• 10 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions 2022 | UK Dermatologist Reviewed 1
  • 10 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions 2022 | UK Dermatologist Reviewed 2
  • 10 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions 2022 | UK Dermatologist Reviewed 3
  • 10 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions 2022 | UK Dermatologist Reviewed 4
  • 10 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions 2022 | UK Dermatologist Reviewed 5

10 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions 2022 | UK Dermatologist Reviewed

Gradual tanning lotions and tanning creams are wonder products that can be applied as quickly and as easily as your regular moisturiser. Use one to subtly build up a healthy glow, with no damaging sunbeds or costly spray tans in sight!


In this article, we'll show you how to choose a tanning lotion that works - with tips on how to achieve a streak-free tan, and which lotions won't leave you with the dreaded 'fake tan' smell! Comparing top brands like Elemis, Garnier and Dior, read on for the 10 best gradual tanners in the UK. Moreover, we have partnered with Dermatologist Felipe Partarrieu for reviewing and fact-checking the article so that we can deliver you the best information.

This Article's Contributors

Felipe Partarrieu
mybest Editing Team
  • Last updated: 16-05-2022
Table of Contents

Fact-Checked & Approved by Dermatologist Felipe Partarrieu

Fact-Checked & Approved by Dermatologist Felipe Partarrieu

Felipe Partarrieu is a final year dermatology resident, who is GMC registered with a full licence to practise in the UK. Specialising in cosmeceuticals, facial skin care, and hair disorders, we worked with Felipe to bring you top quality information to help you make informed buying decisions and understand more about what goes onto your skin.

Compare the Best Gradual Tanning Lotions

For those after a quick look, here is our Top 5:


  1. Vita Liberata - Fabulous Self Tanning Gradual Lotion for £14.95
  2. ESPA - Gradual Tan Body Moisturiser for £63.24
  3. Garnier - Summer Body Dark Gradual Tan for £4.75
  4. Elemis - Total Glow Bronzing Body Lotion for £37.50
  5. Decleor - Biodegradable Gradual Glow Lotion for £31.45

For a more in-depth look at the comprehensive top 10 selection, make sure to read on to learn more about the different types of gradual tanning lotions available and understand how our ranking was determined.

This article's chosen EC site price listings are reflective of its publishing date.

Image
1
Vita Liberata Fabulous Self Tanning Gradual Lotion 1

Vita Liberata

2
ESPA Gradual Tan Body Moisturiser 1

ESPA

3
Garnier Summer Body Dark Gradual Tan 1

Garnier

4
Elemis Total Glow Bronzing Body Lotion 1

Elemis

5
Decleor Biodegradable Gradual Glow Lotion 1

Decleor

6
Dior Bronze Self Tanning Jelly Gradual Glow - Face  1

Dior

7
Isle of Paradise Happy Tan Everyday Gradual Glow 1

Isle of Paradise

8
Balance Me Gradual Tanning Drops 1

Balance Me

9
Dove DermaSpa Summer Revived Body Lotion 1

Dove

10
Palmers Cocoa Butter Formula Natural Bronze Body Lotion 1

Palmers Cocoa Butter Formula

Name

Fabulous Self Tanning Gradual Lotion

Gradual Tan Body Moisturiser

Summer Body Dark Gradual Tan

Total Glow Bronzing Body Lotion

Biodegradable Gradual Glow Lotion

Bronze Self Tanning Jelly Gradual Glow - Face

Happy Tan Everyday Gradual Glow

Gradual Tanning Drops

DermaSpa Summer Revived Body Lotion

Natural Bronze Body Lotion

Features

Fragrance-Free Tanning Cream for Face and Body

Deep Tan, Delicately Scented With Ylang-Ylang and Jasmine Oil

Sunkissed Skin at an Affordable Price

Luxury Formula for Flawless Results in 2 - 3 Days

Gradual Glow Lotion for Dry Skin

Natural-Looking Tanning Jelly for Your Face and Neck

Apply This Lotion Daily to Gradually Build Your Ideal Tan

Streak-Free Tanning Drops for the Winter Months

Moisturise Deeply as You Tan

Subtle Cocoa Butter Tanning Lotion With a Sumptuous Scent

Price£14.95£63.24£4.75£37.50£31.45£29.00£14.95£30.00£3.15£3.99
Cream / LotionCreamLotionLotionLotionMilkJellyLotionDry oil dropsLotionLotion
Development Time4 - 8 hours (build over several days as required)4 hours12 hours2 - 3 days4 - 8 hours3 hours4 - 6 hoursImmediate (build over several days as required)3 - 5 days3 - 4 days
Key IngredientsOrganic aloe veraPlant melanin, shea butter, sweet almond oilApricot OilElderberry seed oilNeroli essential oilCastor oil-Vitamin E, aloe vera-Vitamin E
Fragrance-FreeYesNoNoNoNoNoNoYesNoNo
Best ForAvoiding streaks and 'fake tan' smellA gradual deep tanDry skin, topping up your tanFast resultsFast results, dry skinTanning the face and neckGradually building a deep tanStreak free tanning, adding colour in winterTanning on a budgetStreak free tanning, balanced skin tone, hydration
Link

What Is a Gradual Tanning Lotion?

What Is a Gradual Tanning Lotion?

A gradual tanning lotion is essentially a moisturiser containing a small amount of self-tanning ingredient. As you massage it in, it will not only hydrate your skin but it will subtly build to give the appearance of a natural sun-tan. The ingredient responsible, DHA, a colour additive that reacts with the top layer of your skin cells to temporarily alter (or, in other words, darken) the appearance of your skin.


DHA (or dihydroxyacetone) was added to most self-tanners in the 1970s to combat the streaking and blotching often associated with sunless tans, and is commonly derived from plant sugars. Some people choose to avoid this ingredient, but according to expert skin research, the levels in gradual tan lotions are low enough to be completely safe.


The key benefits of gradual tanning lotions are, of course, that they keep your skin super-soft, but also that they allow you to control the depth of your tan by building it up over several days or weeks, depending on your preference. Another advantage is its versatility - these products can be used on a wide variety of skin tones.

How to Choose a Gradual Tanning Lotion in the UK

Key Points to Consider

  1. Choose a Tanning Lotion for Quick Absorption, or a Cream for a Deeper Colour
  2. Pick a Slow-Building Tanner With a Development Time of 1 - 2 Weeks to Avoid Streaks
  3. Look For Moisturising Ingredients to Help Reduce Patchiness
  4. Opt For a Fragrance-Free Lotion to Avoid the ‘Fake Tan’ Smell

1. Choose a Tanning Lotion for Quick Absorption, or a Cream for a Deeper Colour

1. Choose a Tanning Lotion for Quick Absorption, or a Cream for a Deeper Colour

If you want a product that is exceptionally light and quick-absorbing, then lotions, milks and gels are your best bet. Lotions and milks, in particular, are a little runnier in their consistencies, so only a small drop is needed for good coverage – which also means they last longer. 


Gels are superbly fast-absorbing and extremely light on the skin, adding a good amount of moisture to the skin while allowing you to evenly distribute colour, streak-free.


As for thicker formulations like creams, they have the potential to build deep, rich colour but require an experienced hand to avoid streaks. You could also try dry oils, which, it's important to note, are intended to be added to your favourite moisturiser and don't work alone. They leave skin luxurious and nourished, although they do tend to cost more. 

We recommend picking up a self-tanner formulated specifically for the face, for a natural-looking, all over glow

2. Pick a Slow-Building Tanner With a Development Time of 1 - 2 Weeks to Avoid Streaks

2. Pick a Slow-Building Tanner With a Development Time of 1 - 2 Weeks to Avoid Streaks

Ask yourself: What is my aim with a gradual tanning lotion? For those seeking bronzed skin so subtle that people barely notice it developing, pick a slow-building tanner with a development time of between 1 and 2 weeks. This figure refers to the time it takes to achieve the deepest colour that each product can provide. 


For a speedier tan, choose lotions with a development time of around 3-4 days. These start to work within a few hours and can be topped up each evening until your desired shade of sun-kissed is reached. Quicker-developing tan lotions tend to show streaks a little more easily if not thoroughly rubbed in, so be sure to exfoliate before the application and be fastidious during it!

To avoid streaks and orange hands, use a tanning mitt to apply your tanning lotion!

3. Look For Moisturising Ingredients Like Vitamin E and Shea Butter to Help Reduce Patchiness

3. Look For Moisturising Ingredients Like Vitamin E and Shea Butter to Help Reduce Patchiness

Apart from the pigment, all gradual tanning lotions contain nourishing ingredients to keep skin soft. However, some specific ingredients have other appealing qualities alongside moisturising, such as vitamins C and E, fruit and seed oils, or shea butter.


Vitamin C is a well-known super-ingredient for keeping skin bright, smooth and youthful, while vitamin E helps support your cells in the reproduction process. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, meaning it helps fight free radicals that can prematurely age skin. 


The addition of anti-oxidants in tanning lotions is important as some studies have shown that skin is especially susceptible to free-radical damage from sunlight 24 hours after the application of DHA. Therefore, excessive sun exposure should be avoided for 1-2 days after application.


Natural oils such as elderberry seed, castor oil, magnolia, and apricot oil are also highly beneficial. They act as emollients, penetrating skin cells and plumping their natural volume for perky-looking skin. These options also help reduce patchiness and streaks and are advantageous to dehydrated skin, so make a beeline for gradual tan lotions containing them if that sounds like you!

Top Tip: exfoliate your skin using a body scrub before applying your tanning lotion for the best results!

4. Opt For a Fragrance-Free Lotion to Avoid the ‘Fake Tan’ Smell

4. Opt For a Fragrance-Free Lotion to Avoid the ‘Fake Tan’ Smell

Another quality to consider as you shop for a gradual tan lotion, is the fragrance. Some tanning products are affordable and look great but come with a slightly 'biscuity' smell that really gives the fake-tan game away. 


The colour-building DHA that we mentioned previously is often the ingredient behind the unpleasant odours in your lotion. Choosing unscented products that are either fragrance-free, DHA-free, or that contain other, more potent ingredients mask its scent, so they're a good idea if you're not a fan. 


Additionally, if you don't mind a fragrance but prefer something more deliberately perfumed, look for gradual self-tanning products containing plant and fruit oils like jasmine, ylang-ylang and other concentrated perfumes. Your skin will not only look golden and sun-blushed but will smell delicious, too.

10 Best Gradual Tanning Lotions in the UK

This ranking has been compiled by the writing team at mybest UK via careful evaluation of the points made in the buying guide and thorough research of each product and comparing multiple verified customer reviews across the EC sites used.

1

Vita LiberataFabulous Self Tanning Gradual Lotion

200 ml

£14.95

Cream / LotionCream
Development Time4 - 8 hours (build over several days as required)
Key IngredientsOrganic aloe vera
Fragrance-FreeYes
Best ForAvoiding streaks and 'fake tan' smell
2

ESPAGradual Tan Body Moisturiser

200 ml

£63.24

Cream / LotionLotion
Development Time4 hours
Key IngredientsPlant melanin, shea butter, sweet almond oil
Fragrance-FreeNo
Best ForA gradual deep tan
3

GarnierSummer Body Dark Gradual Tan

400 ml

£4.75

Cream / LotionLotion
Development Time12 hours
Key IngredientsApricot Oil
Fragrance-FreeNo
Best ForDry skin, topping up your tan
4

ElemisTotal Glow Bronzing Body Lotion

200 ml

£37.50

Cream / LotionLotion
Development Time2 - 3 days
Key IngredientsElderberry seed oil
Fragrance-FreeNo
Best ForFast results
5

DecleorBiodegradable Gradual Glow Lotion

400 ml

£31.45

Cream / LotionMilk
Development Time4 - 8 hours
Key IngredientsNeroli essential oil
Fragrance-FreeNo
Best ForFast results, dry skin
6

DiorBronze Self Tanning Jelly Gradual Glow - Face

50 ml

£29.00

Cream / LotionJelly
Development Time3 hours
Key IngredientsCastor oil
Fragrance-FreeNo
Best ForTanning the face and neck
7

Isle of ParadiseHappy Tan Everyday Gradual Glow

200 ml

£14.95

Cream / LotionLotion
Development Time4 - 6 hours
Key Ingredients-
Fragrance-FreeNo
Best ForGradually building a deep tan
8

Balance MeGradual Tanning Drops

30 ml

£30.00

Cream / LotionDry oil drops
Development TimeImmediate (build over several days as required)
Key IngredientsVitamin E, aloe vera
Fragrance-FreeYes
Best ForStreak free tanning, adding colour in winter
9

DoveDermaSpa Summer Revived Body Lotion

200 ml

£3.15

Cream / LotionLotion
Development Time3 - 5 days
Key Ingredients-
Fragrance-FreeNo
Best ForTanning on a budget
10

Palmers Cocoa Butter FormulaNatural Bronze Body Lotion

400 ml

£3.99

Cream / LotionLotion
Development Time3 - 4 days
Key IngredientsVitamin E
Fragrance-FreeNo
Best ForStreak free tanning, balanced skin tone, hydration

How to Apply Gradual Tanning Lotion

How to Apply Gradual Tanning Lotion

Now, before you go slathering on your chosen gradual self-tanning lotion, you might want to read these few tips on how to get the best out of your product.


  • Make sure to buff your skin before application. This will remove any dead skin cells laying on top so that you're left with a smooth, streak-free finish.

  • Take your time adding just a little blob of product at a time - less is always more!

  • When applying, instead of going up and down, make small circular motions with your fingertips. This will allow the product to absorb into the skin evenly.

  • Go easy on the dry areas of your body, such as your elbows and knees. The dry skin will make the product stick, and if too much is used, you'll be left with dark, patchy areas. 

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Written and researched by Annie Hopkins 

About Specialist Fact-Checked Articles

Felipe Partarrieu
Dermatologist
Felipe Partarrieu

We partner with specialists across various fields to proof-read our buying guides to deliver accurate and reliable information. Our specialists do not endorse any products that we recommend.


- mybest UK

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