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The Best Cruelty-Free Gradual Self-Tanners for a Natural Summer Glow

by Charlotte Pointing

May 1, 2023

If you're heading off on vacation, or you just want that enviable summer glow, a sun-safe way to achieve this is by using gradual self-tanning products. This way, your skin doesn't have to endure any UV damage, and you still look like you've been lying out on the beach for a week or two. Unfortunately, many tanning products are tested on animals, but not all. Here are some of our favorite cruelty-free gradual self-tanner picks.

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What is gradual self-tanner?

If you want a beautiful bronzed glow, there are a few ways to go about it. Firstly, you can use an instant self-tan product, which will usually leave you with a tan after a few hours or so. Alternatively, you can choose to build a more natural-looking tan over a longer period of time with a gradual self-tanner.

These products, which are usually a mix of moisturizer and tanning ingredients, will give you a nice, even coverage. (With instant self-tan, streaks are a bigger risk!)

The only catch is it will take a little longer, so don't expect quick results if you're applying it last minute. It varies from product to product, but it usually takes a few days or so to start showing.

Is self-tanner tested on animals?

Sadly, some self-tanner products are tested on animals.

L'Oréal, for example, is a popular choice for gradual self-tanners, but the company is not certified cruelty-free. Nivea is another go-to brand for many, but again, it's not certified cruelty-free, and neither is its parent company Beiersdorf.

Across the beauty industry, animal testing is still commonplace. In fact, the Humane Society International estimates that around 500,000 animals are tested on every year for cosmetics.

But as consumers, we don't have to choose beauty products associated with cruelty, because there are plenty of cruelty-free brands out there offering top-quality formulas, too.

If you're looking for cruelty-free gradual self-tanners, here are some of our top choices right now.

Best cruelty-free gradual self-tanner products

Key ingredientsAloe vera, vitamin E
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?No
Parent company tests on animals?No

If you've got naturally pale skin and want to build a healthy, sunkissed glow, then Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk is a good place to start.

It's easy to apply, you don't have to worry about streaks, and as well as a natural-looking tan, it'll leave you with hydrated, soft skin, thanks to the addition of aloe vera and vitamin E in the formula.

Like most tanning products, for best results, you'll need to exfoliate before you get started.

Key ingredientsHyaluronic acid, algae extract, blueberry seed oil, raspberry seed oil
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?No
Parent company tests on animals?No - PZ Cussons

When it comes to tanning products, St. Tropez consistently comes out on top. Founded back in the 1980s, the brand has been perfecting its top-performing formulas for decades.

While it has plenty of instant tan options, this Classic Firming Lotion is ideal for building up a natural-looking tan gradually.

Plus, with hyaluronic acid and marine algae extract, as well as blueberry and raspberry seed oils (both from upcycled fruits), the formula will help to nourish, moisturize, and hydrate your skin, too.

Best gradual tanner for the face:

Key ingredientsVitamin C
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?Yes
Parent company tests on animals?No

If you just want a glowing face, rather than an all-over body result, then Isle of Paradise has the answer. The popular vegan brand has designed these easy-to-use self-tanning drops just for your face.

All you need to do is add a few droplets to your moisturizer, or even your foundation, each day, and the vitamin C-infused formula will work to even out tone, brighten up skin, and leave you with a healthy-looking glow.

Key ingredientsBali botanicals, hyaluronic acid
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?Yes
Parent company tests on animals?No

If you want a really deep glow on your face, you'll need bronzing drops. And thankfully, Coco & Eve has you covered.

The gel-like formula is available in medium or dark shades and will leave you looking like you've just stepped off the plane from a two-week vacation on the Greek islands. No foundation required.

Plus, it's enriched with hyaluronic acid for a super hydrating effect, too.

Best budget:

Key ingredientsVitamin C, Niacinamide, and Cherry Extract
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?Yes
Parent company tests on animals?No - Future Beauty Labs

Founded by English model Lottie Tomlinson, Tanologist's formulas are designed to leave your skin looking gorgeously bronzed, without so much as a hint of orange.

It has several different options, including its instant self-tan mousses, but if you prefer to build up a gradual natural looking glow all over your body, this Brightening Daily Glow lotion is perfectly suited to the job.

Like all body lotions, the formula also contains hydrating, skin-nourishing ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, and cherry extract. The latter is a potent antioxidant and will help to brighten your skin while improving texture at the same time.

Key ingredients Noni extract, rosehip, and sea buckthorn oils
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?Yes
Parent company tests on animals?No

When you think of Miranda Kerr's Kora Organics, you likely think of nourishing skincare products. But the brand also offers a tanning solution too.

But, of course, this gradual body lotion formula is not just designed to bronze your skin, but also nurture its health, too. That's why it contains softening noni extract, as well as rosehip and sea buckthorn oils, which will help to give a daily dose of much-needed hydration.

Key ingredientsShea butter and caffeine
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?Yes
Parent company tests on animals?Yes - S.C. Johnson

Gone are the days when all tanning products smelled like biscuits. Now, there are more options than ever with fruity, fresh scents, but, by giving this lotion the scent of a pina colada, Coola has gone above and beyond.

But the formula doesn't just smell great. It will also hydrate you, moisturize you (thanks to shea butter), firm up your skin (due to the caffeine content), and, of course, leave you looking bronzed and beautiful.

Key ingredientsAHA/BHAs and Vitamin D
Vegan product?Not specified
Vegan brand?No
Parent company tests on animals?No

If you're looking for a tanning product that will also exfoliate your skin at the same time, then Dr. Dennis has created glow pad towelettes that do just that.

Depending on the result you're after, the mess-free, easy-to-use Glow Pads are available in Intense Glow or Gradual Glow.

As an added bonus, they will leave your skin looking firmer, renewed, and nourished thanks to a potent blend of acids, including hyaluronic and alpha-hydroxy.

Best self-tanner with sun protection:

Key ingredientsPure hemp seed oil, chamomile, citrus fruit complex, coffee cherry extract
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?Yes
Parent company tests on animals?No

As you may have already gathered, Hempz is all about celebrating the nourishing properties of hemp seed oil, and this gradual self-tanning creme is no exception.

While the formula will help you steadily build up a natural, healthy glow, it will also hydrate, moisturize, and protect your skin, as hemp seed oil works together with ingredients like chamomile, citrus fruit, and coffee cherry extract.

Even better, thanks to the SPF content, this formula doubles as sun protection, too.

Key ingredientsVitamin E, raspberry seed oil, oat oil, coconut oil
Vegan product?Yes
Vegan brand?Yes
Parent company tests on animals?No - Future Beauty Labs

For an illuminative, radiant glow, give Tan-Luxe's The Butter a whirl.

Again, the product acts as an all-over body moisturizer, which will nourish and hydrate you while also leaving you looking beautifully sunkissed at the same time.

You'll start to see results after the first application, but to keep your tan steady and natural, keep applying every few days.

The verdict

Sadly, many popular brands with tanning products are not cruelty-free. But, until these companies stop engaging with animal testing, you do have plenty of ethical options available to you, and most of them are vegan, too. To recap, some of our top picks are:

Best gradual tanner for the face: Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Face Drops
Best budget option: Tanologist Brightening Daily Glow in Medium-Dark
Self-tanner with sun protection: Hempz Daily Moisturizing Gradual Self Tanning Creme

Which Brands Are Cruelty-Free?

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