Last updated: August 25, 2021

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Who doesn't dream of tanned skin in summer? But as beautiful as a summer tan is, it can be just as dangerous. To achieve it naturally, you have to expose yourself to the dangerous UV rays of the sun. But there is also a safe way: self-tanner. In our big self-tanner test 2021 we have extensively tested various self-tanners.

In this article you will find many facts and background knowledge about the use of self-tanning products. We want to support you in choosing the perfect self-tanner. In addition, you will find answers to your questions as well as interesting advantages and disadvantages of self-tanning products.


  • A self-tanner is a cosmetic product that, when applied, creates a summery tan on the skin. Since this effect is artificially produced, the harmful UV light of sunbathing can be avoided.
  • Different types of application are available to suit individual preferences. You can choose between lotions, foams, sprays, wipes or oils. Each type varies in handling, application time and results.
  • When buying, you should pay attention to your skin type, ingredients, type of texture, application areas and application time. The right combination of these factors ensures the perfect result.

The Best Self Tanner: Our Picks

Shopping Guide

What are the advantages of a self-tanner compared to classic sunbathing?

We associate a summer tan with summer, sun, beach and sea. But only very few of us have the time to relax in the sun all day long. Fortunately, there are various alternatives to sunbathing that also protect our health. One possibility is to use a self-tanning lotion.

  • Summer tan all year round
  • No danger from UV rays
  • Seamless tan without "tan lines"
  • Wide range of products

The danger of getting skin damage from the sun is a very underestimated one. Sunburn cannot be the only consequence of sunbathing. Exposure to dangerous UV rays can increase the risk of skin cancer and accelerate skin ageing.

Self-tanning products are divided into creams, foams, sprays, wipes and oils. Which one is best for you depends on your skin type. (Photo: Hans /

Tanning products give you a soft holiday tan without bikini stripes and burnt skin. Self-tanning products give you a summer tan all year round. So you don't have to spend hours roasting in the sun.

What ingredients should I look for in a self-tanner?

Before you choose a self-tanning product, it is important that you take a look at the ingredients of the product. Most self-tanning products contain the active ingredient DHA, which primarily reacts with the keratin contained in the skin and produces an artificial tan.

However, not everyone tolerates this active ingredient. If an allergic reaction is caused, it can lead to skin irritation, itching or rashes. If you don't want to use DHA, you can use natural self-tanning products. There are many products that do not use DHA at all and instead use the natural active ingredient erythrulose for tanning.

Does a self-tanner damage the skin or can it be carcinogenic?

There are many rumours circulating about the risks of self-tanning products. But is such a tanning product really dangerous? Formaldehyde is a waste product of the tanning substance DHA, which can be carcinogenic. For example, if the self-tanning product has not been stored properly, the formaldehyde can be released.

Therefore, it is important to observe and follow the storage instructions and the expiry date in order to avoid skin damage. As this substance can irritate the mucous membranes, any contact with the eyes or mouth should be avoided. We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that self-tanning products do not offer any protection from the sun! If you are going to be in the sun for a longer period of time, you should apply sunscreen.

Did you know that the first self-tanning products appeared around 1960? Coppertone's "Quick Tan" (QT) gave pale skin a tanned, orange complexion. Today, people tend to avoid the orange and aim for a brown with an olive undertone.

How do I apply a self-tanner correctly?

Each form of self-tanner has its own individual application. That's why you should follow the steps given in each case. Nevertheless, the same applies to every self-tanner: preparation is everything. Before you apply your self-tanner, you should first care for your skin and prepare it for the tanning procedure ahead.

The best way to do this is to use a body scrub to remove old skin flakes and impurities from the surface of your skin. We also recommend applying a moisturising body lotion to dry or callused skin. This will help prevent uneven tanning and colour fading.

Before use, you should remove all textiles, as they may become dirty. After you have applied the tanning lotion, you should leave it on for the specified time and make sure it does not come into contact with water. To keep the tan as long as possible, the skin should be cared for with body lotions afterwards.

Frau sonnt sich in der Wüste

Self-tanning products do not offer any protection against solar radiation. Therefore, the risk of cancer should always be taken into account and, if necessary, a suitable sunscreen should be applied. (Photo: Adam Kontor /

You can depilate your body before application to get a more even result. If you decide to do this, make sure you give your skin enough time to regenerate. As hair removal is hard on our skin, it is advisable to wait a night between shaving and self-tanning.

Why does a self-tanner tan the skin?

The dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, contained in self-tanning products is a simple sugar that also occurs in the body's own metabolism. This DHA causes a chemical reaction with the proteins and amino acids contained in the horny layer. This process turns the top layer of the skin brown. The tanning result varies depending on the skin type, but is usually visible after about 2-5 hours.

The durability of the tan is also individual and is on average 3-5 days. The monosaccharide erythrulose is similar to DHA. The mode of action is identical for both substances. Erythrulose tans the skin only slowly and needs up to two days to fully develop. After that, the tan lasts up to two weeks on the skin.

Decision: What types of self tanners are there and which one is right for you?

In order to give you an overview of the many self-tanning products available, we will introduce you to the different types of self-tanning products in this section. Basically, you can distinguish between these types:

  • Lotion & Cream
  • Foam
  • Spray
  • Wipes
  • Oil

Depending on the form of application, the handling, application time and result can vary. We would like to introduce you to the individual forms of application in more detail. Here you can find out all the advantages and disadvantages of the individual product types.

How do you apply self-tanning lotions and creams and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Self-tanning lotions and creams are the most common products in the self-tanning category.

  • Entry-level product
  • Contains conditioning agents
  • Perfect for sensitive and dry skin
  • Transitions such as knees difficult to control
  • Not suitable for oily skin

Easy application and spreading of self-tanner is ensured by the use of creams. However, clean transitions at the knee, elbow or ankle are a challenge. The reason for this is the liquid consistency of the products. To counteract spots and streaks, you can exfoliate your skin properly before tanning. Exfoliation ensures that the skin surface is well prepared.

How do you apply a self-tanning mousse and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

The tanning foam (also called mousse) is high on the popularity scale of tanning products. It is best to use a disposable glove or flannel to apply the foam evenly to the body.

  • Quick result
  • Spreads well
  • Contains skin care ingredients
  • Not very economical
  • Requires multiple applications to achieve tan

The mousse absorbs very quickly and gives a natural tan, as if kissed by the sun. Like the self-tanning lotion, the mousse also gives your skin a portion of extra care and is therefore ideal for dry skin types. For a beautiful result, you need a large amount of the tanning foam.

In addition, several passes are recommended to achieve a certain degree of tanning. The tanning mousse is nevertheless a good product for long-term tanning. It gives you an even, very natural tan on the skin.

How do you apply a self-tanning spray and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Another popular form of self-tanner is the spray. Through the spray head, a very thin layer of the tanning agent is distributed on the skin and definitely leaves no brown hands at the end.

  • Dries quickly
  • Convenient to spray on
  • Even coverage must be maintained
  • Spraying twice can cause colour changes

Even hard-to-reach areas such as the back are no obstacle for the tanning spray. It spreads evenly and dries in just a few minutes. When applying the spray, however, make sure that the distance between the body and the spray is always the same. The distance should be about 20 centimetres. It is also important that no part of your body is sprayed twice. Otherwise, it can lead to different colour results and gradients.

How do you use self-tanning wipes and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Self-tanning wipes have found their popularity especially among travellers. The individually packaged wipes can be carried in the handbag and are thus ready for use at any time.

  • Uncomplicated application
  • Convenient for travelling
  • Contains no skin care ingredients
  • Only suitable for small areas

Soaked in a self-tanning lotion, they are suitable for all areas of the body. The application on the face, décolleté or neck is particularly suitable. You must be aware that self-tanning wipes do not contain any skin care products and therefore dry out your skin.

Since the wipes only contain a certain amount of self-tanner, you need a large number of wipes for a full-body tan. For a quick and natural tan, self-tanning wipes are your ideal companion.

How do you apply self-tanning oil and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Last but not least, tanning oil is an integral part of the self-tanning products on the cosmetics market. It is easy to apply to the skin and gives it a silky shimmer in addition to the tan.

  • Suitable for dry skin
  • Requires knowledge

In principle, the body oil can be used to create a natural tan, but the handling of the oily consistency requires some practice and is usually recommended for advanced self-tanners.

Buying criteria: You can compare and evaluate self-tanners based on these factors

The market offers you a wide variety of self-tanners and more are added every year. How can you find the best self-tanner for you? If you decide to buy a self-tanner, take a closer look at the following criteria:

  • Your skin type
  • Texture of the self-tanner
  • Active ingredient
  • Areas of application
  • Degree of tanning
  • Application
  • Duration of application

In this section we would like to go into more detail and give you a deeper insight into the topic.

Your skin type

Before asking yourself any product-specific questions, you should first be aware of the condition of your skin. For the best end result, you need a product that adapts to your skin texture. If you tend to have dry or sensitive skin, choose a self-tanner with added moisturisers.

Too little moisture will result in unattractive colour bleeding or spots. Therefore, never underestimate the care of your skin. If you have oily skin, choose a self-tanner without oils. It's best to choose a product that is water-based or whose primary ingredient is water.

Do you suffer from sensitive skin? Then we recommend you take a look at our alternative self-tanners. There are many products that don't contain allergy-causing ingredients and won't leave you with an unpleasant rash.

Texture of the self-tanner

Self-tanning products are now available in many different forms. The right texture for you depends on your skin type.

Lotions and creams are enriched with skin-caring substances such as aloe vera, grape seed oil or other nourishing extracts. This is why they are best suited for dry and chapped skin. If you tend to have oily skin, you can use a self-tanning gel. This contains a lot of water, guarantees a clean result and is absorbed very quickly. If you are one of the privileged combination skin types, you are free to choose the texture.

Active ingredient

The active ingredient in self-tanner, DHA or erythrulose, provides the necessary tan without the sun. However, not everyone tolerates it and allergic reactions can occur. It is therefore advisable to read all the ingredients carefully to avoid allergies. Most self-tanning products contain the substance DHA, which reacts with the protein in the skin and thus tans.

The substance erythrulose is also often used, which works in the same way. However, such substances cause the skin to dry out. For this reason, most self-tanning products contain additional skin care substances. If you do not want to use such substances, we advise you to use natural products such as carotene oil.

This contains the substance beta-carotene and gives the skin a gentle natural tint. It is advisable to test the self-tanner on a small area first. This way you can quickly find out whether you tolerate it and whether you are satisfied with the result.

Self-tanning lotions usually do not contain a sun protection factor and do not protect against UV rays! Before you go out in the sun, we advise you to apply a sun milk.

Areas of application

The consistency of the self-tanner varies depending on the part of the body. Therefore, make sure you buy the right product. The packaging indicates exactly where you can apply the self-tanner. The market offers tanning products for the face or face and body.

Self-tanning products for facial use have a composition and consistency that is designed to provide adequate care for very sensitive skin. In contrast to body products, no perfumes are used, but sufficient skin care substances are added.

Frau sonnt sich mit Blick auf Strand

When applying self-tanning products, it is important to ensure that all areas of the skin are evenly covered so that an even tan can take place. (Photo: Pete Johnson /

Therefore, if you are looking for a self-tanner for your face, you should opt for a cream that is labelled accordingly. There are also tanning wipes available that are specifically designed for the face, neck and décolleté.

If you use these products, you need to take care of yourself afterwards, as they usually do not contain any skin care. For hard-to-reach areas like the back, a spray is the most compatible form of self-tanner. For the rest of the body, you can choose the texture that suits you best.

Tanning level

What shade of tan do you want? The tanning intensity is mainly determined by the dosage of DHA in the product, which can be adjusted according to your skin type. In addition, there is the colour of your skin and the application time. The interaction of these three factors results in the degree of tanning. It is difficult to determine your desired degree of tanning in advance.

However, in order to gain a certain amount of knowledge, you can first try out the self-tanner on a small area. Lotions and creams are usually only gently tanning and are therefore best suited for beginners. As a rule, tanning oils produce a deeper tan. Some self-tanning products come in different colours.

You can choose between a light, medium and dark tan. This colour choice allows you to control your desired level of tan. If you have fair skin, you should choose a light to medium shade. Finally, you can repeat the tanning session at any time!

Did you know that in ancient times, light skin tones were considered beautiful? The so-called "noble pallor" was considered the ideal of beauty at that time. Homer described the ideal complexion as "whiter than ivory".


Spray, cream, dab or massage - which do you prefer? To choose the right product, you should think about how you want to apply your self-tanner. This point is purely a matter of taste and is not least related to the body contact you will have with the product. Do you want as much distance as possible between your hands and the self-tanner?

Then you should use a tanning spray. It can be sprayed on the skin at a distance of 20-30 cm and is quickly absorbed. The mousse is currently on the top of the self-tanning list. It is massaged into the skin in circular motions and applied gently to the face by dabbing.

If you're a fan of the classic lotion, you should get yourself a tanning lotion. Self-tanning oil is also rubbed into the skin, but should be used by advanced users due to its consistency.

We recommend that you wear gloves when using the oil. This way you can avoid staining the palms of your hands.

Duration of use

Once you have successfully applied the self-tanner, it needs time to absorb. It can take some time for the tan to appear on your skin. Therefore, you have two options: the quick emergency tan or the even tan that takes time. The amount of time varies from product to product.

Basically, you should allow a few hours for a tanning session to avoid streaks or marks. A lotion or mousse needs 3-5 hours to complete the tanning process. For the impatient, self-tanning sprays are particularly suitable. However, caution is advised here, as the immediate tanning can leave streaks if necessary.

In addition, self-tanning products are available that already show an effect after one hour. Alternatively, there are tinted self-tanning products that leave a brownish complexion after application. Such products can rub off on clothing!

Basically, you should always wait until the self-tanner has been completely absorbed into the skin and your skin surface has dried before getting dressed. In addition, it is important to avoid water during the application time to ensure an even result.

Interesting facts about self-tanning products

What to do after a patchy tan?

Quick, messy application or removing a self-tanner too soon can leave unsightly marks and streaks on your body. In this case, the shorter it's been since you applied the self-tanner, the better! If the tanning process has not yet been completed, it is easier to remove imperfections.

There are already a number of self-tanning removers on the market, but their dissolving effect has not yet been confirmed.

To remove the imperfections, we recommend that you use large-grain body scrubs. You can apply these to the problem areas in warm water with circular movements and thus loosen the upper skin flakes. You should also avoid corrosive, aggressive and bleaching chemicals. After a few days, the tan will fade on its own and the stripes will no longer be visible.

Which is better: tanning bed or self-tanner?

Both the self-tanner and the solarium are controversial and have their advantages and disadvantages. In solariums, the skin is exposed to artificial UV rays to imitate the strength of the sun. The fact that one exposes one's body to a sun strength that is otherwise found near the equator is rarely recognised as a risk here.

It is not uncommon for tanning sessions to become addictive and can be psychologically addictive. (Photo: dorianrochowski /

Tanning products are often associated with orange, blotchy skin. This often leads to anxiety in first-time users and discourages their use. Reaching for self-tanner is the healthier approach. To avoid carrot skin or streaks, be sure to read the application tips.

If done properly with self tanner, you will get an even holiday tan without dangerous UV rays.

Photo credit: Nicolas Postiglioni / pexels