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While summer is still a few months away, it's never too early to start daydreaming about sundresses, cute sandals and rocking a perfect tan. While almost everyone loves to feel bronzed, you don’t necessarily have to go in the sun to get the perfect glow. Instead of exposing your skin to potentially harmful UV rays, consider a self-tanner.
A great self-tanner is key to bringing that glow to the surface without going out in the sun — and they've come a long way from the orange, streaky options.
Luckily, some of the best self-tanners (even for fair skin) can be found at your local drugstore or pharmacy, so you don't have to worry about shelling out a ton of money.
In an effort to help you find the best cheap self-tanner, we rounded up 18 great options that top beauty experts swear by and the internet raves over.
The best drugstore self-tanners
The Neutrogena Micromist Airbrush Sunless Tanning Spray gives you an airbrushed tan right in the comfort of your own home.
"[This is] the next best thing to getting a professional salon spray tan," said makeup artist Karuna Chani. "This spray easily covers every angle imaginable and dries super fast, which means zero missed spots and no random streaks."
Even better, it's a great choice for sensitive skin.
"An added bonus for acne-prone skin, the mist tanner is a much more skin-sensitive option than the lotion variety that can clog pores. For optimum results, exfoliate and moisturize the night before your treatment," Chani said.
The L'Oreal Paris Sublime Self-Tanning Towelettes have almost 3,600 verified Amazon reviews and an impressive 4.5-star rating.
"Each towel is individually wrapped for one-time use and is drenched in a generous amount of self-tanner. It has a pleasant, mild beach scent," said Marie Watkinson, a beauty expert, massage therapist and founder of the mobile spa company Spa Chicks On The Go.
"I find that the towel application goes on more evenly than a product used directly by hand, so I don't get the usual streaking. The product develops into a rich, tan color that looks authentic," Watkinson added. "I also love it because you can toss them into your toiletry bag while traveling for mess-free touch-ups."
We can’t get enough of the Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tanning Liquid. TODAY contributor Katie Jackson loves this tanner for its natural ingredients and flawless results.
One of the main ingredients in this tanner is dihydroxyacetone, which is made from plant sources like sugar cane and sugar beets. Another unique aspect of this tanner is that it doesn’t contain moisturizer, which helps the formula absorb quicker.
The L’Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanner is Amazon’s Choice for tanning mousse. It comes in a lightweight water formula that disappears into your skin for an easy application.
Simply apply the mousse and allow four to eight hours for the color to fully develop before showering and rinsing off the product. If you want a longer-lasting tan, apply the tanner up to three times within 12 to 24 hours.
Makeup artist Ramy Gafni loves the gradual results of this Jergens body moisturizer.
"The gradual tanning effect [of the self-tanner] prevents looking suddenly too tan and the formula is conditioning so you can moisturize while you tan," said Gafni.
Gafni isn't the only one who has been loving this product. Shop TODAY's associate commerce editor Megan Foster has been using this self-tanner for over a decade and hasn't looked back since.
"I typically apply it right after showering at night and ensure my body is covered from head to toe. The lotion is lightweight and easy to spread. Best of all, it doesn't leave a sticky layer on my skin afterward," said Foster. "This formula isn't tinted like some tanning lotions. Instead, it goes on like a typical moisturizer and develops over the course of a few hours."
If you want to use a self-tanner but don't want to commit to a weeklong tan, consider the St. Tropez One Night Only Wash Off lotion. It's easy to apply, gives a radiant glow and easily washes off with soap and water.
"St. Tropez is my favorite of all time. I use the One Night Only lotion on every single shoot when models have to be tan and they show up pale," said makeup artist Mary Irwin.
If you’re looking for a clean self-tanning option, the Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner Lotion may be the option for you. The formula is 100% vegetarian and is free of gluten, parabens, phthalates and synthetic fragrances. It’s also never tested on animals.
The brand uses a formula powered by botanicals that is non-streaking and quick to absorb. The product is created with nourishing shea butter, sweet almond oil and safflower oil to hydrate skin while providing a deep, natural-looking tan without exposure to harmful UV rays.
For a versatile self-tanner that can be used on your entire body, consider the L'Oréal Paris Skincare Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Serum.
"This serum is not just for your body, but can also be used on your face," said celebrity esthetician Cinthia Lomeli.
It delivers a smooth sunless tan that lasts for up to two weeks and only takes four hours to develop.
With over 1,000 verified reviews on Amazon, many customers love this product for the longevity of the tan it provides and non-streaky formula.
"This is my absolute favorite! It doesn't smell, it's streak-free, easy to use and so affordable," said Katherine Dorn, makeup artist at Pierre Michel Salon in New York City. "You can spray your body after showering for a golden-tan glow or you can spray on top of your makeup as a setting spray to add some glow. It's also perfect to use on the décolletage for some extra glow before going out."
This self-tanning mist will add an instant touch of color to your complexion. The formula caters to all skin types and is designed to provide a natural tan without a trace. It's been dermatologically tested and alcohol-free.
Dorn is also a big fan of St. Tropez's Self-Tan Express Advanced Bronzing Mousse.
"This product is quick, doesn't streak and smells good. Oh, and it lasts forever. You'll see quick results and it looks very natural. So easy to use," she said.
This St. Tropez tanning product is buildable, so it allows you to customize your tan to be as light or deep as you want. Wait one hour before showering for a light glow, two hours for a medium golden tan or leave it on for up to three hours for a darker bronze.
The Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam is lightweight and enriched with aloe vera and coconut to provide a streak-free tan.
With over 9,000 five-star verified reviews and a 4.5-star rating, many people seem to be a fan of this self-tanner.
“I'm absolutely in love with this product. This tan gives you the most natural-looking color — such a deep golden brown,” said one reviewer. Other’s commented on the smell of the product. “The smell is divine. Not just while applying but days after there is no tanner smell, just coconut,” said another person.
"A must-have for adding a hint of sun-kissed tint, this is an easy and affordable go-to. Swap out your normal lotion and moisturize with this daily — adding a thin layer on clean, dry skin — for a natural-looking tan," said Las Vegas makeup artist Kate Stromberg. "Results are gradual and typically appear within one to two days. For even application, exfoliate with your favorite body scrub before using."
Many Amazon reviewers also love this self-tanning product. The Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer has almost 8,100 verified reviews on Amazon and a 4.5-star rating.
The Banana Boat Self-Tanning Spray gives you an airbrushed tan with an extra boost. It’s suitable for all skin types and contains aloe vera and vitamin E. The formula is also oil-free, quick-drying and streak-free.
“I had tried every self-tan lotion on the market and found that they all were lacking ease in application and natural color. A friend told me she has used this tanner for 20 years and you would never have guessed it by looking at her color,” said one Amazon verified reviewer. “No lie, this self-tanner is the best I've tried."
This Sally Hansen self-tanner is another great airbrush option that can give your legs a makeover in just seconds.
"This spray-on, instant tan formula is full coverage and easy to use for a last-minute glow that lasts all night," said Stromberg. "Combine a small amount of lotion and smooth all over legs as the perfect accessory to any ensemble. Just don't hit the pool! The tan will only last until your next shower. It's easily removed with soap and water."
The Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun Body Mousse has over 7,500 verified reviews with an impressive 4.3-star rating. Many customers with fair skin were impressed with the glow this tanner gave them without giving them an orange tint. The mousse formula is also tinted, so you can see where you’ve applied it and it dries in just 60 seconds.
Infused with coconut water, self-tanning agents from natural sugars and a passionfruit essence, using this cruelty-free tanning mousse is almost as good as embarking on a beach vacation. One Target reviewer even exclaimed that they "never had such a natural looking, steak free, even, easy tan!"
New to self-tanning or have a paler skin tone? This clean spritz — made with a combination of color-correcting actives, coconut, chia seed and avocado oils — will provide a subtle, easy glow.
Available in three adaptable shades, this water-to-foam, vitamin-infused mousse leaves you with a flawless, fast-drying bronze glow.
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- 15 protective sun hats that are surprisingly stylish