Confession: I hate self-tanner. I hate how it smells, and I hate how easy it is to mess up—meaning you have to live with weird streaks or patches for days. Even worse (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 also safer than self-tanners, have no unpleasant odour, and wash off with soap and water. Most are formulated to be transfer-resistant, so you don’t need to worry about them rubbing off on your clothes.
Keep reading to find out what to look for in a body bronzer, and the best products to try for a commitment-free tan.
Editor’s Picks (At a Glance)
Best for All-Over
Best Clean Beauty
Best Shade Range
Best for Legs
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 discriminating (just like you’d be with your daily 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 2022
Best for All-Over: Elaluz Liquid Bronzer with Camu Camu
- What it is: Elaluz Liquid Bronzer with Camu Camu is a transfer-proof, instant face and body bronzer that gives a natural sun-kissed bronze while nourishing and protecting your skin.
- Key ingredients: Isodedecane (emollient), hydrogenated polyisobutene (silicone alternative), ethylhexyl palmitate (emollient), coconut oil, mica, papaya seed oil, açai oil, buriti oil, capuaçu butter, camu camu extract.
- Editor’s notes: As a Brazilian, Camila Coehlo says bronzing products are “in her blood.” So when the influencer turned beauty mogul started her own line, she created this all-over formula for both face and body. It has a fluid texture, and can be applied with your hands, a brush or a sponge. There are two buildable, transfer-resistant shades: Superstar Shimmer is light, sheer and shimmery, while Yummy Natural is deep and warm.
Best Full-Coverage: Tan-Luxe Instant Hero Skin Perfector Illuminating Wash Off Body Bronzer
- What it is: Tan-Luxe Instant Hero Skin Perfector Illuminating Wash Off Body Bronzer is a quick-drying skin perfector that glides onto skin to deliver a full-coverage, no-commitment glow.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, alcohol, propylene glycol, titanium dioxide, Sepigel 305 (polymer), vitamin E, provitamin B5 (panthenol), raspberry seed oil, aloe, caffeine, vitamin C.
- Editor’s notes: This full-coverage tinted lotion can be used not only to create instant colour, but also to 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. There’s just one shade, a medium tint with subtle, light-reflecting shimmer.
Best Clean Beauty: Isle of Paradise Disco Tan Instant Wash-Off Body Bronzer
- What it is: Isle of Paradise Disco Tan Instant Wash-Off Body Bronzer is a zero-transfer, sheer, instant-tan formula that lasts up to 24 hours and washes off with warm water.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, alcohol, propylene glycol, Sepigel 305 (polymer), aloe, vitamin C, coconut oil.
- Editor’s notes: If you’re a clean beauty lover, then this is the body bronzer for you. It’s organic, 100% vegan and formulated without mineral oils, with a fast-drying, gel-like texture. There’s just one shade, a natural-looking bronzey tint with a sprinkling of barely-there shimmer. It’s said to adapt to all skin tones, but you can also build it up in layers for a deeper bronze. Although the formula is transfer-resistant, founder Jules Von Hep says you can also use a bit of translucent powder on top to help it set.
Best Shade Range: Fenty Beauty Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint
- What it is: Fenty Beauty Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint is a subtle, everyday luminizing body tint with a silky texture and transfer-resistant formula.
- Key ingredients: Isododecane (emollient), butylene glycol, mica, hydrogenated polydecene (emollient), hydrogenated polyisobutene (silicone alternative), babassu oil, propanediol.
- Editor’s notes: If you’ve found that most body bronzers aren’t quite the right colour, consider this gel-cream formula, which comes in an impressive seven shades. They range from Pearl Swirl, a champagne for light skin, to Chocolate Reign, a rich bronze for deep tones. Each one is sheer but buildable, so you can easily achieve your desired level of coverage. They’re all infused with subtle shimmer, and are both sweat-proof and transfer-resistant.
Best Customizable: By Terry Tea to Tan Face & Body Bronzer
- What it is: By Terry Tea to Tan Face & Body Bronzer is a tea-infused liquid face and body bronzer that creates two tanning effects—matte or shimmering—with no tanning agent.
- Key ingredients: Cherry fruit water, glycerin, butylene glycol, mica, titanium dioxide, lethicin, alcohol, green tea extract.
- Editor’s notes: This water-based liquid bronzer spray lets you customize the finish and depth of your tan. It comes in one buildable and transfer-resistant “iced tea” shade, which is 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 that they disperse throughout the formula and leave you glowing.
Best Illuminating: Tanologist Insta Glow Instant Tan + Illuminator
- What it is: Tanologist Insta Glow Instant Tan + Illuminator is a skin-perfecting, transfer-proof body bronzer that blurs imperfections and corrects uneven tone.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, alcohol, propylene glycol, Sepigel 305 (polymer), vitamin E, provitamin B5 (panthenol), vitamin C, aloe.
- Editor’s notes: If you love a luminous look, then you’ll love this illuminating bronzer (which the brand likens to a “filter in a tube”). Rather than looking glittery, it has fine particles of shimmer throughout to reflect the light. The glycerin-based formula dries down in seconds, becoming water-resistant and transfer-proof for a full 24 hours. Because the colour is quite intense and full-coverage, you can also use it to contour areas where you’d like a little extra definition (like the abs).
Best for Legs: This Works Perfect Legs Skin Miracle
- What it is: This Works Perfect Legs Skin Miracle is a lightweight tinted serum that instantly enhances legs and helps combat uneven skin tone and bruising.
- Key ingredients: Dicaprylyl carbonate (emollient), capric triglycerides, butylene glycol, coconut alkanes, glycerin, vitamin C (sodium ascorbyl phosphate), vitamin E, shea butter, mica, arnica.
- Editor’s notes: If you’d like to not only deepen the colour of your legs, but also fade discolourations and bruising, you’ll appreciate this combination bronzer and body treatment. It’s enriched with skin-repairing vitamin C, vitamin E and arnica, and has a hydrating but non-greasy serum texture. There’s just one colour, a natural-looking warm caramel with a hint of shimmer. Bonus: it’s not just for legs—you can actually use it on any other part of your body to even out tone.
Best Buildable: James Read Enhance Body Foundation Wash Off Tan
- What it is: James Read Enhance Body Foundation Wash Off Tan is an easy-to-apply wash-off tan that smooths skin and helps to reduce the appearance of imperfections.
- Key ingredients: Silicones, isohexadecane (emollient), aloe.
- Editor’s notes: This creamy but quick-drying tinted lotion creates a luminous, air-brushed look and can be used on both your face and body. Although there’s just one shade, you can apply a second layer to deepen the colour, or mix it with your favourite lotion to sheer it out. The formula is both transfer-resistant and water-resistant (just give it a few minutes to dry before you get dressed).
Best Transfer-Resistant: South Seas Island Glow Body Bronzer
- What it is: South Seas Island Glow Body Bronzer is an instant, quick-drying body bronzer that provides a shimmery glow without streaking or rubbing off.
- Key ingredients: Ethanol, glycerin, fatty alcohol, titanium dioxide, capric triglycerides.
- Editor’s notes: This shimmering, bronze-tinted lotion 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 one shade, a realistic-looking medium bronze that can either be sheered out or layered to get your perfect level of tan.
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