Long winters and overcast weather mean that most Canadians are used to being a little pale. There’s nothing wrong with having fair skin and owning it, but if you look in the mirror and feel sallow or if you have a vacation coming up and you don’t want your skin blending into the sandy beach, then getting a tan might be in order.
The old solution to paleness was a visit to the tanning bed, but nowadays we know just how harmful that type of radiation can be to the skin. We also wouldn’t recommend waiting for the summer, since sitting under the sun’s combo of UVB and UVA rays can lead to everything from premature wrinkles and sunburn to skin cancer.
So what’s a pasty Canadian to do?
Self-tanners offer a surprisingly great solution. Let go of your misconceptions about fake, orange-looking tans, because the Canadian market is filled with easy to use products that give the skin a natural bronze glow. We’ve selected the best self-tanners available, with options for beginners and experienced users alike.
- Best overall – L’Oréal Paris Self-Tanning Sublime Bronze
- Best for face – Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops
- Best budget – Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun
- Best high-end – St. Tropez Self Tan Classic
- Best for dark tan – Fake Bake Flawless Darker
Hours of Research
Best self-tanners comparison
|L’Oreal||Jergen’s||St. Tropez||Fake Bake||Isle of Paradise|
|Best for||overall||budget||luxury||deep tan||face|
|Tan level||Light-medium||Light, deep, or ultra deep||Medium-deep||Very deep||Light, medium, or dark|
|Formula||Clear water-mousse||Tinted mousse||Tinted mousse||Liquid in spray bottle||Concentrated mixing drops|
|Usage||Develops in 4-8 hours||Develops in 4-6 hours||Develops in 4-8 hours||Develops in 8 hours||Mix with moisturizer, develops in 4-8 hours|
|Scent||Light coconut||Sweet perfume and DHA||Mild, floral, expensive||Tropical||Mild DHA|
Our pick for best overall – L’Oréal Paris Self-Tanning Sublime Bronze
- Tan level: Light-medium
- Format: Clear water-mousse
- Usage details: Develops in 4-8 hours
- Scent: Light coconut
- Gives a soft, natural-looking tan
- The clear formula doesn’t make a mess of fabric or walls
- Makes skin feel soft and hydrated
- Not dark enough for hardcore tan aficionados
This gives a great golden tan that is on the lighter side, a shade that we like for beginners or anyone who wants subtle results. Most importantly, it doesn’t look orange at all, so the skin looks healthy and naturally tanned.
If you do want a slightly darker tan you can build this up with a second application a day later, but don’t expect it to surpass medium tan.
Ease of use
The water-mousse texture is easy to rub into the skin without drips, but it also doesn’t dry down too quickly so even though it is clear, it is still possible to tell where you’ve applied it and where you haven’t. If you’re totally new you might still prefer a tinted formula.
After application, it dries down beautifully within 15 to 20 minutes, leaving the skin feeling hydrated but not sticky. The skin starts to darken in 4 hours, and within 8 hours it reaches maximum darkness. It’s ideal for a night-time application as the skin looks tanned by morning. There are zero risks of the formula making a mess of your pyjamas, bathroom, or bed sheets.
We also like that it smells great the entire time, with the DHA scent never coming through.
With one coat, the tan lasts for about 3-4 days before it starts fading, while with 2 coats it will last for as long as 5 days. Since the colour is so light, it fades gradually and naturally.
This self-tanner is affordable even if it’s not cheap. The packaging, scent, and texture all feel very luxurious, so we think that overall it absolutely merits the mid-range price.
Best for face – Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops
- Tan level: Light, medium, or dark
- Format: Concentrated mixing drops
- Usage details: Mix with moisturizer and leave on skin
- Scent: Mild DHA
- Totally customizable for face or body
- Three shade options to suit all skin tones and preferences
- Mix with your favourite lotion to avoid breakouts or sensitivity
- Getting even application on the body can be difficult
- Some trial and error to find your perfect ratio
These drops come in a versatile range of shades to suit all skin tones and experience levels. The lighter shades come across as very natural, while the deepest shade has a subtle red tint which thankfully doesn’t register as orange and just makes the skin look rich and warm.
By controlling the number of drops you use you get full control over the level of darkness, so you might have to go through some trial and error to find your perfect shade. This can also be useful if you want to experiment with darkness levels to highlight and contour your skin.
Ease of use
It’s surprising how easy it is to blend these drops with your moisturizer. You just add a few drops (the more drops, the darker the tan), and then apply your lotion, taking extra care to cover yourself evenly. If you mix a very small amount on a daily basis, it could work well as a gradual self-tanner for either face or body.
We think this is best for the face since you can dilute it into a moisturizer you already know works on your skin. It’s also easier to get an even mix and application when working on that small area.
This product can also be mixed with your body lotion for an all-over application — it’ll still work, though getting an even blend can be a little tougher, and since there is no tint you will have to be extra careful not to miss any spots.
The tan will show up a few hours after application, and since the formula is so light and tint-free you don’t have to rinse it off. It’s very convenient at all times of day, as opposed to most others which are usually only convenient before bed.
As far as smell goes, the formula is very mildly scented, and we suggest using it with a fragranced moisturizer to cover up the slight DHA smell.
Longevity depends on how many drops you’ve used as well as on your skincare routine, but you can expect the tan to last between 3 and 5 days. Thankfully, reapplying it is very easy so you can continuously touch it up every time you moisturize.
$38 for 30 ml might seem extreme, but you only need a fraction of a millilitre per application since the formula is so concentrated. With weekly facial use, we’d expect a bottle to last up to 6 months, although for all-over use it might only last a month or two.
Best on a budget – Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun
- Tan level: Light, deep, or ultra deep
- Format: Tinted mousse
- Usage details: Leave on skin for 4 hours+ and then rinse
- Scent: Sweet perfume and DHA
- Comes in subtle, light options and deeper, more extreme options
- Gives a very long-lasting tan
- Smooth formula that’s easy to apply
- Tinted to guide the application and give an instant glow
- Extremely affordable
- Takes a while to dry down and remains a little sticky
- Tint can rub off on fabrics
- The darker shades are a little reddish and may fade away patchily
We appreciate that Jergens gives options with this formula, and each one is a winner. For pale folks and beginners, Light Bronze gives a very soft and natural glow with zero orange undertones.
Deep Bronze is slightly darker and more suitable for those starting out with a medium skin tone since it gives the skin darkness, depth, and richness, though on very pale skin it can come out with a slight orange undertone. Ultra Deep Bronze is great for those who like an extreme tanned look, though it also has a reddish undertone.
Ease of use
This product is easy to use, so we think it’ll appeal both to tanning newbies and experts looking to save. It has the texture of an airy mousse, and it glides over the skin very quickly and easily.
Since the formula is tinted you can see exactly where you’ve applied it, and as a bonus, it’s actually a very pretty tint that makes the skin look instantly sun-kissed before the DHA even has a chance to take hold.
It develops over the course of a few hours, but while it is on the skin it can feel a little tacky and can take a while to try down. The colour guide may rub off on white fabrics, so we recommend wearing old clothes and sleeping on darker bedsheets or a towel.
Initially, the formula has a pleasant scent, but as it develops you will be able to smell the sour DHA, though it’ll go away once you shower off the tint.
It’s very long-lasting, and it can stay looking good for up to a week. As it starts fading away, the lighter formula does so very elegantly, while the darker formulas may fade away a bit more patchily, especially if you are naturally pale.
However, exfoliation presents an easy fix, so as the tan starts to fade you can scrub the skin to get everything looking even, regardless of whether you intend to reapply or return to your natural skin tone.
Jergens offers the best bang for your buck, with a nice, large bottle that will last for many uses costing less than $15, and a formula that compares favourably with some more high-end options.
Best high-end – St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse
- Tan level: Medium-deep
- Format: Tinted mousse
- Usage details: Develops in 4-8 hours
- Scent: Mild, floral, expensive
- Foolproof application process gives even coverage
- Gives the most beautiful olive tan
- Zero DHA smell
This product is famous for the gorgeous, natural, and never orange tan that it gives. The secret to the formula is a subtle green tint that neutralizes orange and red to give an olive cast to the skin.
This shade is a medium-deep tan that’s slightly darker than our L’Oreal pick, but there is a darker version available that is also miraculously non-orange.
Ease of use
The extreme elegance of this product is what makes it a true winner. It’s a typical mousse formula that has to stay on the skin for a few hours to develop. It has a very forgiving texture that goes on smoothly, so you don’t need to worry about blending it to avoid streaking.
It does have a tint to guide you through the application, but once it dries down after 15 minutes it doesn’t rub off or stain anything.
Another winning aspect of this product is how delicate and beautiful it smells, thanks to a fragrance collaboration with Givaudan that totally masks the DHA aroma.
It won’t give you a very long-lasting tan, so you can expect it to start to fade after 3 days or so. Thankfully, it fades away very gently and naturally without any patchiness, and since the application itself is so easy reapplying shouldn’t be an issue.
This is a high-end product and it comes with high-end pricing. You can feel the luxury of it in the colour, elegance, and scent, so if you can afford it the investment is worthwhile, but there are some more affordable options out there especially if you’d be happy with a light-medium tan.
Best for a deep tan – Fake Bake Flawless Darker Self-Tan Liquid
- Tan level: Very deep
- Format: Liquid in a spray bottle
- Usage details: Develops over a few hours
- Scent: Tropical
- Bonus: comes with an application mitt
- Gives the deepest tan imaginable with neutral undertone
- Liquid formula blends easily and dries quickly
- Tropical scent totally masks DHA
- Dark and messy formula can be challenging for beginners
It’s pretty easy to find gorgeous light shades, but when it comes to darker tones Fake Bake is one of the few options that truly excels. It gives a deep, dark tan with a very neutral undertone that is flattering no matter your starting shade.
There is also a medium-deep version if you don’t want an extreme tan.
Ease of use
It comes as a liquid in a spray bottle, which has its positives and negatives as far as ease of use goes. The liquid is very easy to smooth over the skin, especially because the set comes with an application mitt. It has a dark tint so you know exactly where you’ve applied it and which spots need touching up. Finally, the formula contains alcohol so it dries very quickly, making this a fast process with minimal staining.
On the negative side, the liquid can be a little messy. It drips easily, so you’ll have to be careful when spraying it, and the tint can stain your floor or any garments — we actually suggest applying it in the shower for easy cleanup. If the product does drip on the floor, be careful not to step in it or the bottoms of your feet will stain. Since it does dry down quickly, if you’re a beginner you won’t have a ton of time to blend it in and you may find yourself tempted to overapply the first time around.
For experienced users, we think this formula is phenomenal, while for beginners it’s a little tricky.
It gives one of the most long-lasting tans on our list, keeping the skin looking bronzed for up to 5 days and then gradually fading away surprisingly well, despite the darkness level. If you do notice any patchiness you can just exfoliate it away.
While it is certainly not cheap, it’s also not particularly expensive, especially when taking into account the uniquely dark colour it offers as well as the longevity on the skin. The application mitt offers added value since it can be used with any other self-tanner.
|L’Oreal||Jergen’s||St. Tropez||Fake Bake||Isle of Paradise|
|Ease of Use||4.8||4.5||5||4.2||4.8|
What to consider when looking for a self-tanner?
Long gone are the days when we’d be willing to tolerate orange tans! Nowadays, an acceptable self-tanner has to give an even and non-patchy coating of colour in a bronze-brown tone that looks like naturally tanned skin, and anything else is thoroughly unacceptable.
There’s room for variety in the darkness level: you may want a subtle bronzer that will make your skin just a shade or two darker or you might want to look as though you’ve just come back from a Caribbean vacation with a deep, dark tan. No matter what darkness level you prefer, the undertones of the colour should resemble real skin and it should go on smoothly and evenly.
In general, lighter levels are more beginner-friendly since patchiness is less noticeable, and they also tend to fade away more evenly. Darker formulas require careful blending since any errors are readily apparent, and they also tend to fade away less seamlessly.
Ease of use
We lead busy lives, so self-tanners that take forever to blend in and dry down are rarely worth the time. This is why how easy (and for that matter, pleasant) a self-tanner is to use is important for us.
If you’re a pro, you might be able to make even the tougher formulas look stunning on your skin, but if you’re new to sunless tanning, this criterion is very important since difficult-to-use products are more likely to give you uneven results.
Another element of ease of use is whether the self-tanner is tinted or not. Many formulas are tinted with a darker colour, like a tinted moisturizer or liquid/cream bronzer, which is referred to as a ‘guide’ and allows you to see exactly where you’ve applied them on your skin. It can make the application a little easier and save you second-guessing, but it also makes the product a little messier if it comes in contact with your clothes or the wall before it dries down.
We also take smell into account as part of ease of use, since if it smells bad then you won’t enjoy using it at all. DHA, the active ingredient, has a weird sour or yeasty smell as it reacts with the skin, but some brands have managed to effectively neutralize it with a fragrance, which wins them a few extra points.
There are two things we take into account when judging longevity: the obvious one is that we want a product that will keep you looking tan for a while — three days at a minimum, but some products can last up to a week.
The second thing we keep in mind is what the tan looks like as it starts to fade, and it might be even more important than how long it lasts. This can vary from person to person, but generally, the best sunless tanner formulas will fade away gently and gradually, while poor formulas will fade away unevenly and in a patchy manner.
In this case, there is a bit more to value than just cost per ml (although it’s certainly relevant). We also have to consider the longevity of the product, since the longer it lasts the less frequently you have to re-apply.
It’s also worth considering other features and benefits of the formula. Budget options can do the trick, but generally, more expensive ones will be easier and more pleasant to apply and they’ll give a more elegant colour. For lighter colours, budget options can be great, but if you want a deeper tan it might be better to invest in a high-end option.
How does self-tanner work?
The tan comes from a chemical reaction between the proteins in the top layer of skin and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which is the active ingredient in tanning products. The chemical reaction darkens the proteins in the surface level of the skin, giving a very natural-looking tan. Sometimes DHA is paired with similar compounds for a more long-lasting effect, and the higher the percentage of DHA, the darker the tan will be.
How to use self-tanner?
The instructions from product to product will vary, but generally, you want to apply it to clean, freshly exfoliated skin. We suggest applying a light, oil-free moisturizer all over the body, as well, concentrating on the elbows and knees where the skin can be drier.
Massage the self-tanner into the skin in circular motions, making sure to cover every inch of skin evenly without forgetting any small nooks and crannies. It’s best to work on the body in sections: the arms, the legs, the torso, the face, etc.
We recommend using a self-tanning mitt which will keep your palms from getting stained and will also give a smoother tan — otherwise, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly once you finished applying.
Once you’re covered wait for the self-tanner to dry down, which can take between 5 to 30 minutes depending on the formula. Be careful not to touch anything or get your skin wet.
The product will normally take 4-8 hours to react with the skin. After that time passes, you can hop in the shower and rinse away any residue and admire your new glow!
As the colour starts to fade, you can exfoliate to help it along and to prepare your skin for the next round of self-tanning.
What to read next
- Sunless Tanners & Bronzers – US FDA
- How to Safely Exfoliate at Home – American Academy of Dermatology
Over to you
What do you prefer, self-tanning or baking in the sun? Do you have a favourite self-tanner we forgot to mention? Do you have tips that help you get a flawless bronzed look? Comment and let us know!