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Everyone loves a golden glow.
There’s something about having a gorgeous sun-kissed complexion that puts an extra bounce in your step.
However, it’s no longer as easy to get a good tan. These days we know how harmful it can be to lay out for hours under the sun.
This is where self-tanning products come in! And we’ve found some of the best self-tanners at Ulta, beauty stores, and online!
Self-tanning is a safer way to get that enviable golden glow without exposing your body to harmful UV rays.
Plus, these services and products have evolved and improved a lot over the years, especially at-home self-tanners. Many tanners now glide on smoothly, give a natural look, and won’t turn your complexion orange and streaky.
In fact, at-home self-tanners have improved so much that many people opt for tanning without getting exposed to the sun’s harmful rays.
But with so many self-tanners available, how do you know which product you should be stocking up on for summer?
Don’t worry; we’ve gone to the store for you and did the research! Check out our picks for the best self-tan products at Ulta that you should have in your summer beach bag!
- 100% clean and vegan-friendly
- Lightweight formula
- Results after one application
- Infused with raspberry seed oil, vitamin E, and aloe vera
- Non-toxic and cruelty-free
- Can be used in tandem with your other skincare products
Table of Contents
What Is a Self-Tanner and How Do They Work?
Self-tanners are also known as sunless tanners. These are products that, when applied to the skin, react with the skin’s surface to create the appearance of a natural sun tan without exposure to the sun.
To understand how this works, let’s look closely at the skin. The skin is made up of two layers: the epidermis, which is on the outside, and the dermis, which is on the inside.
Self-tanners target the epidermis, which is also made up of layers. The deepest layer (or the stratum basale) is the one that is altered and darkened when we tan in the sun.
When we use sunless tanners, the outermost layer of the epidermis (or the stratum corneum), is the one that is darkened and altered.
DHA is a sugar that creates a golden glow by chemically reacting with the amino acids, namely arginine, histidine, and lysine, on the surface of the stratum corneum of the epidermis to form brown compounds called melanoidins.
Melanoidins are similar to the naturally occurring melanin that’s produced when tanning in the sun.
The chemical reaction from self-tanners is safe for the skin. It’s non-toxic and non-permanent (usually only lasting three to seven days), and it doesn’t require any sun or harmful UV exposure that may result in sunburn, blisters, heat rash, or more.
Not all tanners use just DHA, however. Some sunless tanners have the active ingredient erythrulose, which works similarly to DHA but takes a little more time to develop the color.
Other products contain both ingredients, which may produce longer-lasting results depending on how your skin reacts to them.
Generally, self-tanning products can provide a sunless tan lasting up to one week or longer, depending on how well you apply it, how you maintain it, how healthy your skin is, and how good the quality of the product you use is.
What Kinds of Self-Tanners Are Available?
Previously, self-tanners just came in the form of lotion or spray. But now, several kinds of self-tanners are available on the market.
Here are some of the most popular kinds of self-tanners:
This is the classic standard of self-tanner products. It’s an oldie but a definite goodie that is still popular today.
Lotions are great because of the ease of application and hydration these formulas provide. Many of them also have built-in moisturizers.
This type best suits beginner and experienced self-tanners. They’re always a good choice for most tanning enthusiasts.
2. Sprays and Mists
Spray and aerosol mists are other types of self-tanners that have existed for several years.
These liquid formulas contain hydrating ingredients and are applied by misting the skin, and can be blended with a tanning mitt.
This type best suits those who want a light coat of color. Sprays are also good for hard-to-reach areas.
Self-tanning mousses give people a lightweight alternative to tanning lotions. Mousses offer a gradual tan that is long-lasting.
A self-tanning mousse is usually best applied with a tanning mitt for even application.
This type best suits experienced tanners. Mousses provide beautiful colors, but these products absorb easily, so you need to blend quickly.
Serums are a great option if you want a self-tanning product for your face.
If you use a serum, all you have to do is add a few drops to your face and blend them in with your fingers or a brush. You can also use it with other skincare products.
This type best suits those who want a golden glow on their face. Serums are the perfect self-tanning product for the face and neck.
12 Best Self-Tanners at Ulta
Now that you’re ready to get that gorgeous bronze glow, check out some of our picks of the best self-tanners at Ulta.
Best Self-Tanning Lotions
Lotions and creams are always a good choice. You can decide how light or dark you want to go. Plus, lotions take a minute to absorb into the skin, so there’s time for you to blend and build color.
A silky moisturizing self-tanner that gives you gradual color while moisturizing your skin.
Key benefits: Smooth application; buildable color; extends the life of your tan
- Results after just one use
- Quick-drying formula
- Formulated with shea butter
This dermatologically tested self-tanner enhances color while keeping your skin soft and smooth.
This self-tanner from Ulta is a luxurious, lightweight, and easy-to-apply lotion that dries quickly and helps you achieve a beautiful golden glow.
It contains ingredients like antioxidants from coffee extracts and acai berries to enrich and nourish the skin while you develop your tan.
It also has a hydrating shea butter base that ensures your skin stays supple and soft while helping you achieve a beautiful bronze color. It is one of the best tanning lotions at Ulta!
Fake a just-back-from-vacay bronze glow with this skin-nourishing self-tanning lotion.
Key benefits: Hypoallergenic; streak-free tan; promotes maximum hydration and brighter skin
- Infused with natural exfoliators
- PUREshield scent control technology
- Contains maracuja
This self-tanner is infused with skin-loving ingredients that give your skin a golden glow while ensuring it stays firm and soft
Tarte’s Brazilliance PLUS Self Tanner is one of Ulta’s best self-tanners. It’s a gel-like lotion that comes with a tanning mitt to ensure you can apply the product seamlessly and achieve an even and streak-free tan.
It’s infused with skincare ingredients like squalane, aloe vera, and citric acid to promote exfoliation and regeneration and ensure your skin stays healthy and hydrated as you get that sun-kissed glow.
The self-tanner product also includes a unique scent control feature called PUREshield, which helps prevent it from having the distinctive odor often associated with self-tanning products.
It’s vegan, hypoallergenic, and suitable for all skin types.
This oil lotion hybrid is free from harmful chemicals and offers beautiful buildable color.
Key benefits: Buildable; built-in skincare benefits; can be used as a daily moisturizer
- Hydrating, skin-firming formula
Enjoy being pampered with this lightweight oil-to-lotion formula that allows you to create a gradual deep tan.
The Tan-Luxe brand has a scientifically driven, high-performing self-tanning skincare line that features non-toxic and skin-safe products.
The illuminating formula is one of the best self-tanners at Ulta. It’s a lightweight oil-to-lotion formula, which means it glides on like an oil and dries with the nourishing feel of a lotion.
Plus, it has no fragrance, leaves no streaks, and develops color in just one hour.
It’s a gradual level tanner that adapts to all skin tones and builds color slowly per application. It’s perfect for beginners or those who want a subtle golden result.
It also has a hydrating and skin-firming formula that ensures skin stays nourished while reducing the appearance of cellulite and building a gradual glowing tan.
Best Self-Tanning Mists
Mists are easy to apply. They give a light sun-kissed tan to your skin that looks natural and beautiful. Sprays are also perfect for getting self-tanning products for hard-to-reach places.
This continuous spray mist is the perfect way to get a gorgeous tan, even in the hardest-to-reach places.
Key benefits: Streak-free application; soothes and hydrates the skin; dries quickly
- Formulated without parabens, sulfates, and oil
- Even, continuous mist
- Contains true tan technology
Achieve an even bronze color with this Ulta beauty self-tanner mist that dries quickly and nourishes the skin.
If you want a product that’s easier to apply than a lotion, a mist or spray may be the right choice. The Ulta brand self-tanner is a tinted mist that works effectively from any angle and dries within minutes.
This light to medium spray tan is formulated with True Tan Technology, which features a powerful combination of DHA and erythrulose that helps promote an even brown tan.
It also contains aloe vera, green tea, and vitamin E to soothe and hydrate the skin while deepening the color. The product dries quickly, and color results can be seen in roughly four to six hours.
This smooth and silky tanning water product with an ergonomic mister bottle allows you to easily build your perfect tan.
Key benefits: Helps rejuvenate and soften the skin; gives more glow in less time; doesn’t leave streaks
- Quick and easy application
- Signature trio of goji berry, pink grapefruit, and juniper
- Ultra-fine mist
This refillable bottle with an easy-to-use nozzle can be used continuously with the Self Tan Water and can provide a golden glow all year round.
The ergonomic and easy-to-use Tanologist Spray Tan atomizer bottle is fitted with a 360-degree spray nozzle and is meant to be used with the Tanologist Express Tan Self Tan Water.
The bottle provides continuous fine mist, allowing you to achieve a carefully buildable golden glow in even hard-to-reach places without wasting any product.
Self Tan Water contains Tanologist’s signature trio of goji berry, pink grapefruit, and juniper that helps rejuvenate and soften the skin.
This is one of the best sunless tanners at Ulta. It allows you to regularly use tanning mist while being eco-friendly by refilling your bottle, which is equivalent to using up to 80% less plastic.
This skin-friendly tanning mist gives you a medium glowing tan without harmful ingredients.
Key benefits: Easy to use on the go; streak-free application; buildable color
- Cruelty-free and vegan
- No orange tones
- Good for the face and body
This is an easy-to-use, on-the-go tanning product you can directly apply to the face and body.
If you want to look like a golden goddess without spending hours under the sun, this is the perfect easy-to-use, easy-to-bring product that will keep you glowing all day.
All you have to do is mist and go! The product dries almost immediately, and the lightweight mist doesn’t leave streaks or create an uneven orange color, just a gorgeous golden glow.
Plus, the formula smells good. You can massage the product with the Ulta Beauty Collection Sunless Tanning Mitt to ensure smooth, comprehensive application and even all-around color.
Best Self-Tanning Mousse and Foam
Mousse and foam formulas are lightweight, smooth, and quick-drying. These are also very easy to layer, which makes them ideal for building or customizing color.
Get a gorgeous tan with this tinted tanning mousse that adapts to your skin tone for natural color.
Key benefits: Streak-free; doesn't transfer on clothes; develops color over four to eight hours
- 100% clean and vegan-friendly
- Lightweight formula
- Results after one application
Get a natural sunkissed golden tan with this lightweight, sweet-smelling mousse.
St. Tropez is one of the most popular and trusted brands in self-tanning, and it has one of the best products for a fake tan at Ulta.
It has a full line of tanning products, making it the perfect choice for first-timers who want something foolproof.
This mousse is an advanced and iconic lightweight formula that is easy to use and allows you to control your tan’s depth for a natural glow that adapts to your skin tone.
Plus, this mousse is streak-free and non-sticky, and it features a sweet mood-boosting scent. It’s also infused with jojoba oil and hydrating ingredients that care for your skin and prolong color for up to 10 days.
Use it along with the St. Tropez Double-Sided Luxe Velvet Applicator Mitt for smooth and even application.
This self-tanner gives you a natural sun-kissed tan without undesirable orange undertones.
Key benefits: No harmful chemicals; reduces the appearance of cellulite; lasts up to 10-20 full-body tanning sessions
- Infused with coconut botanicals and amino acids
- All-natural, cruelty-free, and vegan
- Smells good
Get that gorgeous glowing tan with this lightweight foam that also hydrates the skin and improves the appearance of cellulite.
This lightweight, non-sticky foam is easy to apply and quick to layer, and it gives you a natural sun-kissed tan.
It’s made with all-natural ingredients and infused with several botanical extracts and amino acids to help hydrate your skin, improve its appearance, and blur pigmentation while providing buildable color.
It has a sweet tropical mango and guava fragrance that keeps the fake tan smell at bay and gives you the feeling of being on a refreshing island paradise.
It also has a color guide to help you get the right shade.
The iconic self-tanner from St. Tropez is made even better with a limited-edition scent of fresh berries and vanilla.
Key benefits: Creates a medium tan; easily absorbed; does not streak
- Enriched with vitamin E
- Contains rose and warm vanilla
- Vegan and cruelty-free
This a fabulous self-tanning mousse if you’re looking for an excellent color-building tanning mousse with a super sweet scent.
You can always rely on St. Tropez to create exciting products that suit a wide range of self-tan lovers.
This berry sorbet mousse is perfect if you want something reliable that provides excellent natural color and has a sweet-smelling scent.
The Berry Sorbet variant is an Ulta favorite that is both functional and fun. It’s infused with vitamin E and jojoba oil, leaving skin feeling soft and smooth, and it contains fresh berry extracts and warm vanilla and rose.
It’s the perfect choice for a refreshingly sweet and natural golden glow-up.
Best Self-Tanning Serums
Self-tanning serums can be used like regular skincare serums and blended seamlessly into the skin. While you can use them on the whole body, they are exceptionally great self-tanning options for the face and neck.
If you are looking for a hydrating facial serum that gives you a naturally beautiful tan color, these are the drops for you.
Key benefits: Easily absorbed; buildable color; hydrates the skin
- Infused with raspberry seed oil, vitamin E, and aloe vera
- Non-toxic and cruelty-free
- You can use it in tandem with your skincare line
These self-tanning drops provide buildable color and allow convenient use directly on your face or mixed with your favorite moisturizer.
Tan Luxe is a brand that offers some of the best face tanners on Ulta. It creates tailor-made tanning products that give you the beautiful depth of color you want while working seamlessly with your facial care products.
These Face Illuminating Self Tan Drops are the perfect example of this brand’s incredible tanning products.
They are non-toxic and infused with skin-loving ingredients like vitamin E, aloe vera, and raspberry seed oil to keep your face smooth and hydrated while developing color.
Plus, you can decide how deep you want your tan depending on how many drops you use:
- One to two drops for illuminating radiance
- Three to four drops for sunkissed beauty
- Five to seven drops for a deeper golden glow
- 12 drops for a deeper bronze color
You can add the product to your facial serum or moisturizer or massage it directly onto your face and neck at night to wake up with a “just-went-to-the-beach” glow.
This serum allows you to build a natural face tan while giving your skin anti-aging and hydrating ingredients.
Key benefits: Streak-free and transfer-resistant; anti-aging; nourishes the skin
- Contains natural DHA for a buildable tan
- Has argan oil and hyaluronic acid
- Vegan, cruelty-free, and reef-friendly
Get the natural glow of sunkissed color while protecting and nourishing your skin.
This facial serum has the sweet scent of the tropics and contains DHA to help build a natural tan while also infused with skin-hydrating ingredients like argan oil and hyaluronic acid, ensuring your face stays moisturized.
It’s streak-free and transfer-resistant. Plus, it can be used once for a subtle sunkissed glow or reapplied over several days to develop a gradual deeper tan.
The product also contains Centella asiatica meristem cell cultures that keep skin firm and reduce the signs of aging.
This hardworking serum combines skincare and self-tanning in one fantastic product.
Key benefits: Creates a gradual tan; lightweight; brightens your complexion
- Clean ingredients
- Contains niacinamide and hyaluronic acid
- Infused with jojoba oil
An excellent choice if you want a golden glow while ensuring your face stays smooth and hydrated.
This gradual self-tanning serum is an Ulta favorite that combines tanning with skincare.
It’s a great choice if you want to add some color to your face and neck while ensuring your skin stays hydrated and healthy at the same time.
It contains facial care ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, along with jojoba oil that keeps skin firm and glowing while developing a gorgeous golden glow.
You can use it directly on your face or combine it with your moisturizer, serum, or other daily facial care products.
How To Use Self-Tanners
Once you’ve chosen your self-tanning product, it’s essential to use it properly to get a beautiful golden glow that lasts.
Here’s how to properly use a self-tanning product:
1. Prep Your Skin
Skin that has been appropriately prepped will have better self-tanning results. Be sure to shave, wash, and exfoliate your skin well before applying your product.
Shaving any stubble on your legs will ensure you get an even tan. Also, exfoliating the skin removes dirt and buildup, while washing it with warm water opens up the pores. This helps the skin absorb the product well.
2. Make Sure You’re Dry
After showering, pat yourself dry and ensure no wet spots remain so the product absorbs evenly.
If your skin is feeling dry, you can apply a gentle moisturizer first but give it time to settle into the skin before applying your tanner.
3. Apply Product
Once your skin is prepped, you are ready to apply your product. Using gloves or tanning mitts is advisable to help prevent your hands from absorbing the tanner.
A good pair of gloves to try is powder-free disposable latex gloves. These fit better than plastic gloves and give you more mobility.
4. Work From the Bottom Going Up
Apply a thin layer of the product first and work the product into your skin in a circular motion.
Your upper body tends to tan easier than the lower half, so it’s best to start working the product from the bottom and work your way up.
When tanning your face, it’s best to use a self-tanner specifically for the face to ensure a natural color. Be sure to blend well.
And finally, do your hands last. Remove your gloves or tanning mitt and rub the product on your hands. You can apply hand sanitizer to your palms to prevent orange palms.
5. Be Patient
Patience is essential when self-tanning.
Be sure to read the instructions on your chosen product to know how long you have to wait to achieve a good result and prevent color transfer, which refers to your product transferring onto your sheets or clothes.
For some products, this means a few minutes. But for other products, it could be longer.
Additionally, do not shower for at least eight hours, and do not do any exercise that will cause you to sweat a lot.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Choose a Self-Tanner Shade?
Select a shade that matches your skin tone instead of the shade you hope to achieve.
The color of your skin should inform your decision. If you have pale skin, choose subtle or buildable self-tanner shades.
You can opt for deeper shades if you have medium to olive skin. This ensures that your self-tan looks like natural color from the sun.
How Can You Prolong Your Tan?
A regular self-tanner tan can last anywhere from three days to a week depending on the product you used and how well you applied it.
If you want to keep your color longer, make sure your skin is moisturized every day. Use gentle skincare products and avoid exfoliating in between self-tanning sessions.
What Are Self-Tanning Towelettes?
Self-tanning towelettes are pre-soaked sheets that contain self-tanning formulas. They are easy to apply because they’re simply swiped across the skin.
Typically, they are used for touch-ups rather than achieving an overall tanned look. They are single-use, mobile, and perfect for travel.
These products are best suited to those who want need touch-ups and a travel-friendly self-tanning product.
Does Swimming Get Rid of Your Fake Tan?
Yes, chlorine can cause a self-tan to fade faster, but you can still swim when sporting color from a bottle. Just do it in short bursts to prevent prolonged contact with chlorine.
Also, pat yourself dry instead of rubbing yourself dry to prevent rubbing off any color.
Ready, Set, Glow
Now that you know more about self-tanners and how to use them, you’re ready to achieve a summer glow without exposing your skin to the sun’s harsh rays.
It may take some experimenting to get the exact tan color you want, but the patience and practice will definitely be worth it.
Try any of our recommended best self-tanners at Ulta, and you’ll look like a bronzed beach goddess all year round!
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