Top Five Self-Tanning Products Under $50

As a naturally extremely fair-skinned person who’s always been prone to burning, I’ve spent years on a quest for a natural-looking, affordable sunless tan. These five products are the best I’ve found and the least likely to leave you streaky or orange!

1.) Mystic Tan – $12 to $25 per session, depending on which salon you visit. The Mystic Tan systems can be found at a wide variety of locations, from beauty salons/spas to gyms. They are most easily found at tanning salons or at Mystic Tan salons. The Mystic Tan is the closest and most cost-efficient way to emulate the experience of having an aesthetician at a salon or spa hand-airbrush you with self-tanner. Because a personalized treatment like that can cost upwards of $100, and doesn’t necessarily last any longer than a Mystic Tan, this is your next best bet. When you arrive at a Mystic Tan salon, you will be shown a video that teaches you how to get the best results. Pay attention to the video – it really does give good advice on how to avoid streaking, white areas around your knuckles and wrists, and too much product on your feet and hands. The self-tanning process itself only takes about thirty seconds total (fourteen to fifteen seconds on each side of your body), and my favorite part is that it dries instantly – you can towel off the excess bronzer, get dressed, and be on your way!

2.) MysticSunless Spray – $20.95 from the Mystic Tan website (, but they also say that prices might be lower at your local salon. This product claimed to work as well as the Mystic Tan, but without having to go to a salon or pay each time. While it’s definitely more difficult to do the self-tanning yourself instead of standing in a booth and being sprayed, I actually liked having control over where the spray was going. There is a bronzer that shows up instantly and gives a nice light sheen to your skin, and the rest of the color develops over the next four hours. The color itself is quite comparable to what you’d get from a Mystic Tan, and it lasted for the same amount of time (around four to five days). There are supplementary products that you can also buy that will extend the life of your tan (my record was eight days) or prepare your skin for the self-tanning process. With any self-tanner, I would strongly recommend exfoliating first to make your skin’s surface area as even as possible. The MysticSunless exfoliant is fine, but I found other, less expensive products to be just as good.

3.) Neutrogena MicroMist Sunless Tanning Spray – $11.99 or less at most drugstores. This is a great drugstore brand that comes in two colors, Medium (which turns you two shades darker than your natural skin color), and Deep (three shades darker). If you’re light-skinned or new to sunless tanning, I would definitely recommend the Medium shade, as errors will be less obvious and easier to correct. I tend to like sprays, because they make it possible to tan hard-to-reach areas like the back, back of legs, etc., but if you’re a fan of foams or creams, Neutrogena makes these also (my personal favorites are the Sunless Tanning Foam, $10.09, and the Instant Bronze Sunless Tanner and Bronzer, $9.99). As a side note, though you can use these products on your face as well, I would recommend buying a separate tanner that is specifically meant for the face to avoid breakouts and extremely visible mistakes. All of the brands I have listed so far have face-specific tanners as well.

4.) Tantowel Self-Tan Towelette – $19.99 for a box of ten towelettes ( These individually wrapped towelettes are pre-soaked with self-tanner. These are extremely convenient if you’re traveling, and develop in a shorter amount of time than most (around three hours). The packaging says that you can apply another after three hours if you want a darker tan, but I have not yet tried that. You have less control over how much product comes out at a time than if you’re using a spray/lotion/foam, but the color still comes out evenly. The best use for this product is as a mistake fixer – just swipe it over tan lines or uneven color (I use it between my fingers and toes, since somehow self-tanner never manages to settle well there!). L’Oreal also makes a good self-tan towelette (Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Towelettes, $9.49 for six) that are available at most local drugstores.

5.) Dove Energy Glow Daily Moisturizer – $7.99 at most drugstores. This lotion comes in Medium and Dark, and has a separate product for use on the face. This is one of several moisturizers that can be used daily, and unlike other self-tanners, only deposits a small amount of color at a time. If you’re looking for immediate, dramatic results, use another product – but this one is practically mistake-proof, and over the course of two days to a week, your skin will turn several shades darker. My favorite part of this is that I can use it anytime and not worry that streaks or missed areas will suddenly turn up in the middle of dinner or a night out. Two other comparable products are Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer ($7.19 at drugstores) and Aveeno Active Naturals Continuous Radiance Moisturizing Lotion ($8.89 at drugstores, great for people with more sensitive skin).

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