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Best tanning lotion 2022: The best self-tan and tan booster lotions to make your face and body glow

Get a tan without the sun damage – or without the sun at all! We round up the best tanning lotions for a natural-looking tan in minutes

Self-tanning has come a long way since the days of 1980s sunbeds and orange streaks. Fast forward to 2022, and the best tanning lotions deliver a healthy glow by adding colour to your skin or helping to boost your skin’s natural tanning process. Many contain premium skincare ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, aloe vera and vitamin E to keep your skin smooth and hydrated while giving you a natural-looking summertime glow without the UV rays.

The active ingredient in most tanning lotions is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a colour additive that reacts gradually with the dead cells in your skin’s surface to create a gently bronzed look. It wears off after a few days, but many of our recommended tanning lotions are so good for moisturising your skin that you’ll want to use them week after week. Or day after day, if you want a seriously deep tan.

Skip ahead to find out which tanning lotions we recommend for fast and gradual results on different skin types, or read on for tips on choosing the best tanning lotion for you.

READ NEXT: The best after-sun lotions to soothe and hydrate

Best tanning lotion: At a glance

  • Best for a natural look: Tan-Luxe The Gradual | Buy now
  • Best for a dark tan: Bondi Sands Self Tanning Lotion | Buy now
  • Best tanning lotion for pale skin: Skinny Tan Body Glow | Buy now
  • Best for face: St Tropez Gradual Tan Classic Face Lotion | Buy now
  • Best with SPF: Piz Buin Tan & Protect | Buy now
  • Best for dry skin: Ambre Solaire Natural Bronzer | Buy now

How to buy the best tanning lotion for you

Is tanning lotion the same as fake tan?

It’s similar. Self-tanning products come in all sorts of formats, including mousse, liquid, oil, spray and tanning lotion. Tanning lotion is less runny than liquids and oils, so it tends to be easier to apply, although, as with all fake tan products, you’ll get best results by using a tanning mitt for an even application on exfoliated skin.

A good tanning lotion can keep the skin moisturised better than sprays and mousses, because it often contains nourishing skincare ingredients to keep your skin feeling as healthy as it looks. Many lotions offer quite gradual, natural-looking tans, but our recommendations include fast, dark tanning lotions, too.

Is it true that tanning lotion stops SPF sunblock from working?

Only if you apply them at the same time. That’s why you generally don’t get tanning lotions that contain SPF chemicals too.

The reason for this is that DHA (dihydroxyacetone, the chemical that reacts with your skin to create a fake tan) effectively stops SPF from blocking the sun’s UVA rays (the ones that deepen wrinkles and cause skin cancer). It still allows SPF to block UVB rays (the ones that burn you), so you may think you’re safe from the sun because you’re not burning, but those harmful, skin-damaging UVA rays may still be getting through.

Does this mean DHA tanning lotions are dangerous?

No. In fact, they help protect you from sun damage by giving you a natural-looking tan even if you stay out of the sun all year round. However, it does mean you must apply your tanning lotion in the evening, or a day or more before you go out, so that it’s well absorbed by the morning. Then you can apply a separate broad-spectrum SPF sunblock or cream before you venture out under those blue skies.

READ NEXT: Best gradual tan for a springtime glow without the sun

But I’ve seen tanning lotion with SPF in it!

Only DHA stops SPF from working properly, so tanning lotions that use other active ingredients are usually OK to use alongside sun cream. In fact, one of our recommendations (Piz Buin Tan & Protect Tan Intensifier) contains SPF as well as its non-DHA tanning ingredient, Melitan, which works with your skin’s melanin to boost its natural tanning reaction.

The best tanning lotion to buy

1. Body Glow by Skinny Tan: Best light self-tanning lotion for pale skin

Price: £5.59 | Buy now from Look Fantastic

All tanning products deliver best results if you prepare your skin first (clean, exfoliate, and don’t wax immediately beforehand because your poor old pores will be wide open), but Skinny Tan’s Body Glow is the closest you’ll get to a tanning lotion that needs no prep. This incredibly smooth body moisturiser is enriched with a hint of DHA, which gradually builds your skin to a radiant light/medium tan while also softening your arms, legs, back, shoulders and tummy. The lotion is paraben-free and vegan, and smells amazing, with a delicious coconut and caramel scent.

Buyers with very pale skin (including one with albinism) rate Body Glow’s gentle colour-building properties, which begin from the very first application but never get over the top. Three times a week is more than enough to build up a natural glow, but you can use it every day if you want a deeper tan. The colour lasts well, too, making this one of the best-value products in our lineup.

Key specs – Size: 280ml; Tan shade: Light; Active ingredients: DHA (self-tan)

Buy now from Look Fantastic

2. St Tropez Gradual Tan Classic Face Lotion: Best tanning lotion for your face

Price: £15 | Buy now from Feelunique

Most tanning lotion is designed to be used on your body, so take care when slapping the stuff on your face where the skin is more delicate, often a lighter colour, and has pores that get clogged much more easily. St Tropez’s tanning lotion takes all these factors into account, and adds premium facial skincare ingredients including hyaluronic acid and vitamin E to its recipe to help keep your skin plump and hydrated. The formula is also extremely lightweight and dries fast, making it suitable for use under make-up.

Key specs – Size: 50ml; Tan shade: Light/medium; Active ingredients: DHA, hyaluronic acid

Buy now from Feelunique

3. Piz Buin Tan & Protect Tan Intensifying Sun Lotion SPF 15: Best tanning lotion with SPF

Price: £7.20 | Buy now from Amazon

Unlike most tanning lotions, Piz Buin Tan & Protect Tan Intensifier can be used along with a high-SPF sun cream, because it doesn’t contain ingredients that stop the SPF from working properly. In fact, it offers SPF 15 protection by itself, which certainly helps but may not be enough for your face, so it’s worth topping up.

Active ingredient “Illumitone” (melitan) works with your skin’s own tanning pigments (melanin) to enhance your tan, which Piz Buin claims “more than doubles” the colour of your natural tan. So, it’s a tan booster rather than a fake tan, with the great advantage that it only increases your tan where you’re already tanning. Therefore, there’s no risk of weird tanned spots (inner arms etc) or orange residue on your clothes or bed sheets. Buyers also love that it’s water-resistant without feeling greasy, and absorbs really fast.

Key specs – Size: 150ml; Tan shade: N/A; Active ingredient: Melitan

4. Bondi Sands Self Tanning Lotion Dark: Best tanning lotion to get a dark tan fast

Price: £11 | Buy now from Feelunique

Bondi by name, Bondi by shade, this is the tanning lotion to go for if you’re fed up with self-tan products that just don’t deliver a rich enough caramel glow. Follow the instructions carefully, though, because this isn’t a tanning lotion that you just slap on at bedtime and leave. Instead, treat it a bit like a hair dye. Apply it carefully using a tanning mitt, then leave it to develop for between one and eight hours, depending on the shade you want. Luckily it doesn’t smell like hair dye or even old-fashioned fake tan, with buyers reporting that the “the smell is AMAZING”, thanks to hints of coconut and aloe vera.

Key specs – Size: 200ml; Tan shade: Dark; Active ingredients: DHA (self-tan)

Buy now from Feelunique

5. Ambre Solaire Natural Bronzer Self Tan Lotion: Best tanning lotion for dry skin and a rich bronze tan

Price: £6.95 | Buy now from Look Fantastic

Ambre Solaire’s apricot-enriched bronzing lotion is one of the most richly moisturising lotions in our rundown, and it’s affordable enough to slather on regularly for a full-body tan that doesn’t go patchy. Despite its creaminess, it absorbs like a dream and dries really fast, so you can get dressed straight away and you won’t make your bedsheets streaky. Many buyers report that it’s quite dark, so go easy if your skin’s on the pale side.

Key specs – Size: 150ml; Tan shade: Medium-dark; Active ingredients: DHA (self-tan)

Buy now from Look Fantastic

6. Tan-Luxe The Gradual Illuminating Tan Lotion Light: Lightest non-greasy tanning lotion for a natural look

Price: £16.50 | Buy now from FeeluniqueThis supremely lightweight, fast-absorbing and gorgeous-smelling lotion really conditions your skin while gradually building a lovely natural tone. Despite flagging ‘gradual’ on the bottle, this lotion is hailed by buyers for its relatively fast results, with some saying their tan began to build after just an hour. You may find the results too subtle if you’re after an eye-catching summer tan, but an application every two or three days is enough to create a year-round natural glow that no-one would guess comes out of a bottle.

Key specs – Size: 250ml; Tan shade: Light; Active ingredients: DHA

Buy now from Feelunique

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