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If you’re an avid self-tanner, you know that there’s a difference between self-tanner for your body and face tanner.
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“The way I look at it is how I look at skin care. You wouldn’t use the same products on your face as you do your body, and vice versa,” says global tanning expert for Tan-Luxe and LA-based tanning artist Alexandra DiMarchi. She explains that, like skin care, each product is specifically created with those areas in mind. “For example, Tan-Luxe’s The Face drops are made only with raspberry seed oil and aloe vera to hydrate,” she says, “whereas Tan-Luxe’s The Body also has a cellutone complex for tightening and firming the body.”
Perhaps the biggest difference between face and body self-tanner is the amount of dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, that is within the formulation. It is the main ingredient in every tanning product and happens to be the only active ingredient approved by the FDA for sunless tanning. Generally speaking, DiMarchi says that self-tanners for your body have anywhere from 8-12% DHA, while facial formulas tend to be much lower for a perfect, subtle glow. “Other benefits include a brighter, more even complexion, hydrating and plumping,” says DiMarchi, who counts Shay Mitchell and Molly Sims as clients.
The Different Types of Face Self-Tanner
Face tanner is not a one size fits all product. There are actually quite a few formulations out there and which product you pick will depend on your personal preferences. DiMarchi breaks down the most common types of self-tanner:
Drops: Drops are typically the most concentrated form of self-tanner. “These are good if you want instant gratification, like if you’re going to Mexico the next morning and want to be tan,” explains DiMarchi.
Lotion: “This multitasking formula is great for anyone that likes a minimal skin care routine,” she says. Instead of using a moisturizer and a tanner, this kind of self-tanner is an all in one.
Spray/Mist: DiMarchi is a big fan of these because one light mist delivers a very even application. “They can also be used as makeup setting sprays or as a refresh throughout the day to make you look more hydrated.”
Serum: Serums are user friendly and you can think of them as a more subtle form of drops. “Just place a couple pumps into your moisturizer,” she says, noting that they are usually subtle enough to use daily.
Mask: These are good to use when you’re too lazy to do your lengthy skincare routine. Just cleanse, slather on, and go to bed.
The Best Way to Apply Face Tanner
Despite the variety of face self-tanners out there, there truly is only one tried-and-true application, which we have outlined below.
Self-Tanner Preparation: DiMarchi says to apply your face self-tanner at night as one of the last steps in your skin care routine, but when, exactly, to apply it during your skin care routine depends upon the formulation. But first: start with cleansing and exfoliating your face.
Self-Tanner Application: After your face is cleansed and free of dead skin cells, go ahead and apply your serum. What you do next will vary based on the type of self-tanner formula you choose.
Drops self-tanner: After cleansing and using a serum, place a few drops (depending on how deep you’d like your tan to be) of the self-tanner into your moisturizer then rub your hands together and massage the mixture directly onto your skin.
Lotion self-tanner: Lotions can be swapped in the place of your usual moisturizer for a less-is-more approach.
Post-Application: Whichever type of self-tanner you use, let it rest undisturbed for at least 30 minutes. That means no resting your head on a pillow, scratching an itch on your face — nothing. After about 30 minutes, you’re free to do as you please.
Day after application: Makeup products, like highlighter and bronzer, can help deepen and enhance your new tan. Dot highlighter on your upper cheekbones towards your ear and tap to blend to give your skin more dimension, then add a bit of bronzer below the highlighter, from mid-cheek to ear, to even out any streakiness.
How Long Does Face Tanner Last?
According to DiMarchi, you’ll need to reapply self-tanner to your face more frequently than you would for your body. “Self-tanner on your face fades away faster, since you are typically washing your face twice a day,” she explains, estimating that applying self-tanner to your face two to three times a week should suffice to maintain your desired glow.
The Best Way to Remove Face Self-Tanner
Even though it fades fast, how do you remove unwanted face self-tanner? With an exfoliating face mask that sloughs away dead skin, says DiMarchi. Her favorite is the Baby Facial from Drunk Elephant.
On the flip side, if you want to prolong your facial tan, make sure to use a gentle hydrating cleanser (like the Elta MD foaming cleanser) that won’t strip the color. Also be sure, she says, to only use hydrating serums on the nights you use your tanner. “Do not apply self-tanner on the same night as retinoids or AHA serums because that exfoliates and strips the face, so it defeats the purpose,” she says. “Keep to a minimal skincare routine that night.”
Top Face Tanners of 2022
To shop the 15 most coveted face self-tanners — from mists to drops — keep scrolling.
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St. Tropez Luxe Tan Tonic Glow Drops
These new tonic drops from St. Tropez are as close to skin care as it gets. Each bottle is packed with high-performance skin care ingredients, like hyaluronic acid to plump, niacinamide to smooth fine lines, plus vitamin E and echinacea to reduce redness and even out skin tone. This formula is 97% natural yet 100% customizable — 2 drops equal a light hue, 4 will get you a medium golden tan and 6 is deep bronze.
Sol by Jergens Deeper by the Drop Self-Tanning Drops for Face and Body
This drugstore option is an Amazon bestseller. More importantly, it was designed for all skin tones and provides the ultimate customization. “Not too dark, not orange, just right for a fair skinned person looking to have a little bit of color without having to spend hours in the sun,” says one reviewer. Use more drops for deeper, darker color or just one or two for a more low-key, just back-from-vacation kiss of color. The oil-free formula is lightweight, and made with natural sugar for sensitive skin. Bonus: You can use this same formula for the body.
Coola Sunless Tan Anti-Age Face Serum
If you’re reaching for a face product that does more than tan, scoop up Coola’s antioxidant-rich blend of argan oil, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and plant stem cells. Together, these power players leave your skin as glowing as ever. The formula is also streak and transfer-free (read: won’t get all over your clothes or white sheets). Plus, it lasts longer than other face tanners, with reviews raving about how the color lasts for up to three days. If you want a deeper look, use the serum on its own, but if you want a more subtle look, mix it with a cream.
Loving Tan Deluxe Face Tan
Don’t let the deep bronze color of this self-tanning cream intimidate you — it’s a tinted formula designed specifically for your face and décolleté for an immediate bronzed look after just one application. “I’ve never had faster or better results with anything else. I have the driest skin ever, and this was the best moisturizer, too,” says one happy customer. Others rave about how it makes skin “velvety smooth,” thanks to soothing ingredients, like acai berry, pomegranate, aloe vera, and green tea.
Isle of Paradise Night Glow Self-Tan Face Mist
This face mist from Isle of Paradise is specifically formulated to work while you sleep. It combines brightening jasmine and argan oils with hyaluronic acid and glycerin to hydrate and soothe skin while a gradual tan develops as you sleep. Think of the unique oil-and-water formula as a good last step in your nighttime skincare routine. “I use it after my moisturizer at night and just spray it on my face about three times and pat it in around the edges,” says one fan of her routine.
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pad Intense Glow for Face
If you know about Dr. Gross’ OG peel pads, you’ll love these self-tanning pads. They’re essentially the same but with a self-tanning element. Just rip the package open and gently massage the towelette across your face. The quick-drying formula is enriched with vitamin D to intensify the color of your tan while Alpha Beta ingredients exfoliate to ensure a precise application. Since these pads have that exfoliating factor, the tan it produces tends to last a little longer than others. Make sure to blend the self-tanner into your hair and neckline for a seamless transition.
Tan-Luxe The Face Illuminating Self-Tan Drops
If you’re looking for more of an immediate difference, this is your ticket. This best-selling formula has a higher percentage of DHA, which is meant for the tan to develop ASAP. Depending on your preference, you can choose light/medium or medium/dark. “I use about two drops mixed with a thick moisturizer, and I cautiously apply all over my face and neck — be sure to rub into the hairline,” writes one reviewer. Add it to any moisturizer, serum, or face oil to create your custom color.
Dior Bronze Self-Tanning Jelly Gradual Glow for Face
This Dior gradual jelly will give you a very natural, summer-y glow all year long. With just one use, you’ll notice a subtle, natural and even tan. The gel-like texture immediately melts into your skin and leaves a radiant shine that layers well under makeup. One buyer proclaims it to be “the best self-tanner ever…it’s not orange and doesn’t smell like most of the self-tanners.” In fact, the gorgeous perfume smell is a big selling point for most buyers.
St. Moriz Radiant Glow Face Tanning Mist
St. Moriz’s tanning water is an easy way to get a streak-free tan. The spray formula evenly distributes a dose of color and it is buildable too (so think a few spritzes for a light color, and two or three layers for a deeper hue). The clear tanning technology means you can spritz it whenever you’d like, without stressing about clothing transfer. Take this pro tip from one online reviewer: “I used this on my hands and I was amazed by how natural and how even it applies.”
Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster for Face
The reputation of Clarins regularly sold out glow booster drops precedes itself. They’re designed to be mixed with any face cream for a buildable glow and it’s formulated with 99% natural ingredients (including glycerin and aloe vera) to leave skin supple and hydrated. “The change is very subtle but my skin does have a nice golden undertone,” describes one fan. All you need is 2-3 drops, 3-4 times a week and a consistent sun-kissed glow will be your new signature look.
James Read Sleep Mask Tan
James Read’s lightweight, tanning gel gives your complexion a luxuriously golden glow. It’s infused with soothing aloe vera and cucumber, moisture boosting hyaluronic acid, and algae extract, a natural source of antioxidants. Color wise, expect your tan to be on the lighter side. “My skin color is fair/light; I really like this self-tanner because it is so natural people think it’s my natural tone,” describes one buyer. Bonus points for the fact that it’s easy to apply and absorbs quickly.
Tan-Luxe Super Glow Hyaluronic Self-Tan Serum
If you’re just dipping into the world of face tanner, this option from Tan-Luxe “is so user friendly,” says DiMarchi. “Just apply a couple drops of your moisturizer — it’s subtle enough to use everyday.” Made with 4% DHA (a very small amount), so the after effect is not drastic. Even more: It doubles as a skin care product, thanks to its skin-loving ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, cocoa seed extract, and raspberry seed oil. Swap this in the place of any of your usual serums — it’ll kill two birds with one stone.
Elaluz by Camila Coelho Overnight Facial Glow
The biggest selling point of this Overnight Facial Glow: No nasty smell. It’s also packed with skin-conditioning emollients and antioxidants, like papaya extract, cacay oil, and shea butter to deeply nourish skin. Once applied, it delivers a gradual tan that will deepen over the next one to three days. One user used it nightly and saw a very subtle glow after one use. “After three uses, I have a neutral, tanned look. No orange! So 5 stars for just that,” she added.
Tarte Cosmetics Brazilliance Overnight Mask Gradual Self-Tanner
This 2-in-1 late night tanner from Tarte is ideal for those who lean into a more minimalist night time routine. To use, it’s as simple as cleansing your skin, then jumping right into this coconut-scented mask. Skin care ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and avocado oil, easily seep into your skin and the longer you leave the self-tanner on, the better. Since it’s an overnight product, the stain-free clear gel formula is key. “I love this self-tanner; all the others that I have tried have a nasty smell to them,” elaborates one buyer.
Tan-Luxe The Creme Gradual Self-Tanning Face Moisturizer
This just-launched face cream has garnered quite the following, thanks to the natural, diffused glow it offers. Packed with leucine to support collagen, glycine to fight signs of aging and squalane to strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier, this formulation means nothing but business. “I’m skincare obsessed and don’t like to wear a lot of makeup. Having a gradual self-tanner that doubles as my daily moisturizer and keeps my skin naturally glowing is amazing,” explains one user of the multi-tasking product. It’s the non-greasy feel that wins many customers over. “[It] absorbs so well without being sticky or tacky, and gives the most natural glow,” says another.
Meet the Expert
Alexandra DiMarchi is an LA-based tanning artist and global tanning expert for Tan-Luxe. She’s the tanning pro that Molly Sims and Shay Mitchell have on speed dial.