I hate self-tanner. There, I said it. I hate how it smells, I hate how it stains your sheets, and I hate how easy it is to mess up—meaning you have to live with weird streaks or patches for days.
Plus, as I explained in my self-tanner tutorial, it can actually harm your skin, too. The active ingredient in self-tanners triggers a chemical reaction that generates free radicals and can even accelerate aging.
Fortunately, self-tanner isn't the only route to a sunless tan. The latest body bronzers can give you a glowing, sun-kissed look right away.
Not only do they deliver instant colour, they're safer than self-tanners, have no unpleasant odour, and wash off with soap and water. Most are also formulated to be transfer-resistant, so you don't need to worry about them rubbing off on your clothes.
Here's what to look for in a body bronzer, and the best products to try for a commitment-free tan.
What to Look for in a Body Bronzer
Often, it can be hard to tell whether you're looking at a body bronzer or a self-tanner, so that's the number one thing to always confirm. As for the rest of the ingredients, you probably don't need to worry too much about a "clean" formula if you're only wearing your body bronzer on special occasions. But if you apply it on a regular basis, I would be more careful (just like I recommend with body lotion).
Here's what I scan for on labels:
- Free of DHA: Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the active ingredient in self-tanners that reacts with your skin's amino acids to create a brown pigment. I avoid DHA because it produces free radicals that age your skin, inhibits vitamin D production, and is linked to skin irritation. Oh, and did I mention the yucky smell?!
- Free of erythrulose: So-called "DHA-free" formulas contain erythrulose, which is similar to DHA—it just takes longer to develop the tan, and the colour is reddish instead of brown. I avoid erythrulose along with DHA because it has the same free radical-generating effects.
- Low in PUFAs: Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are unstable and quick to oxidize, especially when exposed to heat and light. I recommend choosing body bronzers without PUFA-based oils in the first five ingredients, which typically represent about 80% of the formula.
- Low in mineral oil: Since mineral oil can accumulate in fat tissue with prolonged usage, I suggest avoiding it in body bronzers that you use regularly.
- Low in silicones: While there's no safety issue with silicones, they can trap acne-causing debris. So you may want to avoid them if you plan to apply body bronzer over areas like your chest and upper back.
- Low in fragrance: As always, sensitive skin types should minimize exposure to fragrance, the most common irritant. Fortunately, body bronzers do not require as much fragrance as self-tanners, since there's no DHA or erythrulose to mask.
The Best Body Bronzers of 2021
Tan-Luxe Instant Hero Skin Perfector Illuminating Wash Off Body Bronzer
- Details: Tan-Luxe Instant Hero Skin Perfector Illuminating Wash Off Body Bronzer is a high-coverage tinted lotion with light-reflecting properties—so it can be used not only to bronze but to also camouflage redness, spider veins and cellulite. It's transfer-resistant, long-lasting and has a built-in sponge applicator that makes it quick and easy to glide on.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, vitamin E, provitamin B5, raspberry seed oil, aloe, caffeine, vitamin C.
- Colour/coverage: Full-coverage medium tint with subtle shimmer.
Isle of Paradise Disco Tan Instant Wash-Off Body Bronzer
- Details: Isle of Paradise Disco Tan Instant Wash-Off Body Bronzer is a natural-looking bronzey tint that dries down almost matte, except for a sprinkling of fine shimmer. It should suit light to medium skin tones best, but can be layered to achieve a deeper colour. Although it doesn't claim to be water-resistant or transfer-resistant, I've found that it stays put quite well. Founder Jules Von Hep says you can also use a bit of translucent powder to help it set.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, aloe, vitamin C, coconut oil.
- Colour/coverage: Sheer-coverage light tint with subtle shimmer.
Vita Liberata Body Blur HD Skin Finish
- Details: Vita Liberata Body Blur HD Skin Finish is a light-reflecting tinted lotion that comes in five realistic-looking shades. Think of it like a BB cream—it's all about creating the look of flawless skin with a wash of sheer colour that blurs imperfections. Since it does not claim to be transfer-resistant, consider setting it with a bit of translucent powder if needed.
- Key ingredients: Aloe, glycerin, fatty alcohols, provitamin B5, shea butter, vitamin E.
- Colours/coverage: Cafe Creme is fair; Latte Light is fair to light; Latte is medium; Latte Dark is bronze; Mocha is deep. All give sheer coverage with subtle shimmer.
St. Tropez One Night Only Wash Off Face & Body Lotion
- Details: St. Tropez One Night Only Wash Off Face & Body Lotion is a lightweight tinted lotion that promises to stay put for a full 24 hours without fading or rubbing off on your clothes. Available in two natural golden shades, it is one of the few body bronzers that dries down matte, not shimmery. Best of all, it is both transfer-resistant and water-resistant.
- Key ingredients: Silicones, hydrogenated castor oil.
- Colours/coverage: Light/Medium and Medium/Dark give medium coverage with a matte finish.
James Read Enhance Body Foundation Wash Off Tan
- Details: James Read Enhance Body Foundation Wash Off Tan is a creamy but quick-drying tinted lotion that gives your skin a glowing, airbrushed look. Although there's just one shade, you can apply a second layer to deepen the colour, or mix it with your favourite body lotion to sheer it out. This formula is transfer-resistant and water-resistant (just give it a few minutes to dry before you get dressed).
- Key ingredients: Silicones, aloe.
- Colour/coverage: Medium-coverage medium tint with a luminous finish.
By Terry Tea to Tan Face & Body
- Details: By Terry Tea to Tan Face & Body is a water-based liquid bronzer spray infused with tea extracts and flecks of fine shimmer. Let the particles settle at the bottom if you prefer to be matte; otherwise, shake the bottle so they disperse throughout the formula and leave you glowing. It comes in one buildable and transfer-resistant "iced tea" shade.
- Key ingredients: Cherry fruit water, glycerin, green tea extract.
- Colour/coverage: Sheer-coverage medium tint with your choice of matte or shimmery finish.
Fenty Beauty Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint
- Details: Fenty Beauty Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint is a silky, shimmery body tint with a gel-cream texture. It comes in an extensive shade range (there are seven to choose from), and is sheer but buildable, so you can easily achieve your desired level of coverage. This formula is also sweat-proof and transfer-resistant.
- Key ingredients: Babassu oil, propanediol, vitamin E.
- Colours/coverage: Pearl Swirl is light to light-medium; Hunnie Hunnie is medium; Agave Spice is medium to medium-deep; Salty Caramel and Fly Mamacita are medium-deep to deep; Sinamon Sizzle and Chocolate Reign are deep. All give sheer coverage with a shimmery finish.
South Seas Island Glow Body Bronzer
- Details: South Seas Island Glow Body Bronzer is a shimmering, bronze-tinted lotion that was originally created for the contestants on Dancing with the Stars. As such, it dries quickly, doesn't streak, and is extremely transfer-resistant. There's just the one shade, which can either be sheered out or layered to get your perfect level of tan.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, fatty alcohol, capric triglycerides.
- Colour/coverage: Medium-coverage medium tint with shimmer.
Tarte Better Bod Bronze & Contour
- Details: Tarte Better Bod Bronze & Contour is a high-coverage and waterproof body bronzer with a completely matte finish. That makes it great for both mimicking a tan and contouring imperfections like cellulite and varicose veins—and it won't come off, even if you go in the water. Use the mitt to help blend out the creamy formula; after about 30 seconds, it sets and won't budge.
- Key ingredients: Silicones, glycerin, maracuja oil.
- Colour/coverage: Full-coverage medium tint with a matte finish.
This Works Perfect Legs Skin Miracle
- Details: This Works Perfect Legs Skin Miracle is a tinted body serum infused with natural caramel colour and barely-there shimmer. It's not just for legs—you can use it on any other part of your body to even out skin tone, blur scars and discolourations, and add a sun-kissed glow. Since it's not transfer-resistant, wear it with dark clothes or add a dusting of powder to help lock it on.
- Key ingredients: Capric triglycerides, coconut alkanes, glycerin, vitamin C, shea butter.
- Colour/coverage: Sheer-coverage medium tint with subtle shimmer.
Tanologist Insta Glow Instant Tan + Illuminator
- Details: Tanologist Insta Glow Instant Tan + Illuminator is a luminizing body bronzer that can be used on both your face and body for a full-coverage, glowing tan. The glycerin-based formula dries down in seconds, becoming water-resistant and transfer-proof for a full 24 hours. Besides bronzing, you can also use it to hide discolourations or contour areas where you'd like a little extra definition (like the abs).
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, vitamin E, provitamin B5, vitamin C, aloe, calendula oil.
- Colour/coverage: Full-coverage medium tint with a luminous finish.
Hampton Sun Airbrush Bronzing Mist
- Details: Hampton Sun Airbrush Bronzing Mist is a spray-on body bronzer that lets you mimic a professional spray tan. It comes in one warm golden shade, which is infused with pearl particles for extra luminosity, and can be applied in a second layer for a richer tan. Although it dries to a silky powder finish, I would avoid wearing light clothing with this just in case, since it doesn't claim to be transfer-resistant.
- Key ingredients: Silicones, stearic acid, squalane, vitamin E, glycerin.
- Colour/coverage: Sheer-coverage medium tint with a luminous finish.
Legology Sun-Lite Sheer Lingerie for Legs
- Details: Legology Sun-Lite Sheer Lingerie for Legs is a tinted cream that helps to fight fatigue and cellulite while it imparts a veil of sheer colour. It's formulated with caffeine to boost circulation, and acts like an "invisible stocking" to subtly contour and disguise imperfections. Technically, it's for your legs, but I don't see why you couldn't use it all-over.
- Key ingredients: Capric triglycerides, glycerin, aloe, caffeine, Centella Asiatica extract.
- Colour/coverage: Sheer-coverage medium tint with a luminous finish.
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