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Found: The BEST Sunless Tanners

June 3, 2021


Erin Schrader

It’s been T-minus 3 years since the LIY Team’s last hurrah with sunless tanners, and I’ll be the first to admit, they’ve come a long way in a short time! Now, along with the classic mousses we all know and love, you can find oil drops, water mists, towelettes and all sorts of faux-tan goodness on the market. So in typical LIY fashion, we took it upon ourselves to find the BEST [ie. latest and greatest] sunless tanners the bronzed world has to offer. If you, like me, are slightly hesitant of your DIY results, never fear– LIY is here. Today we’re bringing you an ultimate guide to self tanning along with the best tanners for Y-O-U.

Claire here [from the LIY team]- and Sthefany [a LIY Ambassador] took matters into our own hands [errr.. skin] to be able to properly answer your question of “which sunless tanner do you recommend?!”. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. 😉 We tested drugstore brand sunless tanners all the way up to more expensive beauty store brands and found quite interesting results. In today’s post you’ll see the six different brands we used, the exact products tried and the results on both skin tones. We’ll be sharing our thoughts on the color tone, smell, longevity, ease of application and more.

Guide to Sunless Tanning

Before we begin, I do want to say a few very important things when it comes to sunless tanners. I think the majority of how well your sunless tanner goes on [regardless of the brand] and stays actually lies in the preparation, application and the maintenance of it. Here are a few tips/tricks we learned along the way for your ultimate sunless tanner experience:

  • Always exfoliate and shave 24 hours in advance to applying your sunless tanner. I used this one all over my body to exfoliate before applying. This helps smooth rough areas [especially elbows and knees] and allows the tanner to go on more evenly. While it is advised to exfoliate 24 hours in advance, there were a couple of times that I ended up exfoliating the same day of application and it worked just as well.
  • We both used a sunless tanner application mitt to apply and I would absolutely recommend always using one with whatever sunless tanner you are using – with the exception of oil drops that go directly into your normal body lotion, just be sure to wash your hands afterwards. I used the same mitt for each of the sunless tanners I tried [so yes, you can reuse the same mitt!] Start with the mitt on one hand and do the majority of your body that you can and then move the mitt to the other hand to finish [I would allow the hand that you applied sunless tanner to dry before moving the mitt]. I recommend this mitt to use! You’ll simply spray your tanner directly on the mitt and then apply to each area of your body in a circular motion with the mitt. This allows for the sunless tanner to be applied evenly without streaks!
  • If you have really dry areas [knees, elbows, etc] apply a little bit of lotion to those areas before applying your sunless tanner. Otherwise, you should be moisturizer free at the time of application!
  • We applied our sunless tanners in the evening before bed [it’s amazing how quick most of these dry – within 60 seconds!] and then simply rinsed off in the shower the following morning. I have been advised not to use Dove Soap after tanning applications so I typically just used a gentle body wash and then patted dry with my towel.
  • Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! It is highly recommended to use a body lotion regularly [1-2x per day] to extend the longevity of your sunless tanner and to avoid it fading in a streaky manner.

Alright, let’s dive into this fun and glow-filled experiment! Ready, set… tan!

Products We Tested

The Results…

Our Top Picks:

TanTowel Self Tan Towelettes

TanTowel Self Tan Towelettes in Shade Plus

TanTowel Self Tan Towelettes in Shade Classic

If you’re new to self tanning or just looking for the easiest product that’s truly hard to mess up, TanTowel Self Tan Towelettes have our vote! It’s simple to apply and leaves a subtle, natural-looking tan. They do have a slight “tanner” smell at first that seems to fade as it processes. The Full Body towelette is about the size of a paper towel, but we both ended up using two wipes to cover our entire bodies. Bonus Points for being the fastest working tanner of the bunch developing in just 2 hours!

Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Water

Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops [Face, Shade Medium] // Self Tanning Water [Body, Shade Medium]

Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops [Face, Shade Light] // Self Tanning Water [Body, Shade Light]

Mixed review comin’ in hot! While we LOVED the Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Water for our bodies [which can be applied to both Face & Body], the drops didn’t do much for us or our faces. The Self Tanning Water comes in a small pump-spray bottle and does require a mitt for blending purposes. It has a slightly stronger scent, but we recommend applying it before bed so you sleep right through the smell. 😉 If you decide to give the Self Tanning Drops a whirl, tread lightly! The bottle recommends anywhere from 1-12 drops, and I felt like 6 was too much. Start with fewer and build to preference!

Tan-LUXE Self-Tan Drops

Tan-LUXE Self-Tan Drops [The Face, Shade Medium/Dark] // [The Body, Shade Medium/Dark]

Tan-LUXE Self-Tan Drops [The Face, Shade Light/Medium] // [The Body, Shade Light/Medium]

Next up are the LIY fav Tan-LUXE Self-Tan Drops. Erin has been using and loving this product for years, so we decided to see what all the excitement was about! Since both The Face and The Body products are in oil drop form, it’s super easy to apply a few drops to your regular facial moisturizer and body lotion! This makes for an easy-peasy, even application. Bonus: if your body lotion is scented it cancels out the very faint tanning smell. While these products do have a higher price tag, it’s clear that they’ll last a longggg time compared to a typical mousse! Just beware if you have sensitive, breakout-prone skin. The Face drops might be slightly too heavy and clog pores- so tread lightly!

Best Drugstore Brand:

SOL by Jergens Serum

SOL by Jergens Serum [Face]// Water Mousse [Body, Shade Deep]

SOL by Jergens Serum [Face] // Water Mousse [Body, Shade Medium]

Great news, friends! More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. If you’re looking for something budget-friendly, you can always count on Ole Reliable [ie. Jergens brand]. Not only was this the most affordable option of the bunch, it was the one I actually received the most compliments on [Claire here!]. Jergens tanning products have always been a go-to for me, so we decided to put the new SOL by Jergens line to the test- and it did not disappoint. If you can get past a faint “tanner” scent and ignore the stickiness at bedtime [I rinse off first thing in the morning!], then you’re golden. Literally. I did notice the drop serum worked a bit more gradually. The bottle suggests anywhere between 3-15 drops! I started with 8 and didn’t notice a dramatic difference, so opted for 12 drops the following night. Plus, you can add a few drops to your body lotion if mousse tanners aren’t your jam! I love that it’s customizable to your tanning preferences, oil free, dye free, paraben free, AND cruelty free.


St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse // Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist

Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist [Face, one shade] // St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse [Body, Shade Dark]

Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist [Face, one shade] // St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse [Body, Shade Classic]

Okay okay, hear us out. We all know and love St. Tropez products, but after taking five other brands for a spin, we just weren’t really all that impressed. For the price, the mousse is extremely comparable to SOL by Jergens Water Mousse, so you might as well save your pretty pennies. For someone with sensitive, breakout-prone skin, the Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist was slightly too harsh. I love that the SOL by Jergens Serum is oil free, dye free, paraben free, AND cruelty free! Long story short- there are other alternatives at a better price and better results.

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