7 best gradual self-tanners
Fake the bake and shun the sunbed with an effective complexion-enhancer
Most people agree that being tanned feels great. Having a healthy glow and a touch of colour can make you feel more confident, which affects everything you do.
But we all know how dangerous it is to spend hours soaking up the sun or use sunbeds. According to the British Skin Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, and UV exposure is the main preventable cause.
And this is where fake tans swoop in to save the day. A few years ago, using fake tan was by some people considered shameful. What's more, you often ended up a very unnatural shade of orange and smelling of biscuits.
But fake tans have evolved a lot since we first started slapping them on. Last year, fake tan sales soared 38.8 per cent to £20.9 million in the UK.
What’s more, men are increasingly getting in on the fake tanning action too.
Although it may take a few applications to build up colour, gradual tans can be much better than instant because they often create a more even colour, moisturise the skin and last longer too – if you’d applied a gradual tanner for two or three consecutive days, it should be a week before all the colour has faded.
Make sure to exfoliate the skin first, apply with a mitt to avoid tell-tale marks on your hands, and moisturise areas like elbows and knees to dilute the tan and stop them turning too orange.
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1. Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula Natural Bronze Gradual Tanning Moisturiser, 250ml: £5.69, Boots
The scent of this one, a classic cocoa butter fragrance, is strong but there are no hints of that traditional fake tan smell. A thick, white lotion, it moisturises skin well but also sinks in quickly so there’s no hanging around waiting to get dressed. It’s easy to use thanks to the pump dispenser, and we noticed the tan developing after two applications – it was a natural golden brown that got darker with every use. At this price, it’s hard to fault too.
2. Bondi Sands Self Tan Oil Liquid Gold, 150ml: £14.99, Boots
The subtle coconut scent of this spray oil conjures up images of sun-kissed beaches, almost as if you actually had got back from a holiday. You’ll need quite a few sprays to cover your body – it doesn’t go far – and you have to be quite close and careful when spraying onto your arms to make sure you don’t cover your bed sheets or floor in tanning oil too. That said, it sinks in quickly (despite not being particularly moisturising) and develops a deep but natural-looking tan within a few hours. More as if you’d been in the Caribbean than the South of France.
3. Sukin Sunless Bronzing Gel, 200ml: £14.95, Holland & Barrett
A brown gel, this gradual tanner is a little different to most, but it works well. Thanks to the aloe vera it’s instantly moisturising and leaves skin feeling really soft. It’s not greasy though and sinks in quickly too. While it’s not traditionally fake tan-like, the smell is slightly alcoholic, which could put some people off. That said, it does build up a lovely brown tan after a couple of applications and is also paraben-free, which is good if your skin is easily irritated.
4. St Moriz Dry Oil Self Tanning Mist, 150ml: £8, Feel Unique
This fake tan has a pleasant, coconutty smell and the colour – which was natural-looking – developed in about six hours. It was definitely noticeable after one application but that means you have to make sure you rub the liquid in evenly otherwise you’ll be left with obvious tan lines. Although not particularly moisturising (it’s advisable to moisturise the drier parts of your body afterwards), the mist sinks in speedily.
5. Dr Organic Moroccan Glow Medium Self Tan Mousse, 150ml: £14.99, Holland & Barratt
As a mousse, this gradual tanner is slightly more fun to apply than simple lotions. What’s more, it’s made using mostly plant-derived, natural and organic ingredients including argan oil. It has a slightly peculiar but nice spiced fragrance which reminded us of Christmas (think cloves and cinnamon), but it develops a sun-kissed colour after a couple of applications and there was no waiting around for the mousse to sink in before dressing.
6. Dove Derma Spa Summer Revived Fair to Medium Skin Body Lotion, 200ml: £3.39, Boots
One of the high street’s most popular fake tans for decades, Dove’s moisturising gradual tan lotion focuses on caring and hydrating the skin more than others. For that reason, it does take a little longer to fully absorb. We used the darker of the two shades which meant we saw a noticeable difference after one application, and the colour that developed was really natural-looking. This one does have a slightly more traditional fake tan smell, though. It’s great value at less than four quid.
7. Sunkissed Medium Bronze Gradual Tanning Lotion 250ml: £3.99, Superdrug
This tanning lotion smells delicious and sweet (but possibly isn’t one for those who aren’t a fan of anything too sickly). The cream is thick and opaque at first but absorbs quickly. You need a couple of applications to notice the difference, but it builds up a good colour after a few days. At this price, it’s a total bargain too.
The Verdict: Gradual fake tans
The product from Palmers smells dreamy, is easy to apply, creates a beautiful colour and is extremely affordable, so it gets our Best Buy.
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