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Best face fake tan 2023: Get a sun-kissed glow without the sun damage

Boost your facial tan without irritation or blotchiness with our pick of the best face fake tans, including creams, mists and tints

Fake tanning is the perfect way to look bronzed all year round, but be warned: a regular body tanner is no replacement for the best face fake tan. Indeed, using a body tanner on your face can cause irritation and blotchiness. A good facial tanner can rid you of these woes, while nourishing your skin and ridding you of the temptation to tan in the sun.

Sun damage is one of the leading causes of fine lines and wrinkles, which are all the more noticeable on your face. You can prevent this by keeping your face out of the sun and wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more every day. This does come at a cost, though – your face won’t look quite as golden and glowy as it normally would over the summer months.

That’s where face fake tans come in. Available in a range of forms and strengths, they’re a game-changer when you want to look bronzed on both your face and body. If you’re not sure which kinds of facial fake tans would suit you, read on for our buying guide – or scroll down to find our top picks for getting your glow on.

Best face fake tans: At a glance

How to choose the best face fake tans for you

Finding the best face fake tan for you isn’t always easy. Some people have really sensitive skin that breaks out at the first sign of change in their skincare routine, and others don’t know which is the best one for their tanning goals. To simplify things, we’ve put together a quick guide to all the different types of face fake tans to help you decide which one fits your lifestyle.

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Types of face fake tan

Tanning water: The main advantage of using tanning water is that it’s super lightweight, can be built to achieve a darker colour and doesn’t need rinsing off afterwards. Simply apply it to the face, let it sink in for a few seconds and continue with your skincare routine as normal. Some facial tanning waters come in spray bottles that allow the product to be sprayed directly onto the face, while others have a pump that dispenses the product into your hands. Either way, it’s a good idea to blend the product into the face just in case you’ve got any droplets left.

Tanning moisturiser: Just like gradual tans for the body, facial tanning moisturisers develop on the skin to create a subtle glow while boosting the skin’s moisture. The best thing about this type of tan is that it won’t stain your clothing or bed sheets and can replace your everyday moisturiser. It couldn’t be easier to use.

Tanning masks: Sleep masks work just like traditional fake tans – just apply the mask before bed after cleansing and moisturising then wash it off in the morning for a tanned glow. As it’s your face, make sure the mask is formulated with hydrating ingredients because tanning products can be drying.

Tanning drops: Tanning drops are perfect for those who want to have a lot of control over the colour of their tan. Simply add a few drops to your daily moisturiser, apply it as normal and wait for the tan to develop. The more drops you add, the deeper the tan will go; just be sure you don’t leave any streaks of moisturiser on your face, as this will leave a line of darker pigmentation. See our roundup of the best face tan drops for our recommendations.

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How to get the best results

Pre-application: Before you even think about putting facial tanner on, make sure you’ve followed this advice to make sure your tan applies evenly. The day before, exfoliate your skin using a chemical exfoliant to ensure that any dead skin cells have been removed. This should help ensure that the facial tan doesn’t stick to any dry patches.

Immediately before application, make sure you’ve cleansed your face and brushed your teeth as toothpaste can remove any tan if it touches the skin, leaving you with pale patches around your mouth. Moisturise after cleansing, and if you have dry spots that tend to cling onto tan, moisturise them again. Be sure to avoid oil-based products before or immediately after applying as this can turn the tan patchy. Also, if you have blonde hair, it’s a good idea to apply vaseline to your brow hairs and hairline using a spoolie to avoid accidentally darkening your hair with the tan.

Application: Whichever tanning product you use, the best application advice can be found on the product itself. However, if you’re in doubt, here are a few of our top tips. These come with the caveat that it depends on which type of tanning product you’re using.

In general, when tanning your face you’ll want to start at the centre and blend the tan outwards in circular motions using either your fingertips or a densely packed makeup brush. Be sure to blend the tan into your hairline and down your neck for even coverage. Tanning mists can also be buffed into the skin using this method to give a more natural finish. Make sure you only ever apply one coat at any given time, and it’s always best to apply sparingly. Remember, you can always put more on another day, but you can’t take a fake tan off easily once it’s on!

After application: The most important thing about post-fake-tan application is that it doesn’t provide adequate protection from the sun. That means you need to apply an SPF every day to keep your skin safe from sun damage, no matter how tanned you are. If you choose to apply face fake tan in the daytime, be sure to use an oil-free SPF afterwards. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid using retinol after tanning, as it can cause the tan to fade faster; try out some of the best hydrating serums instead to help prolong your tan.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best fake tans for the body

Best face fake tan: How we test

Most people’s biggest fake tan nightmare is ending up looking like a tangerine. To help you pick the best of the bunch of available options, we’ve put a vast selection of facial fake tan products to the test, to include only the best in our selection below.

For every tanning product, we began by examining the ingredients list, not only looking out for hydrating skincare ingredients that would boost a tan’s efficacy, but for any nasties, too.

Testing such a vast range of products is time-consuming and messy, so to whittle down the number, we first tested the products on our forearms, measuring out an even amount of each tanning product and then applying it in sections down our forearms. We monitored development time, longevity, and the colour of each.

Once these tests were complete, we tested the most effective, even, and buildable tans of the bunch on the face to ensure the tan sat well in any fine lines and facial pores. As such, you can be sure that the products in our list below offer even application, decent lasting power, and leave your skin with a healthy, natural-looking glow.

The best face fake tans to buy in 2023

1. utan x Jamie Tanning Water: Best tanning water for sensitive skin

Price when reviewed: £18 | Check price at utan

This tanning water from utan has been widely hailed as a game-changing facial tanner. When we tested it, it’s safe to say it lived up to the hype. It comes in a handy spray bottle that sprays evenly and coats your face, neck and shoulders in seconds. The product weightlessly sinks into the skin quickly without transferring onto your clothes, and after four to six hours you’ll be left with a natural-looking, even tan. If the normal version isn’t dark enough for you, then it’s also available in a 50% darker version. Be warned, though: the dark version really does come out dark so it’s best to start with the original version if you’re unsure.

The formulation of the utan x Jamie facial mist has also been praised as it’s packed with skin-loving ingredients that help reduce the appearance of breakouts. For example, the water is infused with CBD, which has a soothing effect on acne, dry skin and eczema. The Scottish lavender oil works in a similar way but also has an anti-inflammatory effect to soothe redness on the skin.

Key details – Type: Tanning water; Size: 100ml; Cruelty-free & vegan: Yes; Developing time: 4-6 hours

Check price at utan

2. BaliBody Gradual Face Tan Hydrating Cream: Best gradual tan moisturiser

Price when reviewed: £29 | Check price at Sephora

Facial fake tanning couldn’t be simpler when you use a tanning moisturiser: just swap out your morning or evening moisturiser for the BaliBody gradual face tan every few days and you’ll be glowing in no time. This one specifically is suitable for all skin types, has antioxidant-rich vitamin E, alongside deeply moisturising almond oil, cacao seed butter, shea butter and soothing aloe vera.

The packaging itself feels high-quality and looks gorgeous on your shelf, and the pump dispenser dispenses the perfect amount of product for the face, neck and shoulders. That means the rest of the moisturiser won’t be contaminated by you sticking your hands in it every day.

Key details – Type: Tanning moisturiser; Size: 50ml; Cruelty-free & vegan: Yes; Developing time: Not stated

Check price at Sephora

3. Vita Liberata beauty blur face: Best for use with makeup

Price when reviewed: £23 | Check price at LookFantastic

One thing that most face fake tans are missing is the immediate tan effect; the majority are formulated without a “guide colour” to show you where you’ve applied so that the tans won’t transfer onto fabrics. If you’re on the lookout for something that will give an instant glow that lasts, this 3-in-1 tinted moisturiser, face tan and skin perfector from Vita Liberata is ideal.

It comes with a stick applicator that makes application super simple – you can either use it alone for a deeper tan and lighter coverage, or mix it with foundation for a higher coverage that still tans your face. The tan immediately gives a light-reflecting finish that uses shea butter and hyaluronic acid to deeply moisturise, smooth and brighten the skin. After eight hours, when you wash off your makeup, you’ll be left with a natural-looking tan that blurs your imperfections and evens your skin tone.

Key details – Type: Tanning moisturiser; Size: 30ml; Cruelty-free & vegan: Cruelty-free, not vegan; Developing time: 8 hours

Check price at LookFantastic

4. Bondi Sands Pure Self Tanning Sleep Mask: Best budget facial fake tan

Price when reviewed: £15 | Check price at LookFantastic

With the best face fake tans, you get what you pay for; cheaper formulas tend to go patchy, have an extremely subtle effect and dry out the skin. Thankfully, this overnight mask from Bondi Sands bucks that trend. It takes the form of a hydrating mask, which can be applied on the skin before bed to leave you glowing and tanned in the morning. It has no guide colour so it won’t stain your bedsheets, and Bondi Sands recommends putting it on as the last step in your nighttime skincare routine. Be warned, though: a little goes a long way.

Its formula is also great for the price. It’s fragrance-free, extremely hydrating thanks to the hyaluronic acid, and the vitamin C has a brightening effect on the skin. Not only does your skin feel moisturised in the morning, but the antioxidant vitamin E will help combat the effects of environmental irritants and toxins. So not only is this a great tanner that’s excellent value for money, it also takes care of your skin.

Key details – Type: Tanning sleep mask; Size: 75ml; Cruelty-free & vegan: Yes; Developing time: Overnight, at least 6 hours

Check price at LookFantastic

5. SkinnyTan Tan&Tone face tanning wonder drops: Best face fake tan drops

Price when reviewed: £20 | Check price at Skinny Tan

If you’re dead set on sticking to your everyday skincare routine, or you’d rather not risk looking like you’ve been tangoed using a separate tanning product, then facial fake tan drops might be for you. Designed to mix in with your moisturiser, you can decide how many drops to add depending on how dark you want your tan to be. With the Tan&Tone face tanning drops, the recommended amount ranges from three to eight drops, so you can be as precise and careful as you wish.

These tanning drops from SkinnyTan are formulated with hydrating hyaluronic acid, vitamin E and aloe vera. They’re also fragrance free, vegan and cruelty free, so you’re not adding any nasties to your routine, only a glowy tan. In the bottle, the drops have a golden, shiny appearance, but when mixed with moisturiser it dulls to a more subtle glow. It’s got a nice sweet coconut scent too, thanks to the coconut oil in the formula. The packaging is dainty and glass, and the glass pipette dropper is angled at the end to help further control the amount of drops you dispense.

Key details – Type: Tanning drops; Size: 30ml; Cruelty-free & vegan: Yes; Developing time: 6-8 hours

Check price at Skinny Tan

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