Among our favourite beauty innovations of recent years, these gradual tanners totally take the fear factor out of facial fake tanning. Rather than turning you a scarily, uncontrollable golden bronze overnight (or within a few hours), they put you in the driving seat, shade-wise. Great for perking up a tired winter face, prepping for a summer holiday - or keeping a glow from fading when the sun’s set on that vacation. (*Sob*.)


GOLD AWARD (JOINT) Crystal Clear Beach Glow Tan Drops

Several of the Award-winners featured here offer the potential to ‘customise’ your tan by adding a few drops of a gradual tanning concentrate to your regular moisturiser – as in the case of this product, which contains what they describe as ‘DHA Plus’, a scientific advancement of the usual DHA self-tanning ingredient which apparently doesn’t smell. (Heck, we’re all for that.) Beach Glow Tan Drops also feature moisturising coconut oil, along with a sugar complex to deepen the colour of your tan. They suggest 2-3 drops ‘for each area’, whatever that means – so our advice is to start with 2-3 drops overall, to begin with, and deepen the glow next time you moisturise, if that’s not enough.


‘This is a great product and just right for someone like me that doesn’t tan easily. It’s so easy to use and unlike some tanning products it really is fool proof as you just add it to your regular moisturisers and it works within about 45 minutes. The colour is subtle; you can add more drops if you want a deeper tan but I prefer the sun kissed glow. It looks very natural and I found it faded evenly. There is no fragrance. I would buy this product’ • ‘This gave a good natural golden tan that built up very gradually. The colour was evident on day 3. It will be great to use in autumn and winter for a bit of a pep-up’ • ‘This is a really great product, once you tailor it to suit your tone. I’m quite pale so I just added 2 drops to my face cream at first, which made me look a bit yellow. I then added 3 drops and got a much better colour - very natural light tan, which was even all over my face. I didn’t seem to go much darker after applying on consecutive days, but this was fine for me’ • ‘Great product. I have a light and fair natural skin tone on maturing skin. I tend to tan easily on my body but not so easily on my face; for me these tan drops will enable me to balance out. I felt beach-ready and holiday-perfect – promises a beautiful tan and certainly gave me a wonderful glow, which enhanced my appearance and I loved that’ • ‘Easy-to-use product that gives me a natural radiant golden tan – gorgeous! Does not look fake and seems to emulate the colour I go when on holiday. Very easy to mix into your oil or whatever you use on face at night. Doesn’t leave any colour on your pillow and lasts. When it fades it does so evenly. A little goes a long way. I used it daily for three days then every other day’ • ‘This made me look light golden and put a smile on my face. It promises a healthy glow and that's exactly what it gives. Perfect.’

£31.99 for 30ml - click to buy


GOLD AWARD (JOINT) Dr Sebagh Self Tanning Drops

Another option to be blended with your regular moisturiser or serum, with the colour from just a few drops developing over 2-3 hours and lasting for a few days. While making the very good point that (as with the two previous products) this offers no protection against actual UVA or UVA, it does, so we’re told, shield against the ageing effects of High Energy Visible light, emitted by smartphones, laptops and tablets. (Watch this space: it’s a coming thing.)


'The colour was subtle, which is what I was looking for. I used 2 drops each day. It can be applied straight to the face but I didn't try, that, as I was concerned that the colour would be too intense and/or the application would not be even with such a runny product. I think it is a good colour, no one commented on my sudden tan. My daughter has pale skin and really liked the build up of colour’ • ‘This is very realistic. It promises to work intuitively with your skin’s personal biochemistry to create a natural, adjustable, radiant glow and I found that it lived up to the claims.  I loved the floral scent, which was gone by the next day; unlike some tanning creams that smell of chemicals’ • ‘I liked the pretty packaging. This looks lovely and is quite subtle so its easy to correct and you don't need to worry about putting too much on.  It gives a wee hint of colour straight away and then goes a little bit darker. It left a subtle glow – just enough but not too much! The dark winter months can make me look quite ill sometimes – this would be good for a wee pick me up’ • ‘This looked as if I was wearing a decent bronzer – not fake which was good! I wasn't expecting the colour to be so good. It made me feel healthy looking. I like it for a little top up glow now and then’ • ‘A lovely product to use. Perfect to apply and you can tailor the intensity to your own preference. It gave me a well-rested, healthy looking complexion, without having to spend money on having a few days away! It made confident enough to go without any foundation.  Great product.’

£35 for 20ml - click to buy


SILVER AWARD ESPA Gradual Tan Face Serum

A little of this – Jo’s longstanding favourite face tanner, BTW – goes a very long way; 1-2 pumps mixed with your regular moisturiser should be enough to do face, neck and décolleté. (Jo likes to do this every night, in summer, to maintain the perfect faux glow. We’re slightly surprised that ESPA tell us that ‘for maximum colour, apply 2-3 pumps undiluted – that would really be quite dramatic, we reckon. It’s very lightly scented, meanwhile, with neroli, orange and rose essential oils.


‘This is the best self tan I've used on my face. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to tan whilst avoiding the sun. Easy to use, great results and no pore blocking.  Very simple to use, just add your preferred number of drops to your day or night cream (1 for a touch of golden glow, 3 for a fortnight in Provence). The light smell of self tanning product is gone when mixed with moisturiser and there is no residual smell the following morning. These drops do not tint instantly but you wake up after using with a lovely glow’ • ‘Great! I felt golden delicious without the dehydrating or ageing effects of sun damage. Definitely - it's a summer must have’ • ‘Self-tanners make me nervous, but I needn't have been. This was lovely and easy to use and apply, sunk in super quick along with my serum, little to no development smell and woke up with a sunkissed glow, buildable over time.   What's not to love?’ • ‘I LOVE THIS! Lovely natural addition to my skin care routine, I wear little make-up and like to concentrate on ensuring that I have well cared for skin. I used 2 drops for a very very realistic glow. This was my go-to number of drops as I am always afraid of turning into a Love Island Oompah Loompah. In fact, 3 drops is only very slightly deeper’ • ‘This product is foolproof.  Simply add it to your normal moisturiser and apply as normal and within 3 hours a subtle tan has developed. I find it works best by applying it at night and letting the product develop while you are sleeping. You wake up to a face with a healthy glow. Why use sunbeds when you can get a great result using this type of product.’

£25 for 15ml - click to buy


BRONZE AWARD St Tropez Gradual Tan Everyday Tinted Moisturiser & Primer

If you can’t be faffed to mix drops with your regular moisturiser, this is an all-in-one product that basically does triple-duty. Immediately on contact with skin, it offers an instant, complexion-blurring golden glow and then develops to a longer-term sun-kissed finish over 4-8 hours, via 100% natural tanning actives. It’s non-greasy, non-pore-blocking and its third action is that it works as a skin-smoothing, hydrating make-up primer.


‘This product containers a primer and it does blur imperfections. I found because it’s tinted it was easy to see where you were putting it so to avoid missed areas. It did go on smoothly and you can apply as much as you like to build colour. I think the overall effect of this is a natural tan rather than looking fake. It’s nice to have a little colour on your face so yes I felt generally brighter’ • ‘This gave me a lovely healthy summer tan colour, which was very realistic. It made me feel healthy and happy. I looked amazing after using it and got a lot of compliments’ • ‘I was apprehensive to try this, as I've never used a home tanning product before. I was worried that it would be difficult to apply and would look unrealistic or patchy / streaky. It was much easier to use than I had feared and I would use it again in the future, maybe in the colder months of the year to add some colour and warmth to my skin tone. I actually bought the matching body lotion to use at the same time, as I didn't want my face looking a different colour to the rest of my body!’ • ‘I have a light-to-medium skin tone normally, which tans very easily. I would describe the developed colour as firmly in the medium-tone spectrum; I looked as if I had been sunbathing for a couple of days. Applying it was much easier than I expected it to be and I found I could see where I had applied it before it sunk in to my skin, so I covered my face and neck area properly and was able to blend along the jaw, neck and hair lines. It washed off my hands easily straight after application. There was a definite sun-kissed look on day three and I decided I didn't need to apply again until it faded after about five to six days’ • ‘As someone who has never used any kind of fake tan on the face because I've always been too scared that it would look awful on me, this product was probably a good starting point as it was subtle to start but buildable. My light-medium skin has some freckles and some thread veins on cheeks; the product made it look quite glowy and healthy looking. It matched in with my neck and chest, which have some natural colour from the good weather.’

£18 for 50ml - click to buy