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22 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions: Reviews & Buying Guide

by  Doris Harris -  Last Updated On 28th December 2020
Best Gradual Tanning Lotions

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Our skin achieves a deep tan in stages over time.

The bronze builds each time we tan indoors or outside.

That’s why it makes sense to use the best gradual tanning lotions when you self-tan.

You will look naturally bronzed, and the color will last longer.

What Is Gradual Tanning Lotion?

If you saw my reviews of the best self tanners for fair skin, you were introduced to gradual tanning lotion.

Instead of a mousse, serum, spray, or towelette, it’s a moisturizer with a low DHA concentration.

DHA (dihydroxyacetone) reacts with the top layer of your skin to bronze it. It’s similar to the chemical reaction that happens when you leave a slice of apple exposed to the air (1).

Happily, DHA is FDA-approved for external use. It takes a few hours to deepen your color. And its effects last anywhere from three to ten days.

If you use a gradual tanning lotion each day, you will build and maintain your color even as your skin exfoliates (2).

You could say that these are the best tanning moisturizers for fair skin.

The top self-tanning lotions bronze you subtly as if you were spending a few minutes out in the sun each day. They also hydrate your skin and defend against premature aging like wrinkles.

Some lotions may also offer sunscreen. That’s convenient as it’s vital to protect your skin against UV radiation while you use self-tanning products. The bronze that they create won’t protect you from sunburn. Even a base tan only gives you a small amount of protection (3).

Quick Comparison

If you don’t have time to read the complete article, here are our top picks.

How to Get the Most out of a Gradual Tanning Lotion

Whenever you apply self tanner, it will work best when you’ve exfoliated first. Shower with a washcloth or loofah and concentrate on areas where your skin tends to be driest. Don’t forget your elbows, knees, and ankles (4).

In fact, apply less sunless tanner on your ankles, knees, and elbows to avoid turning them darker than the rest of your body.

If you’re worried about applying gradual tan lotion evenly, purchase one that has a tint. The color will show you which parts you’ve already covered.

Now let’s streamline your shopping with these reviews of the top self-tanning lotions.

22 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions (2021 Update)

1. St. Tropez Gradual Tan Tinted Body

St. Tropez makes some of the best sunless tanning products on the market. That’s why I think that their tinted natural body lotion is the best gradual tanner. It will build your color as if you were spending time suntanning.

There are multiple benefits to choosing this moisturizer. First, it doesn’t have that typical self-tan odor. Instead, it has an appealing fragrance.

Second, the hydration it gives your skin lasts up to 48 hours.

Third, it’s free of parabens and phthalates. Even the DHA is derived from natural sources.

And finally, you’ll see exactly where you’ve applied it as it has a slight tint.

Feel free to enjoy the St.Tropez Gradual Tan every day or use it two or three times a week to maintain your color.

2. Australian Gold Gradual Sunless Tanning Lotion

Australian Gold makes some of the most popular indoor tanning lotions in the world. So it’s no surprise that they’ve also created a gradual sunless tanning lotion.

Yes, this is a lotion with cosmetic bronzers that will give you instant color. But it also has DHA to develop your fake tan even after you wash off the bronzers. (It’s still smart to wait at least four hours before you bathe after applying this lotion.)

The cream has an exotic blend of moisturizers like shea butter, Maka extract, and Kakadu Plum. These keep your skin soft while caffeine and antioxidants firm and repair it.

Please note that this is not made to use on your face. There are other products below for facial self-tanning.

3. Fake Bake Fair Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion

Fake Bake has an amusing brand name and a seriously good product. This lotion is perfect for pale skin as it progressively builds color.

The slight amount of cosmetic color ensures that you can see where you’ve applied it. Then DHA and erythrulose deepen your “tan” over the next few hours.

The company does not use parabens or formaldehyde-release or called DMDM Hydantoin in their formula.

4. Neutrogena Build-A-Tan Gradual Sunless Tanning Lotion

Neutrogena put parabens in their sunless tanning lotion, but it performs well in clinical tests. It’s proven to develop a streak-free bronze in as little as two hours.

The lotion has a mild scent, and it dries in about five minutes. Remember to wash your hands after you use it to avoid staining them.

5. Norvell Prolong Sunless Tanning Color Extender Moisturizing Lotion

Norvell is a manufacturer of professional spray-tan products. They also sell a tan extender lotion with DHA. You can use this to maintain your spray tan or build a gradual bronze.

The moisturizing effects last for 24 hours after you apply it. Plus, enzymes repair damaged skin.

The formula is vegan and free of parabens, sulfates, and gluten.

6. COOLA Organic Sunless Tan Body Lotion

The best gradual, organic tan moisturizer is probably this one from COOLA. It’s mild enough to use every day on your face as well as your body.

Then, three key ingredients make your skin healthier. While green coffee beans and pea extract speed up circulation, brown algae make the skin more elastic.

7. Alba Botanica Sunless Gradual Tanner Lotion

Alba Botanica promises that you won’t have to deal with streaks when you use their sunless tan lotion. It’s also free of artificial fragrances, phthalates, parabens, and gluten.

Within three hours, you should see a difference in the color of your skin. It will also feel silky smooth from the sweet almond oil and shea butter.

8. L’Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanning Milk

One of my favorite drugstore’s gradual tanning lotions is made by L’Oreal. It’s usually easy to find the medium shade.

The self-tanning milk is rich in Vitamin E to reverse environmental damage done to your skin.

You can maximize your color by using L’Oreal’s self-tanning towelettes then applying this lotion once your skin is dry.

9. Sally Hansen Air Brush Legs Light Glow Lotion

Sally Hansen understands that our legs are difficult to tan. But the Light Glow Lotion will disguise varicose veins and freckles and bronze pale skin.

It’s water-resistant, which is a bonus. Unfortunately, some users have complained that the scent is somewhat disagreeable and the texture a little sticky.

10. Ocean Potion Ever Glow Self Tanning Lotion

Ocean Potion promises that you’ll have maximum color within a week of using their lotion every day. Choose the shade you want, like fair to medium. Then enjoy skin-conditioning ingredients like coconut oil, cocoa seed butter, and aloe.

11. Jergens Skincare Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer

Jergens will help you skip a step and still get bronzed. This moisturizer is made to use before you dry off after a shower. It’s a body lotion and a self-tanner.

Moreover, it’s perfect for daily use and won’t stain clothing or towels.

12. Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer for Body

But if you prefer a traditional moisturizer, try this Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer from Jergens. It’s available for fair to medium and medium to tan skin tones. Even if you only use it once, the color won’t fade entirely for a week.

As for the moisturizing properties of the lotion, I’ve heard no complaints. It’s packed with Vitamin E and antioxidants plus skin conditioners.

13. Banana Boat Self-Tanning Lotion

Banana Boat makes a self-tanning lotion for all skin types. It has no oil in it so that it won’t feel greasy or tacky. It takes just a few minutes to dry. Plan on using it at least two or three times a week, if not every day.

14. Hempz Yuzu & Starfruit Touch Of Summer Moisturizing Gradual Self-tanning Crème

Hempz makes crowd-pleasing tanning lotions and moisturizers, and  I am happy they’ve also developed the Gradual Self-Tanning Creme.

The base is hemp seed oil, an excellent moisturizer for sensitive skin. Furthermore, the vegan formula is free of parabens and gluten.

Each day that you apply the lotion, it subtly enhances your color. It also firms and nourishes your skin with mango, Coffea Arabica, lemon peel, and chamomile.

15. Beauty by Earth Self Tanner with Organic & Natural Ingredients

If you’re looking for a natural self-tanner, another excellent choice is this one from Beauty by Earth. It’s based on organic shea butter, green tea, and coconut oil. It even comes with a satisfaction guarantee.

It shouldn’t turn your skin orange, either.

16. Suave Professionals Visible Glow Self-Tanning Body Lotion

Suave tested their fake tan lotion against St. Tropez. A clinical trial showed that it works just as well.

That’s good news as this product is considerably cheaper than St.Tropez. On the downside, it has parabens and an artificial fragrance.

For best results, apply only a thin layer to places like your ankles, knees, and elbows as those tend to darken faster.

17. Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Natural Bronze Body Lotion for Unisex

Palmer’s lotion has an important characteristic. Users say that it doesn’t tend to darken their elbows or knees more than the rest of their body. It also doesn’t rub off on their clothes.

If you’re looking for a less expensive product to give you just a light bronze, try this one.

18. Bahama Tan Gradual Self Tanner

Bahama Tan’s lotion won’t streak, blotch, or turn your skin orange. It’s made for both your face and body.

The company uses Eco-Cert-approved DHA, natural preservatives, and organic ingredients. They don’t include parabens, formaldehyde, propylene glycol, or artificial fragrances.

Instead, they moisturize the skin with goodies like shea butter, Argan Oil, and Babassu oil. Plus, this is a product made in the USA.

19. Self Tanner For Face – Sunless Tanning Serum by GOLDEN STAR BEAUTY

Golden Star Beauty’s packaging and advertising resemble that of Asian-made products, but this is another lotion produced in the USA. It’s made in small batches to keep it fresh.

The serum has anti-aging properties, and it’s non-comedogenic to avoid causing acne. It works for all skin tones, too.

There are no parabens, dyes, or gluten in the formula.

20. Tan Towel On The Glow Body Self Tanning Moisturizer

If you use Tan Towel’s moisturizer every day, your skin will be one shade darker within a week. It has no dye or cosmetic bronzer in it. But it features jojoba, avocado, and olive oils to seal in moisture.

The same company makes other sunless products that provide a more intense color more quickly. Then you can use a moisturizer to extend that tan.

21. BAJA BAE Bronze Tanning Lotion for Indoor Tanning Beds

This isn’t just a gradual tanning moisturizer. It’s also an indoor tanning lotion with self tanner. It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee to allow you to try it without risking your paycheck.

If you’re tired of feeling sticky or greasy after putting on lotion, you’ll appreciate how smooth your skin feels after using this one. Furthermore, it has a delicious scent – a blend of caramel, coconut oil, and Mexican vanilla.

22. Snooki SHORE TO PLEASE Tanning Bed Lotion

Snooki’s line of indoor tanning lotions often includes ones with DHA to deepen your bronze. There’s nothing wrong with using them even if you don’t visit a sunbed or lay outdoors. They are excellent moisturizers.

One of the advantages of Shore To Please is that it doesn’t have cosmetic bronzers in it. It also tones your skin to hide cellulite with Coenzyme Q10 and caffeine.


What’s the hurry? Develop a natural-looking tan with gradual tanning lotion.

You’ll see a difference within a few hours after the first application. Then use it for a few more days to deepen your color to a rich bronze.

Also, lotions like these are excellent for maintaining your real tan or spray tan long after vacation has ended.

If you discovered a new favorite product today, let me know in the comments below.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dihydroxyacetone accessed August 30, 2019

2. https://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/beauty/sun-care/question639.htm published May 18, 2001, accessed August 30, 2019

3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/problem-tanning-myth-base-tan-2017041211528 by Robert H. Shmerling, published April 12, 2017, accessed August 30, 2019

4. https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/skin-care/self-tanner-how-to-apply accessed August 30, 2019

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