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We all want that crisp summertime bronze tan, but it isn’t easy to maintain one through the summer months, especially if you don’t live in a coastal area. And even if you do, you might not have time to spend hours on the beach when there’s work, family, or other matters to tend to.

And if you have a special occasion in a few days, sun tanning might not even be a feasible option.

Overall, there are plenty of reasons why you’d want to get a self-tanner. But if you’ve never tried it, you can get overwhelmed by the many different types and brands available.

But don’t worry; we’re here to clear up some of that common beginner confusion by reviewing the best self-tanners for beginners. Stick around to the end, as we’ll also have a few tips for you.

The 6 Best Self-Tanners for Beginners in 2022

Although there’s no formal distinction between tanners in terms of their users’ experience, we can still determine beginner-friendly ones by a few traits. Most notably, how easy they are to apply and how forgiving they are towards beginner mistakes.

The second point is particularly important because beginners often apply self-tanner inaccurately and end up with inconsistent colors or streaks.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the best self-tanners for beginners in 2022.

St. Tropez Self-Tan Bronzing Water Mousse - Best Overall

St. Tropez is one of the kings of self-tanners, and we were spoiled for choice when deciding on one of their products. In the end, we went with the bronzing mousse.

Since it’s a mousse, it’s very easy to apply. You just pour two or three pumps on your hand, and it’ll smoothly glide on your skin as you spread it.

The blend of vegan DHA with plant extracts produces an attractive streak-free color. And since it dries quickly, it won’t stick to your clothes or sheets. The smooth texture is also great for people with smooth skins.

Besides, the tropical scent is a clear winner for those who can’t stand the smell of DHA.

What We Like:

  • Easy to apply
  • Smooth on sensitive skins
  • Doesn’t stick
  • Great tropical scent

What We Don’t Like:

  • Can be a bit pricey for beginners
  • Not as forgiving of spreading errors

Our Take

The St. Tropez Browning Mousse may feel like a hefty investment for someone who’s unfamiliar with the price of self-tanners. But its easy application, quick absorption, and pleasant scent make it well worth the price.

2. Curb Appeal Beauty Sunless Tan Stick - Best for Convenience

If you don’t like to get their hands (or mitts) messy, you should consider Curb Appeal Beauty’s THE Tan Stick.

Because of its deodorant stick-like shape, you can seamlessly apply it evenly on your skin without ever getting your hands sticky. This makes it a great pick for beginners, especially those who aren’t used to applying other sticky or wet products all the time.

The glycolic acid in the stick also exfoliates the skin. And it moisturizes the skin too, so it feels great to apply before bed.

The only drawback here is the small size of the package, though. But although it won’t last as long as other tanners, its benefits are great.

What We Like:

  • Very easy to apply
  • No messy or sticky hands
  • Scent-free
  • Exfoliates and moisturizes the skin

What We Don’t Like:

  • Relatively pricey
  • Smaller size than most other products

Our Take

If you fancy an easy application method and have a bit of cash to spend on your tanner, then the Curb Appeal Beauty Tan Stick should be your main contender.

3. Vita Liberata Body Blur Flawless Finish - Best DHA-Free Tanner

Although DHA is an almost risk-free substance when applied in moderation, we understand why some people are naturally turned off by it.

But if someone told you that you wouldn’t find a good DHA-free self-tanner, they’re fortunately wrong, as Vita Liberata is a wash-off tanner that gets the job done.

It’s an instant tanner, so it’s good for hiding streaks, bruises, and blemishes. It also reflects light and hides skin imperfections, so it’s great if you’re in a rush before an important occasion.

It’s not very transfer-resistant, though. So you’ll need to wait a while before getting dressed or sleeping if you don’t want to risk leaving stains.

What We Like:

  • Fairly easy to apply
  • DHA-free wash-off
  • Fast effect

What We Don’t Like:

  • Can stain clothes or sheets if not completely dry

Our Take

The Vita Liberata Body Blur Flawless Finish’s real redeeming quality is being such a great DHA-free tanner. And although it can stain your fabrics, you can counteract this by waiting out the drying period.

4. Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk - Best for Gradual Tan

Experts often recommend gradual self-tanners to beginners because they produce a noticeably lighter tan, making them more forgiving of beginner mistakes and spreading errors.

If you’re not used to evenly applying products on your skin, the Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk is a great choice because it gives you plenty of wiggle room until you figure out your spreading method.

It’s also designed for daily use as a moisturizer and tanner. So if you already moisturize daily, why not get this for the double benefit?

Of course, getting a gradual tanner means sacrificing the stronger pigmentation of darker tanners, and Bondi Sands’ milk is no different.

What We Like:

  • Forgiving of beginner mistakes
  • Also a moisturizer

What We Don’t Like:

  • Since it’s a gradual tanner, it produces a lighter color

Our Take

We can wholly recommend the Bondi Sands Gradual Tanning Milk to those who are beginners at self-tanner and spreading creams on your skin in general. It has a lighter tone, but it’s good to start with until you get your method down.

5. Jergens Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer - Budget Pick

It’s normal to be stumped by the prices of the most popular self-tanners, especially if you’re new to it and aren’t used to such numbers. But luckily, self-tanner isn’t such a high-barrier luxury, and the Jergens Natural Glow Moisturizer is evidence of that.

It only costs a third (or even a quarter!) of the prices of other popular self-tanners. Yet it completely delivers on the same front with a satisfying color.

It slowly builds you up to the color you want, making the process appear smooth and natural. But you’ll have to get the applying process right, which is to apply it to wet skin after a shower.

However, make sure you’re not drenched. You need to be slightly above damp when applying. Unfortunately, this method can be a bit time-consuming, and it’ll likely take some time to get used to it.

What We Like:

  • Affordable price
  • Gradual tanner with a good color
  • Moisturizes the skin

What We Don’t Like:

  • Time-consuming method
  • Not enough moisturization for very dry skins

Our Take

At such a low price, the Glow Wet Skin works wonders. It’s great for beginners on a budget because of its gradual tan as well.

Factors to Consider Before Buying a Self-Tanner

Regardless of whether or not you’ve decided on one of our suggested products, you should still be familiar with the qualities that make a good self-tanner. You’ll come across plenty of variety on the shelves, and we wouldn’t want you to make a wrong decision based on a lack of knowledge.

So here are the factors you should consider before buying a self-tanner.

Tanner Types

There are many types of self-tanners, each with its pros and cons. And while they’ll all achieve a similar result, you should still know the differences. So here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Lotions: Most popular type. They typically have longer absorption, giving you some time to fix uneven spreads and errors. Good for beginners and dry skins.
  • Moisturizers: Lower DHA content that achieves a lighter gradual tan. Also good for beginners and dry skins.
  • Mousses: Lightweight and often have a noticeable color that helps you layer and contour your skin. They are not very moisturizing and dry quickly, so you should know how to apply them evenly, but they’re also easier to apply than lotions.
  • Sprays: Fast way to spread tanner on your whole body. It also makes it easier to reach harder areas like your back.

Your Skin Tone

Most self-tanners are made for people with fair skin. You could opt for darker tans if you have a darker skin tone. They should clearly say “dark” on the label. We also recommend you try it on a hidden area like your inner thigh for a few days to see how it looks before committing to it.

DHA Content

Most self-tanners contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), an FDA-approved substance that interacts with proteins on your skin to form the brown color you’re looking for.

Most self-tan critics will instantly point to the research that suggests DHA in self-tanners may cause skin damage. But, in reality, this “damage” is fairly insignificant, and many self-tanners nowadays come with antioxidants to reduce it to a negligible level.

Besides, the “risks” of self-tanner are much milder than those of outdoor sun tanning, which include sunburn, skin dehydration, heat rash, skin aging, and even a risk of skin cancer.

Most self-tanners contain between 3%-5% DHA. And many wash-off self-tan lotions don’t contain DHA at all.


DHA has a notoriously strong smell, which can transfer to your clothes if you get dressed too fast.

Some people don’t mind the scent. But if you can’t stand it, you can look for products that hide it artificially.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Self-Tanner Turn You Orange?

If you’re using the right product for your skin tone and applying it correctly, you shouldn’t get an orange tone from your self-tanner. Most people who end up with an orange tan are applying too much in a short period, overloading their skin with the tanner.

When Should I Start Applying Self-Tan?

It takes a few days of consistent applications for the tan to set in. So we recommend starting at least 2-3 days before your special occasion. But you can also start earlier to ensure the perfect color if you’d like.

Should I Apply Self-Tanner to Armpits?

You could apply some tanner on your armpits if you want. However, if you choose to do so, you should apply a small amount and spread it thinly to give them a more realistic lighter color.

Should I Apply Self-Tanner or Moisturizer First?

You should never apply skin moisturizer directly before a self-tanner since that can cause an uneven distribution of the tanner, giving you a funky and heterogenous tan.

A Quick Recap

Self-tanning is an attractive endeavor to get you in the perfect complexion for the warm summer months. And as a beginner, you’ll want a forgiving product that’s easy to apply.

If you’re already used to applying other creams or lotions in your self-care routine, then we strongly recommend the St. Tropez Self-Tan Bronzing Water Mousse. It’s easy to spread on your skin, and it’ll glide off your hands or mitts and spread evenly.

However, it’s not the most forgiving tanner. For that, you’ll need to get the Bondi Sands Gradual Tanning Milk, a gradual tanner that produces a lighter color. It’s perfect for beginners who want to get their method right before committing to a darker tanner.

And if these products are a bit expensive, you can always resort to the Jergens Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer, which gets the job done at a fraction of the cost.

I hope this article was helpful for you.  If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to me directly - [email protected]


Grant Kantsios

Sunless tanning business & marketing coach

Hey everyone!  My name is Grant and I've been in the sunless tanning industry for over 9 years.  I started in the industry working for Sjolie Sunless, one of the largest companies in the sunless tanning industry.  Since then, I've had a passion for helping sunless tanning business owners through my work at happytans, with the happytans podcast and website builder. In addition, I created Sunless Evolution with world-renowned spray tan artist Jimmy Coco, who sprays A-list celebrities like the Kardashians and Ashley Graham.

Disclosure: Some of these are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. I do have experience with each of the products or services listed below so I feel fully comfortable recommending them. Please do not spend any money on the products unless you feel you need them to achieve your goals. It turns out a lot of the things I use are free so you should be able to do the same.

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