Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Question: What's the BEST SELF-TANNER?

Ever wonder how being "tan" became so popular? Well here 'ya go. Back in the 1920's CoCo Chanel went on a Mediterranean vacation and came home with the hottest new fashion accessory - a "tan." As a trendsetter and female icon of the time, women went ga-ga over CoCo's golden glow. The result: An increased consumption of baby oil and sunbathing as a mainstream past-time. As the years passed, skin cancer sadly struck and wrinkles became an issue. The result: The birth of Coppertone's first sunless tanner in 1960. A genius idea but far from perfect.

My adolescent years were spent in a perpetual quest to stay tan all year. Growing up in Washington where the sun shines all of about two months, I made exceptions for my orange streaky ankles and dark knee caps just to have that year round sunkissed look. My bathroom cabinet was stock-piled with 1/2 used bottles of sub par sunless tanners. Sadly I never found one that did the trick before I completely gave up on them. The technology since then however has come full circle. Manufacturers have improved their formulas and that horrendous smell and we can now soothe, hydrate and even restore elasticity while getting a golden, natural glow without the harmful UV effects.

Last week a reader asked if I could recommend the best self-tanner. Based on my research, here are a list of the top self-tanners from steep to cheap that won't fail you:


Steep: In 1984, Guerlain of Paris created the first bronzing powder they called "Terracotta Sunless Self-Tanning Balm ($50)." Although expensive, it's still one of the best spray tanners on the market. Its delicate iridescence and slight bronze tint give immediate gratification, and its rich oils leave your legs silky (but not sticky). Found at Nordstroms, Saks, Dillards, Sephora, and many other places, you can order online or make an in-store pick-up.

Middle of the road: I, along with Oprah.com, believe the Clarin's Self Tanning Instant Gel ($30) gives you the most natural day-at-the-beach coloring. It's clear, but its viscosity lets you feel exactly where you missed any spots. Four hours later, you won't see a streak in sight.

Cheap: Everything about the Neutrogena Sun Fresh Sunless Foam ($10) formula is featherlight: The mousse melts into skin in seconds drying quickly, it doesn't streak, and the grapefruit and nectarine fragrance smelled crisp and clean. If you have darker skin, you should opt for the medium/deep product because you may not notice a tan if you opt for the fair/medium. Available at most drugstores.


Steep: The authors of "Total Beauty," gave Clarins Radiance-Plus Self Tanning Cream-Gel for the Face ($52) 8.13 points out of 10 - the highest rating for all their tested self tanners. Why did they like it? It's light, has a pleasant smell and lasts a couple days. Its non-comedogenic formula means it won't block pores, irritate skin or cause pimples. It creates an even, radiant tan and perks up the most lacklustre of complexions. Available at major department stores.

Middle of the road: A bit pricier than M.A.C. and other bronzers on the market, testers found that Laura Mercier's Bronzing Gel ($32) is worth the price. The company suggests dabbing a bit on AFTER tinted moisturizer and BEFORE powders. This bronzer provides a "just tanned" look with a touch of rose. Warms the skin and adds a spark of shimmer. Available at Nordstrom.

Cheap: I am hesitant to recommend some cheap-o product to go on the face. After all, you can't cover it up so with that said, I recommend a less expensive option - Origins Faux Glow Radiant Self-Tanner for the Face ($19.50). This face tanner creates an instant coulda-fooled-me fake-tan. And the tinted formula delivers instant beautification. Shows what you’ve done and still need to do. Rosemary and Orange soothe skin. Color shows smoothly, swiftly - never turns streaky, stripe-y or some sweet potato tone. Sun-craved skin looks and feels pretty pleased, remarkably radiant for days. The added perk: the refreshing aroma of Peppermint. Available at Macys.

Don't want to commit? Then try Victoria's Secret Beach Sexy Flawless Airbrush Instant Bronze Body Spray ($12). This is not, technically, a self-tanner. Its aerosol mist instantly bronzes your legs, but it washes right off in the shower. You'll get the best results when you hold the can about a foot from your legs, keep your hand moving as you spray, and blend a bit afterward

Wondering about self-tanning towelettes? If you're going to try, don't waste your money on anything other than The Tan Towel. Tan Towel Self-Tan Towelettes are tiny, totable pouches — perfect for carrying in your purse or overnight bag when you need a simple touch-up or desperately need to cover tan lines. When you rub a wipe over your skin, it darkens within two to four hours. Because it’s hard to control the amount of tanning solution that’s being applied, reviewers say Tan Towels are better for smaller spot applications rather than for the whole body. Although the most highly rated amongst towelettes, many users complain about this product’s sketchy coverage — it has a tendency to streak, especially when applied to large areas. Available at Nordstrom, Sephora, and Drugstore.com.

Looking for a moisturizing lotion that will give you a gradual glow? The best on the market is Jergen's Natural Glow. At $5 this is a steal! Its simple, non-sticky formula and non-streaking, even application makes this a hit with consumers. Because this product is diluted with lotion, users say that it doesn’t smell as strongly as other sunless tanners (which are known to emit chemical odors). Jergens Natural Glow also comes in two tanning shades, enabling users to better match their skin tone. Found at your local drugstore, this is an easy find!

3 step process on how to self-tan the body:

1) Start by exfoliating skin with a body scrub in the shower paying special attention to rough areas including knees and elbows (dry skin absorbs higher concentrations of tanner). Shave before you tan. InStyle suggests using a body oil, instead of shaving cream, when shaving.

2) Rub Vaseline on cuticles and nails. This protects your manicure and keeps fingertips and nails from staining.

3) Apply tanner limb by limb, starting with your legs. Apply over the shin and calf of a leg, sweeping tanner down over your ankle, foot and toes. Then apply tanner to your thigh from front to back, using the excess to cover your knee. Repeat on your other leg. For the final step, apply tanner to your hips, stomach and torso, following with your shoulders and arms. Wait 10 minutes to dry before dressing and avoid any excessive activity that will make you sweat for at least a few hours. If your tan hasn't set, sweat could cause streaking.

Bonus tips: To remove tanner from palms, without washing off product from the tops of your hands, rub palms along a wet washcloth, making sure to get in between fingers.

4 step process on how to self-tan the face:

1) Pull hair up in a ponytail before you start so you don't miss any parts. Prep skin by gently cleansing and exfoliating. Skip moisturizer, which may interfere with the tanner.

2) Apply under-eye cream. You want the color of your skin to be lighter under the eyes, it makes you look younger.

3) Blend a few drops of self-tanner and equal parts moisturizer in the palm of your hand then apply over face and neck. You only want to go one shade darker than your natural color.

4) Let color develop for three hours then follow up with a sweep of bronzer on forehead, cheeks and nose: areas where the sun naturally shines.

Don't forget: Smooth remaining tanner over earlobes and upper ears. Wash hands thoroughly. Don't skip the sunscreen.


  1. Thank you for this post!!! I am HORRIBLE at applying self tanner so this really helps!! I would like to add a few pointers I've learned in my many zebra stripped bad encounters..... baby wipes get the orange off hands REALLY WELL!!! Saved me! also Loreal Sublime Spray tan (in a bottle & less than $15) works amazingly well! No bad odor & sprays on even.

  2. Awesome - thanks for the extra tips Christy!! Gotta love Baby Wipes. The many uses of Baby Wipes blog has been in the works for awhile. I need to post soon. They are seriously the best thing ever!!