Self-tanning drops are a sure-fire way to give our face a glow-up. These are our top-rated, alongside an expert guide on how to use them
When it comes to creating a the perfect fake tan at home, we are spoilt for choice with self-tanning gels, creams, mousses and even mists. But if you're looking for the product that's easiest of all to incorporate into your skincare regime especially if you’re a nervous self-tanner, it's all about self-tanning drops.
"There is no better way to create a bespoke glow because you are in control of the colour you're creating,” says celebrity tanner James Read. “You simply add a few drops to your regular face cream or serum (most are designed to blend easily with both water and oil-based products) and apply as normal.
“The amount you add is up to you, making drops perfect for those are new to, or a bit scared of, self-tan.” They’re also really good for maintaining a natural glow if you use some every few days. Like subtle highlights as opposed to block hair colour, there is no harsh transition from ivory to ebony, eliminating the risk of having to fix a self-tan slip-up .
How many self-tanning drops do you need?
Read recommends four drops for a light glow, and six to eight if you want a deeper tan. But this is an average, and how much you truly need depends on how concentrated your drops are in the active self-tanning agents DHA and/or erythrulose.
DHA is the faster-acting tanning ingredient (your skin will start changing colour in an hour or two) and deeper-staining one, so the higher you see it on the ingredients list (by its full name, dihydroxyacetone), the more of a deep, fast tan you can expect.
Erythrulose (a fermentation-derived, Ecocert-approved natural sugar) on the other hand, takes a few days to develop. But the resulting tan lasts longer and will cause less dryness. If the main or only tanning ingredient in your product is this one, you’ll probably need to use more drops than you would with a DHA-based product to get an intense tan.
The more drops a brand recommends you add to your moisturiser (we have seen 12 being suggested), the weaker the concentration likely is – so whenever you try a new brand, just stick to the usage suggestions rather than using your drops in the same way you always did!
What’s the best way to use tanning drops?
Most tanning drops are designed specifically for dilution, so it’s better not to apply them directly to the skin. “Our drops use a high and concentrated level of DHA that works optimally when added to a favourite moisturiser,” says Clare Hopkins, co-founder of Balance Me. “It means you can enjoy all of the hydration benefits of your cream whilst creating a tan that is bespoke to you and your skin tone.”
Clare’s tips are to mix with moisturiser rather than face oil (she feels it works better) or SPF. “We wouldn’t recommend mixing tanning drops in with SPF in case it affects its efficacy,” she says.
Skincare expert Fiona Brackenbury agrees. “Mixing tanning drops or any products with your SPF can cause the SPF to sit on the skin unevenly. The patchiness of the UV filters increases the risk of burning and DNA-damage,” she says.
An alternative is to mix the drops with your foundation, says Clare Lambert, tanning expert at Skinny Tan: “instead of buying a new base for summer, just pop a few self-tan drops into your usual one and it will match up with your deepening skin tone,” she says.
Do you need separate tanning drops for the body?
Despite what some brands may lead you to believe, there really is no need for that as the product is the same. Some brands might create more highly concentrated drops for the body as they have to be mixed with a larger amount of cream, but you’re in charge of tweaking the number of drops you use so you can dial it up or down as required. “Our drops are for face and body. We recommend two to four drops added to your facial moisturiser, or between five and eight drops for larger areas such as each arm or leg,” says Hopkins. “An advantage of using the same formula all over is that you’ll achieve the same consistent shade result for an even, all-over tan.”
Are tanning drops safe for skin? Will they make my skin dry?
Tanning agents works by causing an oxidative reaction in your skin. It means the very top skin layer sort of ‘rusts’, and this is what causes the tan-like colour. It’s not remotely as damaging as UV radiation (which attacks skin’s very DNA), but it is very drying – that’s why skin can get quite parched if you self-tan a lot.
“We’ve combined our drops with antioxidant vitamin E to support skin health and protection along with aloe vera and glycerine to hydrate and soothe,” says Hopkins. It works wonders for off-setting dryness and combined with your daily moisturiser, you’ll additionally benefit from the actives in that,” she says.
Why does self-tan go orange?
Tanning agent works by causing a reaction with the amino acids (protein building blocks) in your skin, and the fact is that this is an oxidative process. It means the very top skin layer sort of ‘rusts’, and this is what causes the tan-like colour. It’s not remotely as damaging as UV radiation (which attacks skin’s very DNA), but it is very drying – that’s why skin can get quite parched if you self-tan a lot.
“We’ve combined our dops with antioxidant Vitamin E to support skin health and protection along with aloe vera and glycerine to hydrate and soothe,” says Hopkins. It works wonders for off-setting dryness and combined with your daily moisturiser, you’ll additionally benefit from the actives in that,” she says.
It’s excessive DHA build up on dried-out skin that causes skin to go the dreaded orange, but that’s never been an issue with tanning drops, says Hopkins. “Our formula works in unison with your natural skin tone for a completely bespoke tan,” she says. “For instance, I have a darker olive skin tone compared to my sister and Co-Founder Rebecca, and we’ll each achieve a different but natural-looking colour.”
How can you best prepare skin for self-tan?
A build-up of dead, dry skin cells will make you look orange or unnaturally dark, so, says Lambert, add gentle exfoliation into your skincare routine. “Think of a mild acid toner with lactic or mandelic acid such as Ren's Glow Tonic £28, she says.
However, don’t use acids and self-tan in the same session, says Jules Von Hep, tanning expert and founder of Isle of Paradise. "AHAs and BHA can affect the self-tanner's action by over-exfoliating the surface skin cells. In my experience it also creates a slightly marbled effect when tan is applied directly over these. I advise my clients to steer clear whilst using self-tan,” he says.
- Moisturise the right way
“The better moisturised your skin, the longer your tan will last,” says Lambert. But that doesn’t mean you should layer a heavy moisturiser under your self-tan product.
“Very oily creams, especially those with mineral oil, may well prevent the DHA from having uniform contact with the skin,” says Von Hep. “The beauty of tanning drops, however, is that by mixing them into your moisturiser, as they were designed to do, you avoid this issue altogether."
Read on for our reviews of the best self-tanning drops to add to your skincare routine for the easiest of glows.
Best cruelty-free self-tanning drops: Garnier Ambre Solaire Natural Bronzer Self-Tan Face Drops, £15
These Leaping Bunny-accredited drops have hyaluronic acid and coconut water to quench and are getting plaudits for their versatility – you’re fine to use four to a whopping 12 drops for streak-free tans of every conceivable depth.
Best tanning drops for face and body: Balance Me Gradual Tanning Drops, £33
We like how upfront the brand is about these hydrating drops working for face and body, and they’re good value too: GTG editorial director Victoria says they’re the best for intense colour pay-off with just a few drops. They contain both fast-acting DHA and long-lasting erythrulose for a tan than really goes the distance.
The eco-friendly self-tanning drops: Tropic Sun Drops Gradual Tanning Facial Serum, £26
Gel-like, subtly tinted drops (caramel is used as a ‘colour guide’ instant tint) that are certified organic (with 77 per cent organic ingredients) and will put you in a holiday mood with their juicy passion fruit scent. The DHA is beetroot-derived (and strong – you need just two drops for a subtle tan) and there’s aloe and coconut water to hydrate, so it’s a veritable fruit and veg platter of a bronzing serum.
The TikTok-favourite tanning drops: Indeed Labs Nanobronze Bronzing Drops, £24.99
These creamy drops went viral on TikTok recently, with fans loving the easy instant glow they give (they are tinted and silky so provide an immediate tan whether mixed with other products or applied directly to the skin). Just don’t expect a very fast or obvious tan! The tanning agent is super-subtle one called heliostatine ISRTM. It’s a biodegradable, Cosmos-validated pea extract with a proven tan-boosting effect. It’s also soothing and protective, so this product is an all-round ‘healthy glow’-giver
The self-tanning drops to boost your sun protection: Hello Sunday The Self Tan One, £20
These dops have plenty of self-tanning power but also feature a host of antioxidants and 3-O Ascorbic acid, a potent form of vitamin C. So they’re perfect to layer under a high SPF for added UV protection (antioxidants form an extra line of defence against the sun). You’ll get all of the bronzed glow but none of the damage!
Best self-tanning drops for sensitive skin: Votary Hyaluronic Self-Tan Drops with Calendula and DHA, £35
High in both DHA and erythrulose, this serum also has three moisture-binding humectants plus calendula, which is known for its soothing, anti-inflammatory and redness-relieving properties.
Best streak-free self-tanning drops: Beauty Pie Awesome Bronze Self-Tanning Drops, member price £12.50 (non-members, £40)
These hydrating, serum-like tanning drops can be used directly on cleansed skin; the dose is two to three drops so the bottle lasts ages, making them treat value if you’re a Beauty Pie member. DHA-based, they take three to four hours to develop and are recommended for use overnight. We like that they are pre-mixed with your skincare (making them a bit different from the rest), but you can of course dilute them with serum or moisturiser for a more subtle effect or top-up.
Not yet a member of Beauty Pie? Use code GTGSENT ME for £10 off an annual membership here.
Best tanning drops for colour correcting: Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Drops, £20
Getting a golden glow is one thing, but these clever drops also work on colour correcting your skin. It means that you choose one of three shades, which all target any your underlying skin tones while tanning it. For example, if your skin has a lot of redness in it, this medium (green) tone will cancel it out. The peach version brightens sallow skin and the purple tone adds more depth to your tan, creating a darker colour. Genius.
Best self-tanning drops for instant glow: Whind Ourika Sun Instant Glow Tanning Water, £32
In a world where we expect instant results, waiting a few hours for your colour to develop seems far too long. This clever serum, though, has a gorgeous bronze tint which gives skin an instant glow to satisfy your colour-cravings while you impatiently drum your fingers. It's based on erythrulose, the subtler, slower-developing tanning agent, so don't expect a deep tan. There's also hyaluronic acid and glycerin for light but intensive hydration.
Best self-tanning drops for a deep tan: Tanologist Face + Body Drops Extra Dark, £18.99
If having a deep, dark tan is your thing, these intense drops will be right up your street. They contain a high concentration of tanning agents to create a darker colour, so there's a big colour pay-off from just a few drops. If you want the darkest colour possible, you can add up to 12 drops into your moisturiser - expect mahogany!
Best easy-to-use tanning drops: Typology Progressive Self-Tanning Serum, £36.50
If you’re looking for tanning drops that you don’t even have to mix with something else, we’ve found them. Not only will this serum look gorgeous in your bathroom (we’re swooning over the recyclable glass bottle) but the natural tanning agents have already been combined with hydrating skin ingredients such as Buriti Oil so you can apply a few drops directly onto the skin. Ease made even easier.
Best self-tanning drops for deeper skin tones: Bondi Sands Pure Tanning Drops, £14.99 for 40ml
Aesthetician Alicia Lartey, a big advocate for tanners for all skin tones, calls these her “secret weapon for achieving a deep, customisable tan that compliments my skin.” It allows people with darker skin to opt for just add a glow or use the drops to colour-correct patches of skin, she says. The formula is more concentrated than many other self-tan drops and addresses concerns such as dryness and discolouration with skincare ingredients including hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C and E. Oh, and it’s fragrance-free, making it a good option for sensitive skin.
Best tanning drops for on-the-go: James Read Click and Glow Tan Drops , £27.50
This gradual tan has a gel texture that develops in about five hours, but what's smartest about them is the applicator. Unlike most other tan drops, these come in a pen-like dispenser that you press to release the golden drops; perfect for travel. They also boast skin-boosting ingredients such a vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.
Best self-tanning drops for dry skin St. Tropez Tan Tonic Drops, £30
If you’re familiar with traditional self-tanner, you’ll know that it can often leave your skin feeling parched. Not the case with these hydrating drops by St Tropez. Packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid, you mix this in with your moisturiser (we recommend using it at night) to hydrate skin and give you a lovely streak-free glow. For fair skin, the recommended dosage goes like this - two drops for a light glow, four for medium and six for a deeper bronze. We like it when brands get specific!
Best tanning drops for dry, ageing skin: Tan-Luxe Super Glow Hyaluronic Self-Tan Serum, £36 for 30ml
Another serum with hyaluronic acid, these drops draw moisture into your skin to off-set the drying effects of tanning agent DHA - and it truly does feel as good for our skin as expensive skincare-only serums. It also smells faintly of raspberry thanks to the raspberry seed oil, which nourishes but is also a great antioxidant for your skin. There’s loads of other good-for-your skin stuff in here too - think blueberry extract, avocado oil and coconut oil. This is more like a superfood serum with tanning benefits.
Best organic self-tanning drops: Cha Votz Age Defy+ Liquid Gold Tanning Drops, £36 for 30ml
These 85 per cent organic drops (incidentally, very high for a tanning product) are fragrance-free and really well tolerated if you have sensitive skin. Green tea and seaweed provide powerful antioxidants to help protect skin from ageing aggressors such as pollution. GTG’s editorial director We use three drops for a natural glow, and up the ante for a deeper shade of bronze.
Best self-tanning drops for oily skin: Skinny Tan Notox Face Tanning Drops, £12.74
These drops boast guarana extract, an ingredient that is high in caffeine and known to constrict the blood vessels in your skin, promising a brighter, tighter face. Very light in texture, these drops are easily mixed into an oil-free moisturiser, building up a gradual glow without leaving any greasy residue.
Get more gloss: This is why you need to wear an SPF everyday, even indoors