Gradual self-tanning products contain lower doses of DHA to provide a more gradual, streak-free tan as they are applied over time (typically a week), while instant self tanners offer more rapid results (typically six hours for a full tan) but require a more precise application.
Jergens set the standard for gradual self tanners several years ago when it came out with Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer. The company has discontinued and reformulated this tanner, renaming it in the process. Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer (*Est. $8 for 7.5 oz.) works under the same premise as the original formula, but unlike the first version it contains a slew of antioxidants to better protect skin from environmental/free-radical damage.
Experts and users repeatedly say they appreciate the even coverage this self-tanning lotion provides, calling it practically goof-proof because any spots missed in the first application are likely to be covered in later applications. Users at MakeupAlley.com and TotalBeauty.com say that the Jergens self tanner results in a natural, streak-free tan. We did, however, encounter a few complaints from individuals who said that the fair/medium formula did nothing to their skin, as well as some who said their tan looked too orange. Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer is also available in a medium/tan formula for those with darker skin tones.
Jergens Natural Glow FACE Daily Facial Moisturizer (*Est. $8.50 for 2 oz.) works in a similar manner but is specially formulated for facial skin. Testers at Woman's Day magazine say it develops into a slight tint after about four days of daily use. Reviewers also like the UV protection the formula provides. The sunless tanner has an SPF rating of 20, but it doesn't contain any of the ingredients known to protect skin from long UVA rays, particularly titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. See our report on sunscreen for more detailed information.
Paula Begoun says it's best to use a separate sunscreen anyway because sunscreen needs to be applied liberally while self tanner should be applied sparingly for the best results. Experts suggest using an additional facial moisturizer for daytime use, preferably one that provides broad spectrum protection. See our report on facial moisturizers for suggestions.
Jergens also provides a speedier way to tan with Jergens Natural Glow Express Body Moisturizer (*Est. $8.50 for 4 oz.). This self-tanner lotion provides deeper, more intense color from the first application and can be reapplied for a deeper tan. Once you have obtained your ideal shade, you can maintain it with Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer. We didn't find as many reviews for the Express formula, but users at MakeupAlley.com give it an above-average rating. Most say that it produces nice, natural color within two to three days. A couple, however, say Jergens Express leaves an orange tint. It's important to note that results vary greatly from one individual to the next. Experts recommend testing a sunless tanner in an inconspicuous area to ensure that it matches your skin tone.
L'Oreal Sublime Glow Daily Moisturizer (*Est. $9 for 8 oz.) is another option among gradual sunless tanners. Although it does slightly better in user reviews at MakeupAlley.com and Drugstore.com, it isn't reviewed by experts as often as the Jergens Natural Glow line of products. One expert source, however, calls L'Oreal the best among several sunless tanners tested because it imparts a natural-looking tan. L'Oreal Sublime Glow Daily Moisturizer comes in two shades, one for fair skin tones and one for medium skin tones.
Gradual sunless tanners tend to be more moisturizing than other formulas because they contain more lotion and less DHA (active tanning ingredients). Jergens' line of gradual tanning moisturizers is no different. In fact, several reviewers say they use Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer in place of body lotion because it moisturizes so well. Many also say they don't mind its more subtle odor.
L'Oreal Sublime Glow Daily Moisturizer is also praised for a pleasant scent. Users say it smells better than competitors but wish the formula wasn't so runny -- they say it has a tendency to leak out of the cap. It should be noted that the formula does contain a fair amount of denatured alcohol, which may help it to dry faster but could cause irritation to those with sensitive skin.
Like all sunless-tanning lotion formulas, Jergens Natural Glow gradual tanning moisturizers and L'Oreal Sublime Glow Daily Moisturizer take a while to dry. Reviewers recommend waiting at least 30 minutes before getting dressed -- failure to do so can easily result in stained clothing.
Due to its easy application and goof-proof results along with its vast popularity and wide availability, we chose Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer as the best reviewed gradual sunless tanner.