Types of Self Tanners
Spray tanning products can be self-applied or done professionally in a tanning salon. They take a bit longer to dry than a mousse, but promise full-body, even color with a quick application. Many experts say this type of application has the steepest learning curve, and several note that, for best results, having a friend spray it on is helpful. Still, when done right, spray tans look the most natural and smooth.
Lotions, gels and oils are considered the easiest to apply, making them a particularly good option for first timers. Because they dry slowly, you have a little extra leeway in wiping or washing off any misplaced product. The downside of that slow drying time is that you can't put clothing on for 10 to 30 minutes while the product soaks in. Lotions and gels are usually best for normal to dry skin, but that will depend on the specific formula.
Cosmetic bronzers can be used to warm up your complexion and give your face a healthy glow, and many users also use bronzers for highlighting and contouring. Like regular makeup, bronzers wash off at the end of the day, and they come in powder, gel, spray and stick formulations. Some experts say bronzers can make you look thinner, but they recommend going no more than two shades darker than your natural skin tone if you're a bronzer novice.
Tanning wipes, which are individually-packaged towelettes doused in tanning solution, are best for spot treatments (like sprucing up tan lines) or refreshing a fading tan. Thanks to their portability, they're popular for travel, and they're generally easy to use -- simply wipe it on and let it dry. That said, like all self-tanners, you do need to be careful when applying them (particularly for tricky areas like the knees, elbows and ankles) to avoid streaking and blotchiness.
Self-tanners give you a healthy glow without UV
Unless you've been hiding
under a soundproof beach umbrella for the past decade or so, you probably know
that experts say tanning is a bad idea, whether it's a "real" suntan,
or one you get in a tanning booth. On the medical side, sun exposure can
contribute to several kinds of skin cancer. On the beauty side, it can cause
It's hard news to swallow
because almost everyone looks better with a nice tan.
The good news is that
self-tanners can help you maintain a beautiful, healthy glow all year without
the potentially unhealthy exposure to harmful UV rays. Self-tanners are
available as lotions, gels, foams, sprays and towelettes. Regardless of the
formula or application style, all work in essentially the same way: by staining
the outermost surface of the skin with dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and erythrulose, both of which are safe for use on the skin.
Some tanners work
gradually, with a very low concentration of DHA (this also means they typically
have less of that telltale self-tanner scent) and are applied daily to build up
a tan slowly. Results from gradual tanners aren't as immediate, but because
they're applied over several sessions, it's harder to noticeably mess them up.
In addition, many people prefer to subtly increase their skin tone, so it's not
such a startling, sudden change in appearance.
Instant tanners, on the
other hand, are the way to go if you want to create a tanned appearance
quickly. In reality, all sunless tanners -- even so-called instant tanners --
take a minimum of a few hours to fully develop, but some types speed up the
process by including a tint or bronzer. The tint will wash off as soon as you
shower, but, in the meantime, it acts as a guide for application and offers
instant gratification -- and color.
The nose knows
We cannot discuss sunless
tanners without mentioning the smell. All sunless-tanning products have a
distinct odor associated with them, caused by DHA. DHA is a derivative of sugar
that reacts with dead skin cells, permanently coloring the cells right at the
surface of the skin.
DHA has its own unique
scent, but the odor of a given product will vary depending upon the amount of
DHA it contains, as well as other ingredients that are part of its formula. One
of the biggest contradictions we saw when researching self-tanning products was
when it came to rating the smell. The same product that some don't notice a
particularly strong odor in, or that they describe as "pleasant,"
might send other users straight to the shower to wash off the "offensive
Odor issues aside, DHA is
perfectly safe for skin, but that doesn't mean sunless tanners are completely
free of ingredient list scrutiny. Like most cosmetics, there's increasing
consumer interest in "natural" products that either avoid potentially
harmful ingredients like parabens or fragrances, or add ingredients like shea butter and plant oils to moisturize and condition
Whichever type of sunless
tanner you choose, it's important to remember that your bronzed skin won't
offer you any protection from harmful UV rays. Check out our report on sunscreens to prevent sunburn and sun damage. And it's also important to take care of your
delicate skin in other ways. To help with that we also have separate reports
where we recommend the best facial cleansers, facial moisturizers, wrinkle creams and body lotions.
Finding The Best Self Tanners
"Faking It: The Best Self-Tanners"
"Best self-tanners under the sun"
There are a lot of excellent, expert
sources for beauty products, and self-tanners are no exception. Beautypedia.com
and ConsumerReports.org offer comprehensive reviews of self-tanning products
along with helpful background information on the subject of self-tanning. We
also consulted the beauty product awards and roundups from sources such as Good
Housekeeping, Allure.com, TotalBeauty.com, Elle.com, RealSimple.com and Cosmopolitan.com,
because they study beauty and they know what works for their customers and
Beauty product retail sites like
Ulta.com and Sephora.com are invaluable in gauging real-world results from
these self-tanners. Users posting on those sites tend to be very knowledgeable
about beauty products, including specific ingredients and how they work, and
their input is often sharp and focused.
We also found thousands of helpful
user reviews for self-tanning sprays, lotions, bronzers and other self-tanning
products at Amazon.com.
We used all of these review sources to
get an idea of how well each self-tanner performed (essentially, whether it
provided natural-looking results and worked gradually or instantly, as
promised), how easy or difficult it was to apply, how it feels on skin -- and
how it smells, of course. One of these top products is sure to get your glow
The best spray tanners
There's no doubt about it: A professional spray tan is the
ultimate in fake tans. Self-tanners in spray formula can give you the look of a
professional tan in the privacy of your home, saving you money in the long run.
Experts say spray formulas take longer to dry and have a greater learning curve
when it comes to applying them properly, but once you get the hang of it, spray
self-tanners offer a smooth, even color appearance. However, if you prefer
something more subtle, or don't want to have to deal with figuring out how to
use a spray tanner, see our discussion of tanning lotions and bronzers elsewhere in this report. There, we recommend easy-to-apply lotions, gels,
foams, bronzers and towelettes.
The one spray tan we see that gets the most raves is (Est. $10 for 4.6 oz.).
Professional testers say it results in a natural-looking tan with very few
reports of any odd, orange or green undertones. Most users agree, saying they
love the professional spray tan vibe it gives them.
There's a learning
curve to getting perfect results -- it's important to spray evenly and avoid
spraying the same area twice to avoid streaks and uneven color, for instance --
but most say that once you've mastered the technique, using L'Oreal Sublime
Bronze is quick and easy. It also dries more quickly than most spray tanners,
users add. That said, to get best results, at least initially, you may want to
involve a friend. Those who use the buddy system report more satisfaction with
this spray tanner than those who try to go it alone. The Pro Perfect's wide,
360-degree spray nozzle earns kudos from users and professionals alike for producing
a fine, targeted mist without a lot of overspray.
L'Oreal Sublime Bronze
supplies an instant tan, but it also darkens in a few hours. You can reapply
multiple coats for even more color, but most users caution against more than
two coats, saying it can cake or flake if you lay it on too thick. The color lasts
a good amount of time -- several days at least - although it may lighten after
a shower or two. As with all self-tanners, reviews on the perceived pleasant --
or not so pleasant -- scent are mixed.
(Est. $9 for 5.3 oz.) is
a favorite among beauty editors, earning praise in reviews at Elle.com,
RealSimple.com and Allure.com. It's non-comedogenic and won't block pores,
which is a plus if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin.
Like L'Oreal Sublime Bronze,
Neutrogena Micro Mist produces a fine mist that users say creates even,
streak-free coverage when applied correctly, which, as with all spray tanners,
can be tricky. The nozzle sprays at any angle to make it easier to spray
tough-to-reach areas like your back. It's designed to be a no-rub application,
but a few reviewers say that they had to rub it in to get even coverage, a
process that left stubborn stains on their hands.
Some users say Neutrogena Micro Mist
has a subtle, fresh scent, but others say it smells "weird." However, the scent
doesn't linger as it can with some self-tanning products. It comes in two
shades: Medium Tint and Deep Tint, but several users recommend opting for the
darker shade, even if you're fair-skinned, as they didn't notice much, if any,
color after using the Medium Tint formulation.
Sephora Collection Tinted Self-Tanning Body Mist (Est. $18 for 5 oz.) is the top-rated self-tanner at Sephora.com, where it earns praise from
hundreds of users. It comes in a single shade, but has a light tint that
bronzes skin instantly so you can see where you've already applied it. Unlike Neutrogena
Micro Mist Airbrush Sunless Tan, Sephora Collection Tinted Self-Tanning Body
Mist does require you to blend it into the skin with your hands for more even
coverage, but users say it washes right off of their palms.
Reviewers say the Sephora spray tanner
creates an even, streak-free, natural-looking color without the dreaded orange
tint. A few users complain that the can is leaky, making it messy to use, and
it has a strong, typical self-tanner scent that sticks around even after