Five gradual tans for the face and body

The words ‘fake tan’ may fill you with terror, but the era of turning a bright shade of orange is long gone. These days, self-tanning products are much more subtle and convincing - even if the news has yet to reach the White House.

If you are cautious or naturally pale-skinned, try a gradual tan: the effect isn’t so extreme and you can build up the colour over time. Many work with your natural pigment too, so you shouldn’t turn an alarming hue.

The Spa Spies tested five gradual tan products that promise sun-kissed, golden skin. Here's the verdict:

Elemis Total Glow Bronzing Moisturiser For Face (50ml, £32.50) and Total Glow Bronzing Body (200ml, £37.50) 


Elemis Total Glow Bronzing Moisturiser for face and body Key ingredients:

Face: vegetan, green tea, ginger water, Evodia fruit extract, rice bran oil. Body: vegetan, green tea, red algae, abyssinian oil.

First impressions:

Smart white packaging with gold writing make the product look expensive and fresh. Both lotions come in a squeezy tube with silver screw top lids – easy to use and they look chic on your bathroom shelf.

What’s it like?

Both have a pleasant aroma, although not quite as aromatic as other Elemis skincare products. Both are white creams which feel light and pleasant on the skin. They absorbed easily and quickly.

I noticed orange streaking on my legs when I got caught in a rain shower shortly after using it, so make sure you let it dry thoroughly before heading outside. I applied it twice a week for a three weeks, the colour was consistent without becoming too much.

Does it work?

Absolutely! Several people asked if I have been on holiday. I felt wonderfully confident with my bronzed glow – especially since I knew I haven’t damaged my skin in the sun.


At £65 for both products, it is quite a splurge. But for a confidence boost before stepping into summer, this self tan is worth every penny. I only wish it contained an SPF.

ESPA Gradual Tan Body Moisturiser (200 ml, £35) and Gradual Face Tan (15ml, £25) 

ESPA Gradual Tan Body Moisturiser (200 ml; £34) and Gradual Face TanKey ingredients:

Body: plant melanin with tan accelerating DHA, shea butter, sweet almond oil, jasmine, rosewood and ylang. Face: neroli, sweet orange and rose essential oils.

First impressions:

The words on the lids of the boxes describe white sandy beaches and driftwood decking, evoking the Hamptons rather than Benidorm. The tan comes in on-trend copper-coloured tubes.

When I flipped open the gradual tan lotion lid, a nutty brown lotion flowed a little eagerly into my hand – it’s worth standing on an old towel to avoid tanning the floor as well.

The face serum has a neat pump action top that delivers the perfect amount of darker liquid.

What’s it like?

The woody, warm and fragrant oils did indeed conjure summery seaside scents. Like most ESPA products, the oils are light but rich, and takes some dedicated rubbing in. I felt this encouraged a more even application and prevented streaking. I mixed it with my normal hydrating body lotion, because I have dry skin and am a bit of a fake-tan wuss.

The lotion felt wonderfully refreshing but took a while to seep in, so make sure you schedule in some naked-time while it dries.

I added a drop of the face serum to my moisturiser and mixed it on the back of my hand, then rubbed it in with small circular movements. As time went on, I became braver and added two drops… then three…

Does it work?

There was a hint of colour almost immediately, which darkened a couple of hours later to a deeper, golden glow. Two applications made me feel ready to expose my pale flesh on a beach. There was one tiny dark patch on the side of my feet after a couple of weeks of use – perhaps I was getting slapdash – but no streaking. It was useful to be able to control the depth of hue: three days in a row then a break seemed to work for me.


More Ibiza than Costa Brava, this is one of my favourite self-tanners for the best gradual tan. The colour is deep but true to the way I tan naturally, and I love the sexy spa scent. A pump on the body lotion would make it less fiddly.

Kissed by Mii Daily Boost Face Cream (50ml, £12.95)

Kissed by Mii Daily Boost Face Cream Key ingredients:

Quite a list – includes DHA, shea butter, fruit and flower oils and extracts.

First impressions:

I liked the cute blue box and tube. The cream is quite dark so I was a little nervous about how tanned it would make me. Despite the long list of ingredients, it was almost scent free.

What’s it like?

It’s a very thin moisturiser, so perfect for the morning before you put on your make up. It absorbed quickly and I could put powder on my face after about five minutes. I wasn’t immediately aware of a tan, but later in the day I noticed a difference.

Does it work?

Yes – in fact, as I have pale skin, I decided to have a break from it on day four as didn’t want to look too tanned. I was pleased with the colour, it seemed to increase into what would be a natural tan for my colouring and skin type. If I was darker skinned, I’d use it more frequently and for longer, but for me three days was perfect for lightly sun-kissed skin.


Quick to soak in and a great for moisturising, this product worked for me. I found I needed to combine it with a thicker night moisturiser to help hydrate my skin, or it would’ve been left feeling a bit dry. I was also pleased to see the product hadn’t been tested on animals.

Temple Spa Lovely Day Immediate Response Bronzing Gel (30ml, £25) and Temple Spa Goldentini Bronzing Oil (50ml, £20) 

Temple Spa Lovely Day Immediate Response Bronzing Gel and Goldentini Bronzing Oil Key ingredients:

Lovely Day: iron oxide colourants, vitamins E and B5. Goldentini: vetiver, mimosa, bitter orange, honey, green florals, sandalwood and oak moss.

First impressions:

Temple Spa’s smart, metal top, pump-action bottles are attractive and gives the impression that the products mean business.

What’s it like?

Lovely Day is thick and creamy, the gel is thick enough so only a small amount comes out with each pump. Almost completely odourless it absorbs in quickly and easily, leaving no visible streaks.

Goldentini has a golden tint, the oil is a little more viscous than the gel but still comes out slowly. This one does have a scent, which is fresh and summery, although this disappears on application.

Does it work?

Having already sun-kissed my shoulders in the sunshine, I used Lovely Day on my torso and was immediately dressed without any unwanted marks appearing. I inspected the area the next morning and saw no difference, so repeated the procedure and left it overnight. This time, the result was visible but very subtle. As a temporary rather than gradual tan, it washes off easily.

I tried Goldentini on my legs and was surprised how quickly it disappeared into my skin; my fingers felt super soft and hydrated afterwards too (although I’d always advise washing your hands straight away). My legs had an immediate shimmer to them; the next day, the results were more visible than the gel, but still subtle.


A great product with no mess or streaking on application. The results aren’t massively obvious after just one use - more of a gradual glow, you may need several more applications for a natural bronze to darker tanning. I particularly loved the scent and feel of the oil, which was silky smooth with a lovely sheen.

Thalgo Self-Tanning Cream (150ml, £27) 

Thalgo Self-Tanning CreamKey ingredients:

Aloe vera, DHA and erythrulose (self-tanning molecules).

First impressions:

The self-tanning cream comes in a plastic squeezy tube. The lettering on the lid is the gorgeous bronze shade I hope to turn. I was impressed by the short list of ingredients, too.

What’s it like?

The cream is easy to dispense and mess free. It’s like a thick body lotion, white in colour and scentless. Nobody wants to smell like a biscuit!

I tried applying the cream both with a mitt and with my hands, and found the mitt worked better. I made sure my body was moisturised and added a little extra of my body lotion to my elbows, ankles, knees and feet before applying a small amount of the self-tanning cream. The product felt cooling on the skin and it blended easily. Because the product is colourless, it was hard to tell whether it was even. I let the lotion dry, popped on my outfit and hoped for the best.

Does it work?

Late afternoon, I noticed my skin was gradually turning a gorgeous golden shade. It was subtle, like I had been outdoors for the best part of the day. My face had a healthy glow to it and any blemishes seemed less obvious.

I did struggle to get an even application. It didn’t take to my legs as well as the rest of my body and face. The bottle says that you should reapply every three days, which was true, as it had faded by then. Some areas faded more than others.


I loved the colour, the consistency and ease of use. I feel like it’s the kind of tan that you can apply quickly first thing, without worrying about ruining your clothes. I liked how gradual tanning lotion colour developed too: it didn’t make me look like I’d jetted off to Barbados on my lunchbreak. The downside was streaky legs and patchy fading.  

Top tanning tips!

The key to a successful tan is preparation. Make sure you exfoliate and shave/wax 24 hours before applying the gradual tan. Apply a body lotion to the areas you want to tan and then leave it to dry before applying the product with a tanning mitt. If you don’t have a mitt, remember to wash your hands thoroughly. Most importantly, you still need to apply an SPF when heading out into the real sun. Remember, not to apply to broken, irritated or sensitive skin.


Spa Likes

"Beautiful interiors, luxurious swimming pools, being pampered, long massages, quality food."

Spa Dislikes

"Noisy echoes, overlooking facilities, thin walls in treatment rooms, cramped spa layout."