, 2023

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Few things can boost my self-confidence quicker than freshly applied self-tanner. There’s something about giving my skin a bit of a glow that gives me a pep in my step, especially when it comes to going on vacation! Long gone are the tanning bed days (anybody else shaking their head at their younger self?), so I lather up on sunscreen and rely on self-tanner for that sun-kissed look. We’re headed to Mexico soon, and I’ve always wanted to conduct a test to find the best self-tanner, so I figured there’s no time like the present!

Finding the best self-tanner

I’ve been experimenting with self-tanners for years! I’m a sucker for buying a product, loving it, using it all up, and then wondering if there’s something even better out there. Then I buy something else, and the process continues. Maybe this means I’m afraid of commitment? Or it could be that I’m incredibly committed to finding the best of the best because I need my self-tanner to work overtime!

Shop Self-Tanners

So we had some fun in the office testing seven of the most-used foaming tanners that I’ve used over the years. I give my full review of each tanner below, but we also wanted to illustrate how the colors compare side-by-side. Personally, I’m all about the tanning mousse. The application is so smooth, and it seems to develop more evenly than any lotion I’ve tried. So everything that we tested is a tanning mousse!

Self-Tanners Immediately After Application

We were all SHOCKED to see the variation between each tanner during application. The coloring varied so much, and all of us office girls had our favorites picked out. But what we were really interested in seeing is how each one developed overnight.

Self-Tanners Developed Overnight (Including a Shower)

What’s crazy is that although the colors were wildly different upon application, they all looked really similar after having time to develop fully. Obviously, some have warmer or pinker undertones, but color-wise, I think they’re all really similar, and it comes down to personal preference! Here are some of my thoughts.

Honestly, Coco & Eve is a tough one to beat. I keep trying other newer tanning mousse products, and I always come back to my tried and true. It smells delicious, applies evenly, hydrates my skin, and lasts for days! I prefer the dark, but you can see in the first picture that the coloring leans really green upon application. As it develops, it warms up but still has a bit of an olive undertone.

Seeing the overnight results of “ultra-dark” makes me question everything because, compared to the others, it might actually be the lightest shade.

I used this for years and years. As you can see from the pictures, the color is really, really brown and actually leans toward a reddish brown color, but this was definitely a team favorite!

The reason I stopped using it was that it wasn’t very hydrating and sort of dried me out. But I also tend to have pretty dry skin, so it could be the one for you!

St. Tropez was my OG tanning mousse. The reason I ended up switching is that it has more orange undertones. I also remember it being a bit splotchy after a couple of days.

From the test, it also looks a bit lighter and warmer than the other ones, which isn’t a bad thing!

I totally swiped up on this per another influencer’s recommendation. First of all, A+ for the beautiful packaging. The scent is “blood orange,” which smells interesting, but the color is my very favorite one. It’s very comparable to Coco & Eve but less green.

My only critique is that it comes off pretty easily. It looks incredible on days one and two, but by day three, you’re practically back to square one. In some ways, it’s also a good thing because you’re not left with weird splotchy areas that are too stubborn to rinse off.

Where are my Love Islanders at? I fell in love with Molly Mae on that show, and so when she released her own self-tanner, I had to give it a try!

The undertones are a bit more yellow upon application, and I did end up liking this one, but not as much as Coco & Eve.

We all gasped when we pumped this onto the applicator brush because it was greeeeeen. You can barely even tell it’s there when you apply, but it actually develops into a really lovely warm tan! Kind of shocking.

When I was using Red Aspen, I loved how nourishing and hydrating it was. I stopped because I missed my darker Coco & Eve, and this one only came in one shade.

The real winner might be this Bondi Sands! It’s practically identical to Coco & Eve, for a fraction of the cost. I grabbed this at a convenience store in London when I ran out of my tried and true and fell in love with it.

I really wished it didn’t dry out my skin; otherwise, this would be such a good option for me!

I continue to love Coco & Eve, but seeing this side-by-side comparison is honestly making me rethink trying out Loving Tan again! I also really love Lux Unfiltered, but maybe I just need to embrace a more frequent application because the color is so good.

The tricky thing about self-tanner is the removal part. Even after a good exfoliation, it doesn’t always come off, so we actually tested this Bondi Sands Tan Eraser for the first time on all of the swatches. The right half of the arm where we applied definitely decreased by about 50%. It kind of looks like the light is catching it, but it’s been wiped off.

So it definitely works! The directions say to apply it after the tan has been on for 3-5 days, and this was applied the next day. But I’m definitely adding this to my tanning regimen so I can fully remove it before reapplying. If you’re wanting a step-by-step look at my tanning routine, check out this post, where I go into more detail on my exact regimen.

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What do you think?

  1. Violet says:

    Julia, after my self tanner is set in , is it ok to wear a sunscreen on top of it?
    Also, Im going to try your recommended tanners, but wondered if you have tried Tan Physics ? I have not and am pretty new to self tanners, but my doctor has banned me from the sun. I appreciate any advise or suggestions. Thank you for this helpful post.

  2. Renata says:

    Hopelessly devoted to all Lux Self Tanning products. I’ve used this mousse with their “the Gradual” in between days to extend and hydrate and they are a great combo! They also DO NOT stain my sheets. I recently tried their newest facial self tanning serum with SPF. Nice color and convenient. Lux has also converted me from St. Tropez which I used for years & Coco & Eve which I’ve fabled with too. Love that they have a suite of formulas – don’t always love their pricing but I try to catch specials and sales!

  3. virginia ward says:

    Have you tried Chocolate Sun?? I keep returning to it…

  4. Hannah says:

    Ooh I wish you had tried PetaJane Beauty. I started using that last summer and I really love it. I’m very fair and after one shower it’s perfect for me in the Light shade.

  5. Catherine says:

    I used St Tropez a long time ago before I started looking for cleaner ingredient products all around – I tried Isle of Paradise next ( I would say it’s decent), and then have used Beauty by Earth for a while (I find their lotion shows up better than their mousse). My latest one to try is BeetTan and it is beautiful! I’ve been very pleased with their mousse.

  6. Nicolette says:

    You got me hooked on coco & eve after some unsuccessful tanning attempts and I will never go back. It fades like a real tan and blends so beautifully!

  7. So helpful as always! Thank you to the volunteer who didn’t mind having all those stripes on their arms. I love my coco and Eve but am always wondering if there is a better one as well.

  8. Steph says:

    I’m curious how the self tanners compare on different skin tones. Did you test these on several people?

  9. Hannah says:

    Have you tried gradual tanners? Isle of Paradise is my fav! And doesn’t leave weird splotchy spots, it just fades away again- magic!

  10. Susan says:

    Just wondering if you ever get concerned about the possible toxicity of any of the items you are applying to the largest organ of your body. It can’t be harmless, can it?

    • suzanne says:

      Agree! Especially for someone who is so concerned about her health – but Julia also wears an inordinate amount of make up and uses a myriad or other excessive products on her skin and hair ,and alters her appearance in a lot of ways, so not really a surprise.

      • Nicolette says:

        Passive aggressive rude behavior & fake concern is not an attractive color on anyone.

      • Jamie says:

        What a mean-spirited comment. 😬

      • EllenS says:

        Not sure if you meant to come off a bit rude, but as you mentioned it seems like Julia is someone who prioritizes her health so she has likely considered this. She and her team kindly shared their time with us in making this post, if you’re not into the “unhealthy” products showcased here maybe skip reading posts like these! Definitely skip commenting on people’s health and the number of products they use :)

      • Tawnya Nelson says:

        This is such a ridiculous and rude comment to make. It’s one thing to wonder about the toxicity of self-tanner, it’s another to snark at Julia for wearing an “inordinate” amount of make up and to accuse her of “altering” her appearance in a lot of ways. Shaming someone for using make up or self-tanner to feel good in their skin is mean. Maybe take a kinder approach…or say nothing. I’m sure Julia’s make up, skin care, tanning preferences have no impact on your personal life. So why do you care?

      • Amanda Brisso says:

        What a rude and unnecessary comment.

      • Megan says:

        You ladies are insufferable. You can unfollow her :).

      • Amcc says:

        This comment is so rude

      • Mary says:

        By all means, tear a woman down on her own blog. You’re disgusting.

        C U next Tues, Suz.

      • Aimee Hada says:

        Wow this is so offensive and so unnecessary. Carry on Julia!

      • Nicole says:

        Hey Suzanne, do you say rude things like this to all the women in your life or just the ones you don’t have to look in the eye?

      • Stacey says:

        Wow. Your comment is unnecessary and rude.

      • Beth says:

        What an unkind thing to say to another person.

      • Jan Palmer says:

        Remember, Julia is a real person with real feelings – you could’ve got your point across (because it’s a valid question to wonder about about the toxicity) but worded it much differently without sounding EXTREMELY judgmental 🥴

      • Erin says:

        You sound pretty unhappy, Suzanne. Hope you’re feeling better soon!

      • Brooke says:

        Here to say keep doing you, Julia! You’re beautiful on the inside and out. And to remind you that if they don’t know you as a person to not take it personally. Easier said than done. We know it takes a lot out of you to come on every day and share you life. I’m grateful for it and so are the vast majority of us here!

    • Kris says:

      Susan and Suzanne, who hurt you, ladies? Sheesh! I’m thankful for the post and the comparisons!

    • Michelle says:

      Certain ingredients in most self tanners actually cause oxidation in the body which speeds up the aging process. Yikes!! The moment I learned this I called it quits!

    • Noelle says:

      I have suffered from various health and auto-immune issues and I think I have had negative reactions to self-tanners. It’s impossible to really tell because many things can be a trigger and symptoms of auto-immune conditions tend to generalized and hard to pin down, but I have worked with my doctor to try to pinpoint specific triggers and this is something that appears to be one for me. Which is a major bummer because I love the look of bronzed skin. And for most people, I think their bodies can handle it. Unfortunately, mine can’t :(

  11. Jodi says:

    Do all of these come off on white sheets? That is truly what keeps me from using self tanner.

    • Lexi says:

      This is also always a reservation of line. And the smell! I know you mentioned some of them smelled nice, but the ones I have tried ALWAYS have that signature sickly sweet fake tan smell underneath. Do these still have that as well?

    • Liz says:

      I can only speak for St Tropez but it definitely transfers to sheets. I’ve seen a clear one on tiktok called Salty Face. It’s kind of pricey though.

    • Erin says:

      Brown is trending, let’s all switch to a tan sheet, problem solved?!

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