Gradual tans are your first port of call if you've never tanned before or are looking to cheat a holiday glow that looks believable and comes with the least risk of streaks. Here are our pick of the best

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Whether you’re looking to extend a holiday tan or fake one entirely, the best gradual tans are the ones that slowly build up to the colour you’re after with minimal effort and fuss. Gradual tans contain a lower percentage of DHA (dihydroxyacetone is the chemical in fake tan that changes the colour of the skin) than other fake tanning products, typically around two to four per cent compared with self-tanning drops which contain around ten percent. Gradual tans also contain more hydrating ingredients like those you would find in a regular body lotion or body serums.

“Gradual tans are a great product to use at home but also when you’re away, I call it ‘glow on the go’,” says tanning expert James Read. “We all know it’s really important to stay safe in the sun and that means spending as much time in the shade as possible, but you want to come home from holiday looking like you have actually been somewhere, so I always recommend packing a gradual tan and applying it either every night you’re away (scroll down for James’ hack on how to do that) or every third day. That way your skin is getting drenched in hydrating ingredients, which it will need after a day of being in the heat, swimming pool and sea, but also you can build up a really gorgeous glow. A lot of self-tans can be used with SPF if you want to use them during the day, water mists and tanning drops in particular.”

The other huge benefit of gradual tans compared with their more intense fake tanning counterparts is that they come with less prep and far less user error. 

Here are James’ tips for applying your gradual tan to perfection.

  • Hairs away. “It’s always best to do any hair removal at least 24 hours before applying any self-tanning product, this is because the hair follicles need time to shrink back so tan doesn’t settle in the follicle and look obvious.”
  • Lightly scrub it. “As with all tanning products, the smoother your skin, the better it will look so lightly exfoliate the skin before applying.”
  • Wash those hands. “Even though gradual tan contains a low level of DHA you still need to wash your hands after application as it could still stain them.”
  • Get face specific. “I always recommend buying a face specific tanning product as gradual tans in particular have quite a creamy consistency so will be too heavy for the face. A tanning mist, spray or drops that you can add to your regular moisturiser are a great option.”
  • Boost your aftersun. “By adding gradual tan to your holiday after sun and applying it every night you will get a gorgeous glow that builds up really naturally but that will also fade more evenly.”

With all of that in mind, here are our pick of the best gradual tans out there.

Available in two intensities; fair to medium and medium to dark, this contains all the hydrating qualities you would expect from a regular Dove body lotion with a side of boosting the glow of your skin. It takes a few hours for the colour to develop and smells like a great body lotion - no wet biscuit scent.

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The supersized one: Gatineau Golden Glow Gradual Tan, £52

While this does come with a fairly spenny price tag what is worth noting is that it is absolutely ginormous so if you are a gradual tanning addict, it makes far more economical sense to buy this than anything smaller. It has a really light silky texture, it’s more like a body serum than a lotion and a lovely, light refreshing scent that makes putting it on in the morning a little moment of joy.

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The face and body one: Institut Esthederm Reflets De Soleil, £44

With it’s caramel tinted hue that has very subtle shimmer in it not only does this instantly give your skin a touch of glow but it acts as a guide colour, meaning that stress are almost impossible with this. It has a very light texture - not dissimilar to a gel-cream moisturiser that feels light on the skin and can be used from head-to-toe.

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With its distinctive apricot scent (which you either love or don’t) this gradual tan has a lighter consistency than most but still feels super hydrating. It comes in two options - a light and a dark depending on your skin tone and how deep you want the end result to be.

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The one for when you’re in a hurry: Tan Luxe The Gradual, £21.25

Packed full of moisture-trapping humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, this sinks in super quickly making it a great option for when you’re in a hurry in the morning but don’t want to forgo some glow or simply don’t want to spend too much time tanning. And again, a very handy pump applicator which also makes getting it on much easier. It has a very light scent and a serum consistency.

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Coming in a very handy pump (which is exactly the applicator type you need when trying to tan and lotion your entire body), this gorgeous hydrating lotion uses the extract from red berries to achieve a subtle, but lovely glow. As with all Evolve products it is made as sustainably as possible. The brand is certified B Corp, carbon neutral and use renewable energy to make all the products. The bottle has been made from recycled plastic and is fully recyclable minus the pump.

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The hydrating one: St Tropez Gradual Tan Daily Firming Lotion, £18 

Containing hyaluronic acid, marine algae extract and natural oils, this creamy gradual tanner really does feel like you’re applying a regular body lotion. However, take a bit more care than you would do with a regular body cream as it’s not tinted so you do need to make sure you apply an even coating.

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The overnight one: James Read Overnight Tan Sleep Mask, £27.50

This has been designed for the face but we have used it on the body on the parts we know are going to be on show and it works a treat.  Think of this as your best night cream treat that also happens to slowly tan your skin so you wake up looking like you’ve been away for the weekend. You can combine it with your other evening skincare products if you want, but it does contain hyaluronic acid to hydrate as well as algae extract to help plump the skin so this may be all you need. It’s non-transferable and won’t stain your bed sheets or pillow.

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The face one: Bondi Sands Gradual Tan Face Lotion, £9.99 

Swap out your regular face moisturiser for this one a couple times a week and watch your glow go. It contains rich and nourishing shea butter but has a non-comedogenic formula so works for oily and spot prone skin types too. Just remember to apply your best face SPF after.

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The holiday one: Skinny Tan Gradual Tanner, £14.99 

This has a lightweight consistency that feels quite refreshing on the skin, making it a great choice for applying at the end of long balmy days in the sun. It has a fresh scent and is really easy to buff into the skin. Plus, we love the packaging and would quite like bathroom tiles in the same design!

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