If a healthy glow is your preference, then these fuss-free fake tan products for pale skin promise to warm your complexion in an instant
With 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK caused as a result of overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, it’s fair to say we need to take our relationship with sun tanning seriously. Luckily, the best fake tan for pale skin helps build a gradual tan without the sun damage.
Fake tan from a bottle offers a golden glow without the skin damage, which can only be a good thing, right? Of course – but in practice, it isn’t always straightforward, particularly for those with very pale skin.
Unless you’re discerning in your choice of fake tan, you prep your skin thoroughly pre-application, and then apply carefully, things can become very messy, very quickly. We’re talking streaks and smears of orange, uneven tones, and an overwhelming scent of biscuits. A poor application of fake tan is a nightmare – one that goes on, because you can’t simply hop into the shower, wash it off and start again.
For all of you porcelain-skinned folk out there, the good news is that there’s a fake tan product for you. We’ve tried and tested a number of options and have found the products that will leave you looking sun-kissed, rather than like an off-duty Oompa Loompa. But first, check out our guide on how to choose the best fake tan for you.
Best fake tan for pale skin: At a glance
How to choose the best fake tan for pale skin
Where do you want to tan?
Tans for the body are often darker than those for the face, so we advise buying two separate formulations so you have more control over shading. Note, too, that tanning products for the face will tend to include ingredients that are mindful of issues such as acne or combination skin.
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Do you want an instant tan or a gradual build-up?
Instant tans come out of the bottle brown. You can see the colour going onto the skin and you’ll see its impact on the colour of your skin with immediate effect, before the shade sinks in and deepens over time. The transformation can be quite dramatic, with many formulations requiring you to wash them off a few hours after application. As such, it’s best to apply such products at home.
Gradual tans are usually white or transparent in colour – like a normal moisturiser – but turn your skin darker a few hours after application. It’s a less dramatic process, designed to build up colour over the course of a few days. Unlike instant tans, gradual tanning products don’t need to be washed off, so they’re ideal applied as part of a morning routine for those who want to tan and go.
What things should I look for on the label?
This might sound obvious, but those with pale skin should avoid products for medium or dark skin, which are likely to leave skin looking orange or of an unnatural tone.
How can I best prep my skin for tanning?
Exfoliate with a scrub or brush to get rid of dry skin and dead skin cells. Pay particular attention to the knees, elbows, hands and feet. Then moisturise skin thoroughly.
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Should I buy a tanning glove?
Yes, absolutely. Don’t attempt to apply a fake tan product with your bare hands – unless you want an uneven, streaky finish and bright orange palms.
What else do I need to consider?
We’d advise against applying fake tan in the evening and then hopping into bed, to sleep in your best white linen bed sheets. Many brands claim that their tanning products don’t come off on clothes or bed linen, but our experience suggests otherwise; almost all fake tan can and does transfer onto fabrics.
How we test fake tan for pale skin
At Expert Reviews, we know that hands-on testing gives us the best and most complete information about a product. So we personally test all the fake tan we review. Our tester – in this instance, someone with naturally pale skin – tests all the products in the line-up over the course of several weeks.
The skin preparation is the same every time – showering, then lightly moisturising – as is the application of the fake tan – using a special mitt. However, regarding how long to leave the tan on for, we follow each product’s specific instructions. So in some cases it was only for a couple of hours and in others it was overnight. We made sure to note how quickly the product dries on the skin and whether any colour transfers onto clothing.
Finally, we detailed all the product specifics, such as volume.
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The best fake tan for pale skin you can buy in 2023
1. Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Gradual Tanning Moisturiser: Best budget fake tan
Price when reviewed: £5.19 | Check price at Boots
As you’d expect, this formula smells absolutely divine. Use it as you would a moisturiser, but we’d still advise using a glove for applications – otherwise, you’ll wash the colour off the tops of your hands when you’re washing your palms! Even though this product works gradually to deliver a subtle colour change, you’ll still need to be careful around the elbows and knees.
If understated results are what you’re after, then you’ll love the naturally sun-kissed look delivered.
Key details – Size: 250ml
2. Utan Cherry Almond Turbo Mousse: Best fake tan overall
Price when reviewed: £24 | Check price at Utan
When you first apply this mousse, it’s super-dark – but don’t be alarmed. Promising to be suitable for all skin tones, what’s important when applying this fake tan is the time it’s on your skin, rather than the colour. Those with pale skin should leave it on for only an hour to be left with a gorgeous subtle glow, with no hint of orange. And those who aren’t a fan of the smell of fake tan won’t be turning their noses up at the light and fruity fragrance here – not a whiff of biscuit!
Key details – Size: 150ml
3. Skinny Tan Wonder Serum: Best fake tan for smooth application
Price when reviewed: £20 | Check price at Skinny Tan
Including Q10, vitamin E and aloe vera, this tanning serum offers anti-ageing and plenty of hydration for all skin types.
Having a shiny, shimmering finish, we can confirm that this deep brown serum will not turn your skin glittery. However, the shimmer does help you trace where it’s been applied – which you should do wearing a glove. While the bottle recommends washing off the product after six or so hours, for paler skin we reckon two hours will suffice. The end result will be a light tan that’s free of streaks or dark blotches around the knees or elbows.
It smells sweet, too, with a hint of coconut and vanilla.
Key details – Size: 145ml
4. Bronzie Gradual Fake Tanning Moisturiser: Best gradual fake tan
Price when reviewed: £19 | Check price at Bronzie
Bronzie’s fake tan not only colours your skin slowly and gently, it promises to elevate its health, too. Containing ingredients such as macadamia seed oil and aloe, this formula delivers hydration and promotes collagen growth.
Use as you would a moisturiser, being super-careful around the fingers. It dries quickly, without any hint of stickiness, despite its hydrating properties. In around six hours, skin will be transformed, looking softly tanned and completely natural.
Note, too, that £1 from every sale goes to Melanoma UK, a charity campaigning to ban the use of tanning beds, which contribute to causing skin cancer.
Key details – Size: 250ml
5. Green People Gradual Tan Moisturiser: Best fake tan for the face
Price when reviewed: £25 | Check price at Green People
Made from sustainably sourced ingredients, and vegan and cruelty-free, this fake tan will build colour gradually. Containing organic rosehip, green tea and prebiotics, it’s suitable for all skin types, delivering a warm, natural colour while nourishing even dry and acne-prone skin.
Use it instead of your regular face moisturiser. A little goes a long way – in particular, be super-careful around the hairline and eyebrows, and blend well down your neck. It has a gorgeous sweet orange fragrance, free of the “fake tan” smell. By the end of the day you’ll notice a subtle, beautifully natural glow.
Key details – Size: 50ml
6. Age Defy+ Liquid Gold Tanning Drops: Best fake tan for travel
Price when reviewed: £36 | Check price at Green People
There’s much to like about these tanning drops, but the main benefit is ease of use. Simply add a few drops – 1-5 drops to face cream, or 6-10 drops to body lotion – to any face moisturiser or body lotion to achieve a natural, sun-kissed glow. For a deeper tan, just add more drops.
Including ingredients such as seaweed and green tea, all sustainably sourced, the formula promises to protect against free radical damage for younger-looking skin. The small bottle, and the fact that you use so little, make these drops perfect for taking with you on your travels, too.
Designed for people aged 35 and over, for a customised tan just the way you like it, you can’t go wrong with these Age Defy+ Liquid Gold Tanning Drops.
Key details – Size: 30ml