Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2020. We’re republishing it because it is now enabled with on-site shopping so you can buy all of Rio’s favorite items for faking a natural-looking tan without leaving this page (or getting any sun damage). Read more about our on-site-shopping tool here.
Experimenting with products that have historically intimidated me has brought a newfound sense of joy to my quarantine. It’s much easier to take beauty risks when the only people to witness them are your boyfriend and your cat. A couple of days ago, feeling inspired by an old, sun-kissed red-carpet photo of Margot Robbie on Instagram, I decided to tackle a genre I have tended to avoid: self-tanners. Extremely well-made self-tanners are hard to come by, and when they’re bad, they’re really bad: They can easily leave you looking like an Oompa-Loompa — or, even worse, can peel, revealing flakey, patchy, and obviously faux-tanned hands and legs.
To be fair, I’m always on the pasty side when New York spring first rolls around. But this year — considering I haven’t so much as felt a breeze on my skin in five days — I’m practically a transparent ghoul. I decided to use some of my time inside to attempt to find a product that most closely mimics what my skin naturally looks like when I’m out and about in the spring. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few hiccups along the way, (a pair of white sweatpants were destroyed). But after trying about four or five different products, I landed on a list of subtle yet effective at-home self-tanning products that will give your skin a natural-looking glow-y bronze.
The best natural-looking tanner
What’s great about this product is that it helps you simulate a natural bronze and glow gradually. The No. 1 complaint in the comment section on Sephora is that this product is too mild, but for me, that was actually a plus. Whether you’re new to self-tanning or are just looking for the most natural-looking tan possible (or, in my case, both), this is perfect. Apply it to dry, clean skin, massaging it evenly all over in circular motions (remember your hands and feet). In one to two hours, you’ll start to see tanner, glow-ier skin that’ll last for around two days. This didn’t rub off on my sheets when I went to bed (though I did apply this in the middle of the day), and I had no streakiness!
The best longer-lasting tanner
If you’re looking for a slightly more intense bronze effect that lasts longer than two days, this one from Coola is your girl! Once again, this doesn’t require a mitt to apply it (you can use your hand) and should be applied to the skin like a moisturizer, in circular motions, evenly all over your body. This does take a bit longer to see results — about two to four hours — but when they show up you’ll look like a bronzed goddess. What’s cool about this product is that you can kind of tweak the results — you can apply this product directly to the skin for a bolder tan or mix it with a body lotion for subtler results. This product goes on clear and absorbs like a lotion, so I had no problem getting into bed about 45 minutes after applying (again, no destroyed bedsheets.)
The best body glow
If you want a glow-iness that’ll wash off immediately in the shower, this one from Sol De Janeiro is great. It has this wonderful, shimmery blurring effect that makes your skin look intensely luminous and healthy.
The best body concealer
This is another excellent option if you’re in the market for a noncommittal, easy-to-wash-off body tint. This product is the most amazing wash of color, and applied conservatively, it will buff and blend out any tan lines or marks so your body appears to be one even shade. It also has aloe vera and shea butter in it, so it can double as a light moisturizer.
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