The best fake tan for pale skin 2024, for a streak-free glow that won't go orange

Our beauty team selects the best fake tan for pale skin to deliver a natural sunkissed glow

The best fake tan for pale skin
(Image credit: Future)

Finding the best fake tan for pale skin is no mean feat. There’s a little more leeway when you’re bronzing a darker complexion as warm olive and honey tones are pretty forgiving, but not so much when you’re porcelain or fair. 

The key to a great bottle tan is not looking like it came from a bottle. The best self tan should look natural – as if you’ve just stepped off a yacht in the Balearic islands. According to leading tanning expert James Harknett, the best way to tan pale skin is to start slowly. “I would always advise starting with the best gradual tan if you have very pale skin,” he explains. “Gradual tans contain less DHA, which is the ingredient in your product that provides a sunless glow.” 

It’s also important to be realistic. “A fake tan that is a shade that your skin would never achieve in the sun looks really outdated, and is just not flattering to the rest of your appearance like your hair and eye coloring,” adds Harknett. From softly-softly gradual to the best instant tans for zero commitment, these convincing formulas will leave even the most reluctant-to-tan complexions with a healthy glow. 

The best fake tan for pale skin, chosen by our beauty team

How we tested the best fake tan for pale skin

a sample of the best tan for pale skin ready for testing

(Image credit: Jess Beech)

To make finding the best fake tan for pale skin an easy process for you we tried over twenty different formulas, as well as looking out old favourites we have relied on for years. We applied each one over our bodies (including the face) and left them on for a week to see how they faded over time. When deciding which tans were the best for fair complexions, we judged them based on:

  • How easy they were to apply: Whether you’re a tanning expert or a novice, you want your formula to be intuitive and simple to apply. 
  • Whether the finish was even: There’s little more frustrating than waking up to a patchy, streaky tan. All the best fake tan for pale skin on this list delivered an even, convincing finish. 
  • How evenly they faded: We want our tan to deliver past day one, so we monitored how well the finish lasted over the course of a week. 
  • How long they lasted: Here today, gone tomorrow? The results of some tans are more short-lived than others. 
  • Whether they had a tell-tale fake tan smell: Good news – applying fake tan no longer comes with an Eau de Biscuit fragrance. The latest formulas are using innovative ways to cancel out and mask this traditional scent. 

When we were happy we’d learned everything there was to know about one tan, we ran a bath, slathered on one of the best body exfoliators, and moved on to the next one with a nice clear canvas. 

How to choose the best fake tan for pale skin

If you want to learn how to fake tan like a pro, particularly when you’re working with porcelain skin, follow these expert tips and master the art of believable bronzing. 

  • Choose the right formula: "For paler skin tones I recommend using a light, hydrating formula which you can build up over time," advises Jules Von Hep. "Tanning waters and oil mists are the most hydrating tan possible. You are quite literally giving your skin a drink and they are so easy to apply - the trick is to apply liberally. Your skin should be drenched after application and then blended with a mitt, swept gently over the skin." This will also prevent the dehydration and patchiness that has us asking is fake tan bad for your skin
  • Go gradual: "If you are pale and looking for a natural, sun-kissed glow, avoid darker shades of tan with higher levels of DHA as this will add too much red pigment to the skin," says St.Tropez Tanning + Skincare Expert Michaella Bolder. "I love using gradual tan for building a really subtle glow on paler skin. If you apply tan every 3-4 days, by the time you get to the richest tone, you’ve already begun to wash the tan off during showering. I like to then reapply around day three or four to help maintain a hydrated and consistent, gorgeous-looking tan."
  • Think about undertone: "The simplest way of finding your undertone is by your skin’s reaction to the sun," explains Amanda Harrington. "If you have a paler skin tone with a slight red/yellow undertone, possible freckles, a high mole count, blue-ish veins and burn easily in natural sunlight, you have a cool undertone. If you are pale, with a yellow/green undertone to the skin, greenish veins, sallow in the winter but catches tan almost immediately with little effort, then you are a natural olive." This goes for picking the best bronzer for fair skin, too - always think about undertone. 
  • Put in the prep: "Paler skins can really catch the tan in dry areas," says Harrington, "so scrub and moisturise pre-tanning application. I always apply a balm or moisturiser on hands, elbows, knees, and feet to avoid the tan catching, even if I am using a gradual tan." And if the worst happens and you forget your barrier cream, read our beauty editor's guide to how to get fake tan off hands.

Does fake tan work on very pale skin?

Fake tan absolutely does work on very pale skin. The problem is that it can work a little too well, and you’ll need to be careful not to go overboard with the shade. “It’s important to not choose a shade that is too dark for your skin tone,” says Bolder. “If you have pale skin and opt for a dark tan then it’s likely that your result will look unnatural. Gradual tanning solutions are a good option as they enable you to tailor your tan result by applying one layer over a few consecutive days until you achieve your desired glow.” 

The other issue, which we alluded to earlier, is that there’s less margin for error when you’re tanning very pale skin, as streaks and patches will be more noticeable on a lighter skin tone. “If you have very pale skin then tanning mistakes can be far more obvious than if you have olive skin,” says Harknett. “It’s really important to make sure you exfoliate thoroughly beforehand and sweep some oil-free moisturiser over drier areas like elbows, knees, and ankles.”

“If you have never self-tanned before, don’t choose the day before an occasion to try a new tan for the first time. Once you have found a product that you really like, and that suits both your skin type and your skin tone, then you can tan with more confidence. Finally, if your pale skin means you have light hair on your head and brows then keep your hair away from your face with a decent-sized toweling headband and protect your eyebrows too with a hint of Vaseline or barrier cream.” Follow these golden rules, and tanning very pale skin will be a breeze. 

What fake tan is best for pale skin with pink undertones?

Skin that’s pale with pink undertones probably wouldn’t naturally tan a deep, golden colour in the sun, so you need to keep that in mind when you’re choosing a false formula. Your skin undertone is the overall hue of your skin and will fall into one of three categories – warm (golden or yellow) cool (pink, red, or blue), or neutral (a blend of both). “The undertone of your skin is something that remains unchanged, even if your skin type and type change over time,” explains Harknett. “When choosing cosmetic products such as foundation, my clients with pink undertones are opting for the best foundations and best tinted moisturisers which have a green aspect to them to neutralize those undertones. The market has a wide variety of choices in terms of tanners too, and I think for this skin tone then St Tropez is a great option.” Bolder agrees. “If you have a pink undertone look for a green-based fake tan as this will correct any pink or redness in the skin.” 

On this kind of complexion, it’s a good idea to start with a gradual, or controllable express tan, first to avoid going overboard. “Tanning is about logic,” says Von Hepp “The more tan you add to the skin, the deeper the end result will be. If you’re a first-time tanner, apply just one light layer to the skin and get used to the colour change you see after the tan has developed. If you want to go deeper next time, just add more during application.”

How do you use your undertone to find your ideal tan?

We know how important the role of undertones is when it comes to nailing the perfect foundation match for your complexion, and the same applies to self-tan too. 

"Traditionally, the undertone of your skin is what you would see as your natural skin tone when you haven’t been in the sun for around six months," explains Bolder. "Paler skin types can often have a cool blue and sometimes a hint of red undertone. Those with olive skin tones may see more of a yellow or grey undertone that will take lightly to the sun. Darker skin tones can be a mix of blue, red, and yellow undertones."

Most tans will imbue the skin with a red pigment, which is why some can look unnaturally warm on pale complexions but the tanning industry is taking note. "I created a tanning range for paler skin tones called Natural Rose, which has cool violet and blue in the formula, which neutralises and evens out paler skin,’ explains Harrington. 

Jess Beech

Jess Beech is an experienced fashion and beauty editor, with more than eight years experience in the publishing industry. She has written for woman&home, GoodtoKnow, Now, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Own and Chat, and is a former Deputy Fashion & Beauty Editor at Future PLC. A beauty obsessive, Jess has tried everything from cryotherapy to chemical peels (minus the Samantha in Sex and The City-worthy redness) and interviewed experts including Jo Malone and Trinny Woodall.