7 self-tanners our editors swear by and actually use in real life

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Finding the right self-tanner can seem like a never-ending journey. Thanks to a multitude of popular brands, new formulas and attention-grabbing packaging, finding your own holy grail of self-tanners is downright difficult.

And unless you regularly test out self-tanners, how are you supposed to know where to start? Do you start with a mousse and a mitt? Are self-tanning drops the way to go? What about a gradual lotion?

Luckily, In The Know editors have the chance to try the good, the bad and the streaky of self-tanners and are here to tell you which formulas are worth your money. Keep scrolling to get the lowdown on seven self-tanners (plus a few prep items) that In The Know editors love and use in real life.

Shopping editor-recommended self-tanners

1. St. Tropez Luxe Whipped Crème Mousse, $48

Credit: Ulta

“I’m super fair-skinned, so finding a self-tanner that looks believable on me is rare, but this whipped mousse from St. Tropez always does the trick. The lightweight texture is like nothing else I’ve tried, and the airy consistency and guide color make it easy to apply the tan streak-free. Plus, this formula dries quickly (so you can avoid any downtime!) and it leaves me looking sun-kissed and glowy. If you’re new to the world of self-tanners, this is where I’d recommend starting.” Julia Webb

2. TAN-LUXE The Face Illuminating Self-Tanning Drops, $50

Credit: TAN-LUXE

“I’ve been mixing these self-tanning drops into my moisturizer every day for the past few years and have yet to find a rival product. They’re highly pigmented; I just add two drops into my morning face oil and within two hours am left with a warm, natural glow without any scent or orange tint. It’s a totally customizable tan, add more or less depending on the results you want and it can easily be removed with a deep facial cleansing.” Danielle Gonzalez

3. Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Mist Oil, $32

Credit: Isle of Paradise

“This is one of Isle of Paradise’s newest products, but I bet it’ll quickly become a best seller this season. This oil mist is clear, so you don’t have to worry about staining your sheet or clothes — just spray the tan directly onto your skin, evenly spread it with a mitt and you’re all set. The formula is also super hydrating and ‘clinically proven to lock in moisture for up to 24 hours,’ so I feel like I’m doing my skin a favor when applying it. Grab it in light, medium or dark depending on your desired shade.” Julia Webb

4. Jergens Natural Glow +FIRMING Self Tanner, $8.88 (Orig. $9.49)

Credit: Amazon

“To be honest, self-tanners scare me. The potential for an uneven tan, streaks and general bathroom messiness is way too high, which is why this tube of Jergens has been my go-to for years. It’s definitely more body lotion than self-tanner on the sliding scale. Just apply it like regular body lotion after a shower and after a few days, you’ll notice a significant glow to your skin. It’s a classic for a reason!” Sarah Weldon

5. St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse, $44

Credit: St. Tropez

“One thing I don’t like about self-tanning and spray tans is the wait time. You usually have to wait four to eight hours before showering or working out. However, the St. Tropez Express Tanning Mousse will give you a great tan in as little as one hour. The mousse goes on pretty dark, so you can see exactly where you’ve applied it, too. After applying it, you can let it sit for an hour to get a light tan and up to three hours for a darker tan, before showering it off. One thing to note, however, is that after showering, your tan will still need a few hours to fully develop — you just won’t need to smell or feel the self-tanner on your skin. Apply it in the morning before getting ready for work or use it before bed to keep your sheets from smelling like tanner.” Ellie Conley

6. TAN-LUXE Illuminating Gradual Tan Lotion, $34

Credit: TAN-LUXE

“After having such a great experience with The Face drops, I figured I’d love The Body drops, but found it to be a bit laborious to add drops to every pump of body oil or lotion I was spreading across my body. The Gradual is an oil and lotion hybrid that has a seamless application and blends easily, so you don’t have to stress about streaks, and there’s no strong scent. Results usually appear within a few hours and last about 48 hours, so I typically reapply every other day.” Danielle Gonzalez

7. TAN-LUXE The Water Hydrating Tanning Water, $48

Credit: TAN-LUXE

This self-tanner goes on clear, isn’t sticky and actually smells good. I like to spray this one on in the morning, rub it in with a mitt and go on with my day. By the end, I’ll have a nice glow. While you can’t see exactly where you’ve sprayed your tan, the more you use, the darker your tan will be.” Ellie Conley

Self-tan prep products worth a buy

Pro tip: Before applying a self-tanner, it’s important to prep your skin so that your tan applies evenly and, more important, fades evenly. You’ll want to exfoliate and moisturize dry areas beforehand (like your knees, elbows and heels) and consistently moisturize your skin as your tan wears on.

1. Cleanlogic Bath and Body Dual-Texture Body Exfoliator, $18.39 for three

Credit: Cleanlogic

This dual-sided body exfoliator features a textured side for exfoliating and a terry cloth side for soothing dry skin. You can use this in tandem with a physical exfoliant (like your fave sugar scrub) if you really need a good scrub or can use it totally on its own. This gentle scrubber is also great to use when you’re ready to get rid of your old self-tan and apply a fresh coat.

2. Kopari Exfoliating Crush Scrub, $39

Credit: Sephora

Packed with brown sugar and coconut oil, this exfoliating scrub smells incredible and works just as well. You can apply it to dry skin prior to jumping in the shower or to wet skin while in the shower. Plus, its formula is vegan, cruelty-free and comes in recyclable packaging.

3. Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Body Cream, $48

Credit: Sephora

A hydrating body cream is essential when it comes to both prepping for and maintaining a tan. This body cream from Sol de Janeiro is popular for plenty of reasons. For starters, it smells like heaven (it has hints of vanilla, caramel and pistachio), it’s fast-absorbing and it works to visibly tighten and firm your skin. While the name suggests this cream is perfect for your booty, you can use it all over.

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