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15 best fake tans for hot girl summer: From mousse to gel formulas

There’s not a biscuit-like scent, streaky finish or tangerine hue to be found in our round-up

Ellie Fry
Thursday 01 July 2021 08:45
<p>We’ve scoured through mousses, lotions and more to find the perfect sun-kissed glow </p>

We’ve scoured through mousses, lotions and more to find the perfect sun-kissed glow

As many of us face another summer with zero travel plans, we’re lusting after that post-holiday glow more than ever, so now is the time to fake it until you make it (quite literally).

While you keep refreshing the government website in the hope of a green list update, why not raise your spirits with a fake tan that will help you stay golden all year long.

One of the more controversial beauty products, many of us steer clear of fake tanning through fear of looking like an oompa loompa, smelling like a biscuit or staining our bed sheets.

But fake tan formulas have moved on from the days of streakiness and startling shades. Traditional mousses are still a firm favourite, but brands are finding new ways to get us glowing, from tanning waters and gels to mists and serums.

We’ve been on the hunt for the best formulas on the market and as avid fake tanners ourselves, our criteria was strict. The bronzers that made the cut had to apply easily leaving no streaks. We rejected any that had the biscuit-like, telltale scent and were looking for shades that produced an authentic looking tan, whether they were light or dark. We also considered how the tan lasted and didn’t include any that went patchy after a couple of days, or irritated our skin.

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The best fake tans for 2021 are:

  • Best natural tan colour – St Tropez self tan express bronzing gel: £28.05, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for dry skin – Isle of Paradise self tanning butter: £11.30, Boots.com
  • Best fake tan mousse – Filter by Molly Mae tanning mousse: £20, Prettylittlething.com
  • Best for no stickiness or transfer – Fake bake flawless darker self tan & mitt: £25.85, Feelunique.com
  • Best easy to apply mousse – St.Tropez Tan x Ashley Graham limited edition ultimate glow kit: £25.33, Boots.com
  • Best colour corrective technology –  Isle of Paradise self-tanning mousse in dark: £13.30, Boots.com
  • Best tanning lotion – Sosu by Susanne Jackson dripping gold lotion: £17.50, Beautybay.com
  • Best budget fake tan – St Moriz colour correcting mousse: £9.99, Superdrug.com
  • Best sustainability credentials – Australian Glow one hour express self tan mousse in dark: £15.99, Superdrug.com
  • Best instant colour pay-off – James Read glow 20 body mousse: £30, Next.co.uk
  • Best for quick absorption – Bondi Sands aero aerated tanning foam: £11.89, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for layering – Effin Hair effin light to medium tanning mousse: £11.50, Effinhair.com
  • Best for beginners – St Tropez purity bronzing water gel: £18.30, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best scent – Doll Beauty doll tan, medium: £15, Beautybay.com
  • Best for a deep tan – UTAN cherry and almond turbo mousse: £24, Utan.co.uk

St Tropez self tan express bronzing gel

Best: Natural tan colour

  • Developing time: One hour for a light tan, two hours for a medium tan and three hours for a dark tan
  • Available shades: One (customisable)

We love a gel formula, as they offer a more natural finish than a mousse and are less streaky than liquids. We’ve tried nearly every one out there, but St Tropez’s newly improved offering is the best in the biz. The express tan is easily customisable; wear for one hour for a light finish; two for a medium glow and three for a deep, dark tan. Many similar formulas claim to offer a one-hour glow but fail to deliver, but this one gives the most natural golden colour to the skin in just 60 minutes, allowing you to fake that holiday glow with ease.

The lightweight gel is non-sticky, blends effortlessly and, thanks to the hyaluronic acid in the formula, feels ultra hydrating on the skin – particularly on drier types. We love how natural yet longlasting the colour is and how beautifully it fades, just like a post-holiday glow would. Plus, we didn’t experience any transfer with this one. If you’re a fan of St Tropez water-based tanning gel but want something with a bit more colour-pay off for the summer months, add this to your basket. It’s pricey, but you won’t get a more authentic looking false tan elsewhere.

Isle of Paradise self tanning butter

Best: For dry skin

  • Development time: Overnight
  • Available shades: One

If you have dry skin and struggle with traditional tanning formulas going patchy, this hydrating gel-cream will be your new best friend. Dubbed as a gradual tanner, use this in replacement of your daily moisturiser for a natural golden glow. Unlike some gradual tanners that take a while to build up colour, the results are prominent the next day, imparting a natural bronze that’s perfect for summer. The formula features green colour correcting actives to banish any orangeness and even out skin tone, and is also infused with nourishing oils to deeply hydrate the skin. We loved the fresh scent (no biscuity smell here) and how quickly it absorbed into the skin. It builds easily too without any patchiness. If you’re a serial fake tanner, this is great to apply in between your next application.

Filter by Molly Mae tanning mousse

Best: Fake tan mousse

  • Development time: Four to six hours
  • Available shades: Medium, dark, ultra dark

The Love Islander’s tanning brand broke the internet when it first launched, and for good reason. It’s quite a wet-feeling mousse on first application, but the soothing ingredients such as aloe and antioxidant-rich green tea make for a hydrating formula that blends easily and feels nourishing on the skin. The brand claims that the tan delivers an illuminating glow and we’d have to agree as it left our skin looking moisturised without feeling sticky or heavy. The dark shade is a deep golden colour that isn’t at all ashy, but we’d say it’s closer to a medium colour, so go for the ultra dark shade if you’re looking for something deeper. The sweet, fruity scent is fresh without being overpowering and the buildable formula dries down within 10 minutes without clinging to any dry areas. We love the minimalist packaging too. A real staple in our tanning arsenal.

Fake bake flawless darker self tan and mitt

Best: For no stickiness or transfer

  • Development time: Four to six hours
  • Available shades: One

This is the fastest drying tan we’ve ever tried, so if you hate the tackiness of other tans or you’re impatient, we’d recommend it. It dries down completely matte, but doesn’t feel drying on the skin. With that said, application via the spray bottle is a little tricky – the initial spritz makes you look like you’ve been paintballing – but don’t let that put you off as it blends easily with no streaks or marks from where you’ve initially sprayed. We do think the spray nozzle could be improved, however, as it kept getting jammed with product. We didn’t experience any transfer with this, and the colour is deep but very natural looking. It has a slight clinical smell when you’re applying but this disappears almost instantly, and our sensitive skinned tester didn’t experience any irritation. It’s the perfect formula for those who hate the notorious stickiness of fake tans. It’s currently out of stock, but you can sign up to get notified upon its return.

St.Tropez Tan x Ashley Graham limited edition ultimate glow kit

Best: Easy to apply mousse

  • Development time: One hour for instant glow, eight hours for deep tan
  • Available shades: One

Plus size model Ashley Graham has teamed up with the tanning stalwart to create a limited edition glow kit, which includes St Tropez’s new whipped tanning mousse and a tanning mitt, co-created by Graham herself. The hydrating formula is infused with hyaluronic acid, rosehip oil and vitamin E to nourish and protect the skin, and it delivers on the skin, leaving it supple and glowing. We love the subtle floral fragrance, inspired by one of Graham’s favourite scents, and as with all of St Tropez’s products, this glides onto the skin without any streaks and delivers a natural, golden glow. It’s slightly darker than the brand’s gel formulas but still looks sun-kissed rather than orange.

Isle of Paradise self-tanning mousse in dark

Best: Colour corrective technology

  • Development time: Four to six hours
  • Available shades: Light, medium, dark, ultra dark

Isle of Paradise has become a powerhouse tanning brand with innovative formulas, inclusive advertising campaigns and sustainable initiatives. This mousse contains colour correcting actives and a violet base which evens out your skin tone and gives a deep coloured tan without any orange in sight. It glided on smoothly and didn’t cling on to dry areas – this is thanks to the inclusion of coconut oil which acts as a moisturiser without compromising on the tan’s colour.

A lot of ultra-dark tanning shades can come up ashy so we were sceptical of the purple undertone in this formula, but it develops into the most natural-looking tan we tried; giving us a deep looking glow while still looking golden. This smells fresh and coconut-y and develops in four to six hours, but also stays perfect for around five days after applying. It dried within minutes and left no sticky residue. Our only bugbear was that it was hard to tell what colour the tan would develop to after the initial application – it does go a lot darker so we wouldn’t recommend a double layer. The brand also launched refill pouches last year in a bid to cut down on plastic waste.

Sosu by Susanne Jackson dripping gold lotion

Best: Tanning lotion

  • Development time: Four to six hours
  • Available shades: Medium and dark

We usually steer clear of lotion formulas as they have a reputation for being far streakier than their mousse counterparts. But this offering from beauty blogger Susanne Jackson’s brand has defied all of our expectations. Infused with shea butter, coconut oil and vitamin A and E, the hydrating lotion has a thick gel-like consistency that doesn’t leave any streaks at all. We actually found the product easier to control than a mousse, and the squeeze pump on the bottle makes application even simpler.

The lotion feels soothing and moisturising on the skin thanks to its nourishing ingredients – we didn’t experience any irritation and it didn’t cling to dry patches like other formulas tend to do. The dark shade delivered a gorgeous golden brown colour that is deep but still natural looking. If all that wasn’t enough, this is one of the best tans we’ve tried when it comes to longevity – rather than going patchy after a few days like other formulas, this lasts for a week, fading naturally into a subtle glow. We are fully converted to the lotion life.

St Moriz colour correcting mousse

Best: Budget fake tan

  • Development time: Instant colour pay-off, medium tan after one hour, deep tan after eight hours
  • Available shades: Light, medium, dark, ultra dark

Do away with your preconceptions of St Moriz – the budget tanning brand has had a revamp, and with it comes more advanced formulas. Its latest colour correcting mousses aim to neutralise any unwanted tones to achieve an authentic-looking tan. Each shade has a corresponding colour correcting hue, and those shades counteract opposite tones; peach (light) brightens the skin, for example, while olive (medium) cancels redness. We were skeptical at first, but the technology does work, delivering a deep but natural looking tan and evening skin tone in the process. The formula blended well with minimal effort, but we did find that it can go patchy if you don’t exfoliate as it starts to fade. But as long as you moisturise daily and buff away any dead skin in the shower, you’re golden (literally).

Australian Glow one hour express self tan mousse in dark

Best: Sustainability credentials

  • Development time: One hour for a glow, eight hours for deep tan
  • Available shades: Dark and ultra dark

Originally founded Down Under, Australian Glow started using recycled ocean plastic for its bottles in 2019, and also created the world’s first recyclable tanning mousse refill packs, cutting down its plastic usage by 83 per cent. The tan formula itself is vegan and cruelty free, with natural ingredients such as aloe vera, green tea and shea butter to hydrate and protect the skin.

The formula glides on smoothly and without any streaks and doesn’t cling on to dry areas, and the colour-pay off is intense while still looking natural, without any orange tones. It’s one of the darkest tans we’ve tried, but still looks authentic, thanks to the purple undertone of the formula. It’s scent free, which is a real plus for those who hate that biscuity fake tan smell, but it does take a good 20 minutes to dry fully. Once you’ve finished a bottle, you can buy the recyclable refill pouches separately, which means we’re using less virgin plastic and wasting less too. Each bottle is also recyclable.

James Read glow 20 body mousse

Best: Instant colour pay-off

  • Development time:  20 minutes for a light glow, 60 minutes for a medium golden glow or 90 minutes for deeper bronzed glow
  • Available shades: One (customisable)

We love how instant the colour pay-off is with this mousse; imparting a deep golden brown hue without any ashy undertones. Applying evenly without any streaks, the mousse dries down very quickly. Having a good applicator is important when it comes to fake tanning, and this tapered nozzle gives you great control over the mousse, making it a far earlier job. The formula has a pleasant caramel scent that’s slightly sweet without being sickly, and the mousse gives a hydrated glow to the skin instantly. The colour lasts well, but make sure to moisturise every day to maintain the glow.

Bondi Sands aero aerated tanning foam

Best: For quick absorption

  • Development time: Six hours
  • Available shades: Light, medium, dark and ultra dark

Taking the mousse formula to new heights, this aerated foam from tanning heavyweight Bondi Sands is designed to instantly absorb into the skin. It has a strong smell, but if you like pina coladas that shouldn’t be a problem, and it does live up to its claims of drying instantly, with vitamin E and jojoba adding to the hydrating, effortless feel of the formula.

What we liked most about this tan was that the colour was instant: a dark, deep brown that still had golden undertones which kept it looking natural. This gives one of the most authentic finishes we’ve used; someone asked if we’d been on holiday when we wore it which is a testimony in itself. We also love how buildable this is as it doesn’t go patchy, so you can layer up. We found the applicator quite hard to use, the nozzle breaks easily and it’s hard to control how much product is dispersed, but with a bit of practice it was fine. This long-lasting formula is definitely one of our favourites.

Effin Hair effin light to medium tanning mousse

Best: For layering

  • Development time: Six to eight hours
  • Available shades: Light to medium, dark and ultra dark

We have no doubt that you’ll have seen this fake tan on your Instagram feed, and we’re pleased to say it lives up to the hype. The lightweight mousse is more watery than others we’ve tested, but it absorbs quickly and blends with minimal effort. The colour is on the warm side, but not orange. We’d recommend the light to medium shade for pale skin tones as it doesn’t have the purple undertone that some deeper tans have.

The mousse feels really kind to the skin, leaving it glowing and hydrated rather than patchy or irritated. We did find that the lightweight formula meant we had to apply a tad more product to achieve the colour and coverage we wanted, but it layers well so this wasn’t an issue. It dries down quickly too.

St Tropez purity bronzing water gel

Best: For self-tan beginners

  • Development time: Three hours for glow, eight hours for deep tan
  • Available shades: One (customisable)

Another favourite from St Tropez, its water gel formula promises extra hydration for a more long-lasting, even tan. And it delivers. It’s quickly become our go-to for an effortlessly fast glow that feels more like a moisturiser than a fake tan. We’d especially recommend this for anyone with dry skin or for fake tan newbies, as its gel formula makes application totally fool-proof and instantly hydrating.

It feels soothing and cool on the skin, with the signature tropical scent that takes us straight to the beach. The colour is golden, natural and long-lasting and the formula makes this really easy to build. It does stay quite tacky on the skin for a while after applying but there was no colour transfer on our sheets and we love its hydrating properties.

Doll Beauty doll tan, medium

Best: Scent

  • Development time: Six to eight hours
  • Available shades: Dark, medium, medium golden, deep dark

This tan had one of our favourite scents out of every formula we tested. The brand calls it a “rose-marshmallow” fragrance, but we thought it smelt more like caramel or chocolate; either way, it’s divine and not too overpowering. Perhaps the most boujee ingredient to grace a fake tan formula, Doll Beauty infuses its tan with caviar extract which helps to nourish the skin. The colour of this is on the warmer side of other tans we tried, but it isn’t at all orange, leaving a golden brown finish reminiscent of a post-holiday glow. It took a bit more time to work into the skin than other mousses we tried, but the instant colour payoff and coverage was worth it, drying quickly with no streaks. We preferred the colour of the light shade to the dark one and would suggest building this to achieve a darker tan. The colour lasts well for about a week, but does need scrubbing off after.

UTAN cherry and almond turbo mousse

Best: For a deep tan

  • Development time: One hour for a golden glow, two hours for a sun kissed tan, three to four hours for a golden tan, six to eight hours for a deep tan, 16 hours max for ultra-dark tan
  • Available shades: One

This is another tan with a strong smell, but if you like cherry flavoured sweets then you’ll love this; the scent isn’t chemical, rather fruity and fresh. UTAN offers one of the most technical tanning formulas we found, with organic tanning agents that develop at different times to help all skin tones achieve an even, streak-free tan. The brand advises when to wash off based on what colour you want to achieve. This produced one of the most instant and darkest colour payoffs of all we tried, with a deep purple undertone that still left us feeling golden rather than ashy. It does feel stickier than other tans when you first apply, but it dries within around 10 minutes and develops really nicely.

Fake tan FAQS

What is the easiest fake tan to apply?

When it comes to tanning, gel-based formulas are the easiest to apply. They aren’t as streaky as a liquid, but look more natural than a mousse, so are a great starting point for beginners. With that said, lotions and mousses are still easy to apply as long as you exfoliate beforehand and use a tanning mitt.

What to look for in a self tanner

When choosing a tan, look for a non-biscuity scent, minimal transfer, hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or antioxidant oils such as rosehip oil, colour correcting actives to counteract any unwanted orange tones, fast-drying formulas and long-lasting colour pay-off.

How to remove fake tan

First up, invest in Face Halo’s exfoliator mitt (£18, Cultbeauty.co.uk) as a must-have. We’ve tried every exfoliator brush, glove and mitt under the sun and nothing scrubs off your tan (without irritating the skin) like this does. In the shower or bath, apply an exfoliating scrub and use the mitt in circular motions to slough away dead skin cells (and patchy tan). Follow up with a moisturiser to keep skin hydrated.

How long does fake tan last?

This all depends on the formula you’re using, and how you treat your skin after tanning. To increase the longevity of your tan, be sure to moisturise daily. And before applying a fresh layer of tan, always exfoliate (see above) in order to give the formula a fresh canvas. Mousse formulas tend to go patchy after four to five days (particularly on drier skin types) while lotions and gels tend to last longer and fade more naturally. However, there are exceptions to the rule here – read our detailed tan reviews above to find long-lasting formulas.

The verdict: Fake tan

For a natural-looking, golden tan that fades beautifully, you can’t beat St.Tropez’s express bronzing gel. It’s expensive, but one bottle goes a long way, and it truly ticks every box. Our favourite mousse formula has to be Filter by Molly Mae, and for those looking for an easy to apply tinted moisturiser, opt for Isle of Paradise’s sumptuous tanning butter.

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We’ve found the best face tanners for achieving an effortless summer glow all year around

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