Self tanning review and compare

How to get the bronzed look without the harmful rays.
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  • Updated:4 Oct 2006

01 .Introduction

Woman at beach

User trial of 21 self-tanning products from $4.67 to $41 per 100ml

159 people trialled the 21 self-tanners for us, with each product being trialled an average of 15 times. Each participant trialled two products.

We asked our trialists to assess:

  • How easy the products are to apply.
  • How long they take to dry.
  • If they have a nice smell.
  • Whether they stained anything other than skin.
  • How the colour looked one and five days after application.
  • How even the colour was.

CHOICE tests are different. We buy the products we test — no freebies from manufacturers. Companies can't buy ads on our site and our work is funded by people like you.

Please note: this information was current as of October 2006 but is still a useful guide today.


  • Our results show that a big name or a higher price is no guarantee of how much you’ll like a product. While some of the pricier products rated highly, a few cheaper options also did well.
  • You’ll find lotions, pump sprays, aerosols, towelettes, gels and mousses, but the trialists didn’t consistently prefer any type over another.

Brands trialled

  • LE TAN

What else you'll get in this report

As well as the trialists' ratings of 21 sunless tanners you'll also get:

  • Information about the colour, evenness, drying times and scent of the products.
  • Useful tanning tips.

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What to buy
Brand Price (per 100ml)
ELLA BACHÉ Great Tan Without Sun $27.69
LANCÔME Sôleil Flash Bronzer $33.33
GARNIER AMBRE SOLAIRE No Streaks Bronzer $13.20

Results table

Full results for all products are shown in the table below.

Product (in rank order) Overall score1
Easy to apply Looked even (1 day after application) Looked natural (1 day after application) Darkness Type of product Price ($)* Price3
per 100 mL or g ($)
ELLA BACHÉ Great Tan Without Sun 80 Fairly Fairly Fairly About right Lotion 36.00 27.69
LANCÔME Soleil Flash Bronzer Mousse 80 Very Fairly Fairly About right Mousse 50.00 33.33
CLARINS Instant Gel 70 Fairly Very Very A little too light Gel 40.00 33.33
CLINIQUE Self-sun Quick Bronze Tinted (deep) 70 Very Fairly Fairly About right Gel 30.00 24.00
GARNIER Ambre Solaire No-Streaks Bronzer Spray 70 Very Fairly Fairly About right Aerosol 16.50 13.20
SHISEIDO Brilliant Bronze Emulsion 70 Very Fairly Fairly About right Lotion 41.00 41.00
ST TROPEZ Whipped Bronze Instant Mousse 70 Fairly Fairly Fairly About right Mousse 39.95 (A) 33.29
AVEDA Sun Source 60 Very Very Very A little too light Lotion 39.95 26.63
BANANA BOAT Instant Sunless Tanning Lotion (light / medium) 60 Fairly Very Fairly A little too light Lotion 14.95 8.90
CHRISTIAN DIOR Bronze Spray 60 Fairly Mixed opinions Fairly About right Pump spray 42.00 33.60
INNOXA Sun Defence Mousse 60 Very Fairly Fairly A little too light Mousse 19.95 11.40
LE TAN Fast — Le Tan in Le Can (bronze glow) 60 Fairly Mixed opinions Fairly About right Aerosol 16.95 9.69
L’OREAL Sublime Bronze Multi-position Anti-streaking Spray 60 Fairly Fairly Fairly About right Aerosol 20.75 16.60
NEUTROGENA Instant Bronze Sunless Tanner Foam (medium) 60 Fairly Fairly Fairly A little too light Mousse 23.00 19.49
ESTÉE LAUDER Sun Performance Sunless Towelettes 50 Fairly Fairly Fairly A little too light Towelettes 51.00 34.00
MONNÉ Express Tan Spray 50 Mixed opinions Mixed opinions Mixed opinions A little too dark Aerosol 16.95 11.30
NIVEA Sun — Sun Touch Moisturising Spray 50 Fairly Fairly Fairly A little too light Pump spray 19.25 12.83
PRICELINE Sun Gel 50 Fairly Mixed opinions Mixed opinions About right Gel 7.00 4.67
MEGAN GALE Jet Set Tan 40 Fairly Mixed opinions Fairly About right Aerosol 34.50 23.00
MODEL CO Tan Airbrush in a Can 40 Mixed opinions Mixed opinions Mixed opinions About right Aerosol 32.00 (B) 21.33
NATIO Instant Bronze Tanning Gel 40 Mixed opinions Fairly Fairly About right Gel 14.95 9.97

Table notes

* Recommended retail, as provided by manufacturers in July/August 2006
(A) This price is for 120ml; it’s also available in 240ml for $59.95 ($24.98 per 100ml).
(B) This price is for 150ml; it’s also available in 220ml for $45 ($20.45 per 100ml).

1 Overall score
The trialists gave each product an overall rating out of 10, which we converted to a percentage (rounded to the nearest 10). An overall score takes into account the trialist’s complete experience of a product, which may not be covered by amalgamating the ratings they gave for individual aspects of each self-tanner.

2 Ratings
The most significant aspects of the products that the trialists commented on.

3 Price per 100ml/g
Self-tanning products come in various sizes, so for comparison we calculated the price per 100ml/g.

ELLA BACHÉ Great Tan Without Sun

Price per 100ml: $27.69 Elle Bache tanning product

  • Rating it equal highest overall, most of our trialists thought this product gave a fairly even tan.
  • Several people said they liked the product being tinted so you could see where you’d applied it straightaway.

Trialist comment:

  • “Applied well, not too thick and you could see where you applied it. I would use this product again.”

LANCÔME Sôleil Flash Bronzer Mousse 

Price per 100ml: $33.33 lancome bronzer mousse

  • This product was also rated equal highest overall.
  • Most trialists found it very easy to apply and it had the highest proportion of trialists say that the tan still looked very natural five days after application.

Trialist comments:

  • “Very light and easy to apply. I’m confident of an even application.”
  • “Fast to develop colour and not greasy … Faded very evenly and naturally.”


Price per 100ml: $13.20Garnier no-streak bronzer

  • This product didn’t rate quite as highly overall as the top two (it scored 70% rather than 80%), but it’s less than half the price.
  • Most trialists thought it was very easy to apply and gave a fairly even and natural tan.

Trialist comment:

  • “This was easy — not streaky, no mess, dried instantly.”

Orange Alert

  • We’ve all seen the result of a bad fake tan that’s left a poor soul looking more Fanta orange than beautifully bronzed. The good news is our trialists found most products they tried produced just about the right colour of tan, although the MONNÉ Express Tan Spray was generally found to be a little too dark.
  • Several brands were found to be a little too light, but this isn’t a problem if you’re going for a subtle look, and you can always apply another layer later to deepen the colour.
  • Our trialists also thought CLARINS Instant Gel and AVEDA Sun Source produced a very natural colour one day after application.
  • Perhaps the only thing worse than ending up orange is ending up orange and stripy. The best way to help you get an even tan is to exfoliate properly first (see Tanning tips).
  • Our trialists thought CLARINS, AVEDA and BANANA BOAT Instant Sunless produced a very even tan one day after application.


  • Don’t expect your tan to last more than a few days without reapplying.
  • Most of the products on trial don’t make any claims about their durability and trialists found most of them didn’t last for five days with only one application.
  • Of the products on trial, LANCÔME Sôleil Flash Bronzer Mousse rated best for retaining a very natural and even-looking tan after five days.


  • Our trialists had some very different ideas about how the products smell — it’s clearly a very personal preference. For example, one trialist commented that one of the products had an unpleasant “chemical hair product” smell, while another didn’t think it had any smell at all.
  • However, the highest proportion of trialists thought SHISHEIDO Brilliant Bronze, NIVEA Sun — Sun Touch, PRICELINE Sun Gel and AVEDA had a very pleasant fragrance.


  • Fake tans can stain towels, clothes, bed linen and carpets. The MODEL CO Tan Airbrush had the highest proportion of trialists saying it stained something other than their skin during or after its application.
  • Like many of the fake tans, this product does have a warning on its packaging that it will stain some materials, so it’s a good idea not to wear light-coloured or expensive clothes immediately after applying any tan.

Drying times

  • Drying times varied between products. INNOXA Sun Defence and NEUTROGENA Instant Bronze were found to dry in less than one minute by the highest proportion of trialists.
  • At the other end of the scale, L’OREAL Sublime Bronze and PRICELINE were found to take 20 minutes or longer to dry more often than the other products.
  • Before applying the tan, remove any dry skin and dead skin cells by exfoliating with a body scrub or loofah. Pay particular attention to dry areas such as elbows, knees and ankles. Failing to exfoliate may lead to your tan flaking off prematurely with the dead skin or leave your skin looking cracked and lizardy.
  • If it’s the first time you’ve used a product, you might want to test it on a small (and inconspicuous) patch of skin first to see if you like the colour.
  • Apply the tan according to the directions on the particular product. Generally, you should use it sparingly around your elbows, knees, ankles and hairline.
  • Wear disposable latex gloves to avoid staining your hands.
  • A tinted product allows you to see where you’ve applied it straightaway. Some other products are clear (your skin becomes tanned as the result of a chemical reaction with the product over time) and it can be difficult to judge the evenness of the tan as you’re applying it.
  • Try to avoid contact with water for about three hours after applying the tan. This includes activities that’ll make you sweat, as it could streak the tan.
  • If you realise you’ve had a tanning disaster, there are some self-tan remover products available.

Leave it to a pro?

  • A spray-on tan is a popular alternative to DIY tanning products. This involves an operator spraying the tanning product onto your skin with an airbrush.
  • You can get it done at a salon, but there are also a number of mobile tanning companies that will come to your home.
  • The operator should get you to stand in the shower while they apply the tan so they can wipe down any excess product afterwards. Some companies bring a portable booth for you to stand in.
  • It takes around 10–15 minutes for a full-body application and costs between $35 and $50. The tan should last for seven to 10 days.

Not a sunscreen

  • Self-tanning products don’t protect you from exposure to the sun. None of the products in this trial contains sunscreen, but even fake tans that do only provide short-term protection for two to four hours after application, not for the length of time the tan remains on the skin.