Experts say that if you've never tried a self-tanning product before, tanning lotions are a good place to start. They tend to be very easy to apply, most have moisturizing properties, and they're more affordable than some other types of self-tanners. In addition, experts say that lotions offer a longer-lasting tan than sprays do.
St. Tropez makes a full line of self-tanners, and St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse (Est. $35 for 8 oz.) is a consistent hit with experts and users. It tends to hover near our "Best Reviewed" sunless tanner spot, and this year its new-and-improved formula -- enhanced with long-wear and a fresh scent -- makes it our top pick for this category. Mousse formulations are said to dry more quickly than other types, and St. Tropez claims that this formula dries in about 60 seconds. (Users say that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it does dry pretty fast.) Reviewers say that it creates a subtle, natural-looking glow.
One caveat: some owner reviewers complain about receiving mousse that came out green. A few say it actually turned their skin green; some say the green product tanned their skin just as it was supposed to. Some suggest that the mousse only turns green when it's old or expired. Whatever the case, these dissatisfied customers seem to be in the minority, but it's something to watch out for.
By all accounts, St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse goes on easily and is simple to use, but many user reviewers say that you'll get the best results with the optional St. Tropez Applicator Mitt (Est. $6.50), both in a smooth application and in keeping your palms un-tanned. Users say this tanning mousse has a fainter smell than most self-tanners.
Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer (Est. $12) is another much-beloved product that makes it on virtually every "Best of" roundup and gets high marks from both users and independent expert reviewers. It truly does impart a very natural-looking tint that appears gradually and subtly. Most buy it for exactly that reason -- they don't want a sudden change in their appearance -- or because they just want an ongoing tint of color to brighten their skin.
While you may want to supplement this Jergens product with a facial moisturizer if you use it on your face, experts say it's a good choice as an all-over body moisturizer -- unlike many other types of self-tanners. It also blends well, with a minimum of streaking or uneven color spots. This particular formulation is in a new, pump-style packaging, and users say that makes it even easier to apply as they can do so with one hand. Jergens Natural Glow comes in two shades, fair to medium and medium to tan, and in several formulations, including quick-tan options, tan extenders, firming, and even one with an SPF of 20. Users say it doesn't feel oily and, while some reviewers complain about the smell -- which was the case with every self-tanner we looked at -- the vast majority actually say they find it pleasant.
If you want your tan and you want it now, Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel (Est. $45 for 4.5 oz.) gets raves for its performance, providing a quick, dark tan that users say goes on smoothly and evenly. Gels take longer to dry than lotions, but you can still expect to be able to dress in about 30 minutes or so without getting color on your clothes. Users love that it goes on colorless and feels like lotion. The Clarins Self Tanning gel gets mixed reviews for odor -- some say it's pleasant or unnoticeable, others say it's quite obvious and unpleasant.
We didn't see any expert reviews for Fake Bake Flawless (Est. $15) but it gets a lot of love from thousands of user reviewers who say it's a great self-tanner with a very true, natural color that never strikes a sour note. They also say that, compared to other self-tanners, it's a great value for the price. Though it comes in a spray bottle, you spray it onto an included mitten and apply it like a lotion. It gives you immediate color and most say it lasts for several days, although others say it wears off quickly and you have to reapply it frequently. Most reviewers say it doesn't have a harsh or unpleasant smell, but some do say it acquires the typical self-tanner scent after several hours.
If you want to bring a little bit of warmth and luminosity to your skin but you don't want to mess with a sunless tanner, a cosmetic bronzer might be the way to go. Bronzers wash off at the end of the day like regular makeup, and they're available in powder, gel, spray and stick form.
The Balm Bahama Mama (Est. $18) gets great reviews as a matte powder bronzer that looks very natural and smooth. Experts and users say this bronzer is a great choice for olive skin tones -- a color range that often struggles to find a bronzer that doesn't turn them odd colors -- but it's also just a highly versatile color that works well on a wide range of skin tones. Users say it works well for contouring, too, and they love the soft matte finish, as it can be hard to find a bronzer that isn't shimmery. According to the Beautypedia Team at Paula's Choice, Bahama Mama doesn't emphasize fine lines or pores. This bronzer is fragrance-free and reportedly has a smooth, buttery texture.
Like the Balm Bahama Mama, Smashbox Bronze Lights (Est. $50) has a matte texture, which eliminates the sparkle and shimmer that so many people say makes a daily bronzer unsuitable for use at the office -- or for those who feel that they've passed the "sparkle" phase of their personal style. Use a big brush, say users, and it "floats" on smoothly and blend evenly. While it can be used to give your face an all-over glow, many say it's also suitable for contouring. Experts note that its talc-based formula makes application virtually foolproof. Smashbox Bronze Lights comes in two shades, Warm Matte and Deep Matte.
NARS Bronzing Powder (Est. $40) is another oft-hyped bronzer with a great reputation. It comes in three colors: Casino, Laguna, and Irrésistiblement. Experts say it delivers a natural-looking tan for fair to dark skin tones, and that the shade sheers out easily for a neutral finish. It is fragrance-free, and it contains a subtle shimmer.
One of the handiest ways to apply self-tanner is to use a pre-moistened wipe, and Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad (Est. $30) is one that comes highly recommended by experts. Users say it doesn't leave streaks and creates a healthy, warm glow. The best news about this towelette is that it's foolproof to apply -- you simply use it as you would a makeup wipe. It's fragrance-free and contains antioxidants, as the best skin care products do, and reviewers say it has a silky, pleasant texture. On the downside, it's pricier than larger, bottled formulations.