In 2023, it’s harder to find a bad fake tanning product than a good one. (The days of patchy orange awfulness are surely the only ‘90s trend that will not be resurfacing.) So, if nearly everything on the market is good, what makes some of our favourite products rise above the rest? Those that give us options. Finicky about texture? Hate colour transferring onto your sheets? Still chasing the spray tan high but hate leaving the house? We promise, you’re covered – pun very much intended. Then there’s the clever products that elevate the whole post-application experience (less muss, fuss or hideous stickiness), plus new ways to make removal of your old tan virtually effortless. Get ready to get your glow on, or take it off, more easily than ever before... no matter the season. Beautifully bronzed limbs aren't just a summer accessory.
OVERALL TANNING TIPS
Of course, it’s easiest to get the most out of any tanning product you choose, and to more easily remove it, if you start with a great tan in the first place. Exfoliate the day before you apply. Then, once it’s tanning time, apply a moisturiser to dry areas like elbows and ankles (I love The Body Shop Shea Body Butter for this). Apply your tan of choice with a mitt (my go-to is this one by Bondi Sands) and blend any tricky areas with a big brush (I use Real techniques’ Foundation Makeup Blender).
If you want a luxe experience
Tanned by Charlie Societé
Everything about this product is elegant, from the matte neutral packaging, to the Gucci Bloom-esque scent, to the cream formula itself, which is a pleasure to smooth on and gives a truly orange-free colour to the skin. My only request for any alteration is that they make it in larger bottles with a pump pack, for even easier application. The heady floral scent is very strong, presumably to mask the scent inherent in the tanning agent, DHA (from which there is no escape in any product), but it makes a nice change from the usual coconut options. Once developed, it leaves an incredibly natural colour. I have found you need to apply it two nights in a row for a very deep tan, but it does look wonderful after just a single application. And unlike with the usual mousse, spray or lotion options, the cream formula leaves skin feels softened and nourished in the days afterward, ideal in dry or cooler seasons.
If you want spray tan-level bronzing
Loving Tan Deluxe Bronzing Mousse in Ultra Dark
This gives such a great deep tan with just one application, that applying a second layer can even be a bit much, which is pretty unheard of for an at-home tan. You definitely need to exfoliate first and apply with care, but that’s a small ask for this level of pigment pay off. There’s no strong scent, either. The only downside is that the amazing colour fades relatively quickly. Fairly understandable, though, given it would be hard to keep up such an intense shade with everyday wear and tear on the skin from showering, sweating etc. This would be your best bet for a special summer event when more of your body may be on show.
If you want zero mess
TAN-LUXE Hydra-Mousse Self Tanner in Medium/Dark
After a disastrous experience with a similar product from a different brand (great, there was zero colour when applying it, but there was zero colour after it had ‘developed’, too), I was skeptical about testing this one, but ended up being very pleased I did. When I applied one coat all over, with an extra layer on my limbs, I woke up the next day to look like I had applied gradual tan for two or three days in a row. It wasn’t a deep colour, but definitely noticeable. It has a sweet, pleasant scent. Best of all, given the product is clear until it develops, there was nothing on my sheets the next morning or bronzey muck all over my towels. As with all ‘clear’ tanning products, there’s no guide colour, so take care to apply in big wide circles versus stripes. That way, once the colour has processed, you won’t funny you’ve created funny looking patterns instead of even colour. It’s worth noting that some tan may still show up on your sheets after a day or two, but not in huge crime-scene-horror patches of bronze, which happens if you sleep in a normal tan before washing it off. I did need to use about a fifth of the bottle for a single application, so it’s not a particularly budget-friendly option, but then, what price do you put on keeping your white linens white?
FAKE IT WHILE YOU MAKE IT
Bronzie Chelsea After Tan Jumpsuit
This might just be my favourite tanning innovation, ever. Bronzie founder Leanne LeGuen worked on this for years before making it available to purchase, and it shows. Who would have thought something designed to cover you from neck to ankle while you bounce around the house braless could look even vaguely fetching? And yet, here we are. There are breathable armpit patches. The cuffs at wrists and ankles leave no marks in your still-setting tan. It’s long enough in the body for those of us long-in-torso, so there’s no camel toe concerns, and you can adjust the zip and drawstring to make it flattering and comfy for your individual body shape. Cleverly, the hood means your neck is covered if you’re sitting against a fabric chair (ie marinating on the couch watching Netflix, as the tanning gods intended). The fabric is soft and not hot, though admittedly, unless it’s winter time, I rarely marinate without the air con set to ‘freeze a penguin’. And I would be remiss not to mention that the touches of leopard add a little dash of fun New Jersey Housewives-esque glamour to decidedly unglamorous proceedings.
Tanzee Self Tan Bed Sheet Protector
Aka ‘a sleeping bag, but make it glamorous’. This is another very clever innovation that easily falls into the ‘how did someone not think of this sooner’ category. It’s a person-sized silky sack that you slip between your own normal bottom and top sheet, and then wriggle into like an ungainly, biscuit-scented caterpillar. I was concerned the fabric may be hot, which it isn’t, though as mentioned, if I am tanning, then I am most often to be found in maxed-out levels of air-conditioning. My favourite elements? There’s a fold to put over your top sheet or doona, so you won’t get marks on those if you like to sleep with your arms out, and a slip pocket for your pillow so there’s no dirty neck tan marks on it, come the morning.
The fairy dust
ModelCo Self-Tan Drying Powder With Brush
Straight after you’ve invested time and patience in applying your tan is, ironically, the time you’re most likely to want to forget the whole thing and rinse it off. You’re sticky, schvitzy, and generally a little over the whole thing. And that’s before you have to face getting dressed. Enter ModelCo, one of the original tanning brands and still one of the best, and its star pair of a tub of loose, slightly shimmery powder, and a big soft fluffy brush. As soon as you’ve applied your tan (and while it’s still wet), you can dust the powder onto areas where tan tends to collect and leave you feeling uncomfortable – generally under your bust, under your arms, between your thighs, and behind your knees – and feel instant relief. It makes a real difference, especially in the warmer months, to not feeling like you have to flap about waiting for your tan to dry. No one enjoys dancing about with their arms and legs akimbo like some deranged, sweaty cowboy.
LET’S TAKE THE WHOLE THING OFF
Soaps and soaks
ModelCo Tan Remover Exfoliating Soap
This hot pink soap bar is incredibly satisfying to use, as it feels so gritty. I found it best to run a hot bath, get to scrubbing while soaking, and then have a final go at any stubborn bits in the shower. You can use the sides to easily cover larger areas or the ends to get into tricky areas, like the heel and ankles.
If you want a Cleopatra moment while removing your tan (and really, who among us…?) this is the way to do it. It’s a sparkly one-use wonder that is basically a tan-removing bath bomb. Once dissolved, it leaves the water – as well as your tub, a bit annoyingly – a pretty milky pink, with a lovely soapy, floral, citrus scent. Spoiler alert: there’s a surprise piece of rose quartz in the middle, which I could happily live without, but if it pleases you, great. Soaking in this and then using a removal mitt, more of which below, is a pleasant, easy way of getting rid of your tan, though not the most budget-friendly or the most thorough. Think of it as a lovely, indulgent way to perform an otherwise irritating part of beauty maintenance.
My Glow 2 Fake Tan Removal Glove
Made of a plant-based alternative to silk, this mitt makes tan removal A Process, but a mightily satisfying one. Its thick elastic cuff can make it a little tricky to get on and off in the shower as you need to change hands to do different parts of the body, but it does mean it won’t slip off. The fabric is definitely rough, and if you’re sensitive or not used to physical exfoliating, that may take some getting used to, but it gets the job done. It gives me more joy than is perhaps quite proper to admit to see the little balled up bits of tan and dead skin collect – happily, or revoltingly, depending on your outlook, the more grit you collect, the more easily you can remove even more. I do wish the mitt itself wasn’t cream, as it does look a little dingy after a few uses, but the upside is you can see easily what it’s removing. It gets rid of every skerrick of tan, makes shaving afterwards a dream, should you choose to add that in to your routine, and leaves skin feeling gorgeous.
Glowdry GlowOff Removal Mitt
This is probably my favourite ever exfoliating mitt in terms of practicality of use. It has a smart design incorporating thumb holes, which means it stays on without being hard to easily swap to the other hand, it’s black, so it doesn’t look dirty, and it’s nice and thick, so the fabric doesn’t buckle under the friction of scrubbing and isn’t too harsh. However, even using it in conjunction with a physical exfoliant product, I would say it fades a tan, rather than fully removes it. I first tested it on day six of a double tan application, so with lots of heavy pigment still hanging about, and it brought me back to a colour similar to my natural skin tone and removed patchy bits, though I still wasn’t at my own skin tone. Depending on your needs, that can either be a good or bad thing. There are times I want every last bit gone, and other times I just want to easily be brought back to a starting point for a fresh tan, and this happily meets the latter requirement.
Lotions and potions
TAN-LUXE Glyco Water Self Tanner Remover & Primer and TANOLOGIST Tan Eraser and Primer
I didn’t really hold out much hope for chemical tan removal products prior to testing these two options, but now I am a complete convert. Both the TAN-LUXE liquid spray and the TANOLOGIST foam come in large 200ml bottle, which is a good amount given both sets of instructions say to use plenty with each application; enough to work up a lather. You leave either one on for a couple of minutes to get to work, then remove in the shower with a face washer – white for preference, to see all the old tan that comes off. I have skin that gets easily sensitised, and do find after a couple of minutes of leaving these products to work their exfoliating magic they start to sting a little bit, but I would often take that over the harsh scrubbing that many exfoliating scrubs require. Chemical exfoliants aren’t what I’d use to remove a fresh tan from my whole body; they work best once your tan is a few days old and already patchy. I particularly like using these on the places old tan really sticks to and is harder to get at with a glove – sides of forearms, inside the elbows, underarms, tops of feet, and the heels and ankles. I found both of these products to be equally effective, so the difference in preference will come down to texture. I did slightly prefer the thick, fluffy texture of the TANOLOGIST moussey foam, but my skin tends towards dryness. The TAN-LUXE liquid utilises the brand’s signature scent, which is fresh and slightly fruity, whereas the TANOLOGIST foam is scented, like the rest of that range, more like a floral hairspray. Neither scent lingers at all once the products have done their (excellent) jobs, and been rinsed away.
Story by Zoe Briggs. Main image from Pinterest via Instagram @charliesociete.