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Best fake tan 2022: Our favourite self tan for a sun-kissed glow from just £6

Caroline Preece Philippa Pearne
23 Jun 2022
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Looking to restore your tan after a long, cold winter? Here are the best self tans to rekindle that healthy glow, from £6

A golden tan may look great, but there’s nothing likeable about skin-damaging, age-revving UV rays – so a safe fake or self tan is unquestionably the better option. And thanks to new product technologies, we’ve never been so lucky with our choice of self tanners. Gone are the orange, one-tan-suits-all formulas of ten years ago; now there are fast-drying mousses, overnight masks and gradual tanning moisturisers, to name a few, that aim to give a natural glow and suit all skin types and lifestyles.

Which should you choose, though? Which one leaves the most natural finish? Are there specific tanners that don’t streak, or have that typical fake tan smell? And which tanners leave you less sticky and more hydrated? Read on to discover the ones worth investing in.

How to choose the best fake tan for you

What type of fake tan should I buy?

The first thing to think about is whether you want to tan your face or body. Body tanners are usually too deep for the face, so you really need one product for each. Consider how you want to apply it, too: if you want to build up your glow slowly, choose a gradual tanning moisturiser which provides a gentle transition with daily hydration. If you’re looking for a one-shot treatment, you might prefer to opt for a fast-dry mousse – or, for an instant glow, a spray or a more cosmetic wash-off formula. Whichever type you choose, check the instructions on the packaging so that you know how much time is required for both application and results.

How much should you spend?

Most modern tanning products should cost no more than £25; those costing over £30 tend to be either high-end brands or fresh game-changers containing new ingredients. They might even offer a whole new formulation, such as the innovative tanning facial oil which few brands have yet cottoned onto.

What other products or accessories do I need to buy?

Mousse and liquid tanners are normally applied with a tanning mitt, which helps to buff the tan on evenly and with very little mess. You’ll also want to use a good exfoliator before you tan, to get rid of dead skin cells that may hinder a flawless finish or make it hard to apply smoothly.

Before tanning your body, you should also apply moisturiser to dry areas such as knees, elbows, knuckles, ankles and toes. This will prevent the tan from building up there and looking streaky and patchy.

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The best fake tans you can buy

1. James Read Sleep Mask Tan: Best gradual tanner for faces

Price: £25 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

There’s a huge trend right now for adding skincare benefits to cosmetic products. This clever formula is a perfect example: it’s a hydrating, soothing overnight face mask which also tans your skin while you sleep. Over time, it creates a natural glow that doesn’t look contrived or over the top, plus it’s colourless so your bedsheets will remain tan-free. Although it’s “fragrance-free” it does smell slightly clinical – but you can cleanse the scent straight off the next morning. And it’s simplicity itself to use: just apply it with your fingers, like your normal night cream, then go to sleep.

Buy now from Lookfantastic


2. He-Shi Express Liquid Tan: Best for an all-over golden glow

Price: £21 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

This liquid tan is runny and stains easily, so it’s definitely not one for applying with your hands. However, with a little help from your tanning mitt and a bit of moisturiser, it delivers an amazing colour pay-off. Rest assured, it’s not orange, but it’s not understated either – it’s golden, just like the tan you’d imagine getting after a week in Spain. It even has a guide colour, so you can see where and how heavily you’re applying it, and it leaves a subtle skin sheen. Some tanners require two layers but one generous coating of this is quite enough – although note that there’s a standard eight-hour waiting time after application. It’s the perfect tan to apply the night before your summer holiday to get a head start on everyone else.

Buy now from Lookfantastic


3. Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs: Best self tan for legs

Price: £10 | Buy now from Boots

Legs are difficult to tan evenly with a liquid or a mousse, thanks to their tricky shapes and those hard-to-reach areas behind your thighs. This apply-at-home spray makes life a lot easier, coating legs in an even veil of colour – almost like spray-on tights – then washing off when you need it to. There are four shades to choose from, depending on how deep you want to go with your tan; whichever you choose will leave a natural, unsuspicious finish. Our one tip: apply it while standing in the shower or bath, as tanning mist tends to spread.

Buy now from Boots


4. St Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse: Best all-over self tan

Price: £31 | Buy now from Boots

This mousse tanner is completely drip-free, so it’s hard to make a mess when you’re using it. It smells better than most other tans and dries almost instantly without leaving a sticky feel or transferring onto your clothes or bed sheets. The pump dispenser is slick – there’s no messing around waiting for the product to come out - and you only need two pumps per body area. The guide colour is strong, but don’t be put off: it soon fades into an even, streak-free tan that can’t really be beaten. The best bit? It lasts for at least a week without the need for a top up.

Buy now from Boots


5. Tan Luxe Sleep Oil: Best one-shot facial tanner

Price: £40 | Buy now from Boots

Some tanners compromise on hydration, but this one injects some serious moisture into your skin using a combination of six essential oils, including raspberry seed, argan and jojoba. This, combined with “triple-tan technology” – a blend of two organically sourced and naturally derived tanning actives – makes it the perfect overnight tanning facial. It smells like a spa treatment, rather than a fake tan, and you’ll wake up looking super-glowy and sun-kissed. The instructions tell you to apply 6-10 drops, but we found this a bit excessive, especially in the middle of winter: start off with 3-5 drops, and you can always go up once you get to know it better.

Buy now from Boots


6. Garnier Summer Body Moisturising Lotion: Best-value gradual tanner

Price: £5 | Buy now from Boots

Garnier is the ultimate high-street gradual tanner thanks to its non-greasy finish and inoffensive chamomile and apricot scent. Not only does it build up a natural tan, it’s a decent body cream too, so you can treat it as you would your usual one. That means you won’t notice a difference to your daily routine, except for the subtle glow that will build up over time – and the fact that you’ll need to wash your hands after each application. Keep up the exfoliation twice a week and it’ll stay even and perfectly passable. Just remember that gradual tanning tends to be slower on bodies than faces – so if you want to build up a glow for a special event, you might need to start applying it earlier than you think.

Buy now from Boots


7. Isle of Paradise self-tanning water: Best liquid self tan

Price: £12 | Buy now from Amazon

When you think of self-tanners you might ususally think of thick, sometimes tricky to apply creams, but the Isle of Paradise tanning water does away with all the stickiness and instead comes in liquid form. The bottle has a spritzing head, so to apply you simply have to spray the desired area until 'saturated' and then leave for 4-6 hours to develop. Though this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, the process is actually very risk-free, and the product includes colour correcting ingredients to help ensure an even skin tone. It's also available in light, medium and dark shades so you can pick the right one for your skin tone.

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