I remember the day I discovered self tanners like it was yesterday. I was 15-years-old, and my mom and I had paid a visit to our local Zellers (RIP) one gloomy afternoon during March Break of grade 10. As per usual, I was browsing the beauty and skincare aisles, when a new display caught my eye. Neutrogena had released a line of self tanners, and for $9.98, I had to try! I thought – OMG, I could fool all the kids at school and make them think I went away to Jamaica or Florida over Spring break (instead of just Zellers with my mom!). The one I picked up was in a yellow bottle and had a convenient pump. It promised that with continuous use, you would get a bronze goddess just-got-back-from-the-beach glow. I remember slathering on more than half the bottle at once the Sunday night before heading back to school. I thought, I’m SO pale! I want to look like I just got back from the beach. Ahem. You can imagine just how ridiculous I actually looked the next day. I cringe when I think about it. Not tanned. Pure orange. Oompa Loompa. And a streaky, smelly Oompa Loompa (remember how horrible self tanners used to smell?!), with hands so orange they resembled pumpkins.
Needless to say, self tanners have come a long way.
So, after years of self tanning fails (see above) to some great glow-giving products being released, I’ve compiled the ones that remain in my collection, what I like or dislike about them, and if I’d recommend them. Enjoy!
It’s labelled “Express” because it’s supposed to be a tan that develops deeper the longer you keep it on your skin. It says one hour left on skin = light tan, two hours = medium, three hours = dark. The first time I tried this I was scared I was going to have a grade 10 Neutrogena experience, so immediately after one hour I showered, and was left with little to no colour. The next time, I left on for 3 hours, and noticed quite a nice natural tan develop, that lasted a couple days. The smell isn’t unbearable, and I like the fact that the colour lasts after you shower. I use this almost every Sunday, apply it in the morning, and wash it off during my evening shower. I really don’t think you have to follow the 1-3 hour rule. It never has gotten really dark after three hours. I would recommend this one for sure, as long as you purchase the self-tanning mitt for application. (That’s a MUST unless you want ultra-stained hands).
I’m not a fan of this one at all. The smell is so strong that I literally cough after every spritz – it’s just so incredibly overpowering I can’t see it being too healthy to breathe in. It leaves a sticky residue on your skin, and it’s very easy to become streaky. The scent is so overpowering that I have actually thought of going into my backyard to do the spray – but I’m afraid my neighbour would see me 😉 This one is a fail – the L’Oreal spray I mention below is a fraction of the price, and is much better quality and scent.
This is so-so. For $36, not one I’d repurchase. I generally like St. Tropez products because the colour they give off is brown, as opposed to orange. I just found that this product really likes to collect around my pores and dry spots on my face, regardless if I exfoliate first or not (I usually do!). The baby mitt you can buy for application is super cute, and helps a lot, but I still find it collects in my pores, especially the dilated ones around my nose and on my forehead. I prefer my Clarins Self Tanning Milk for the face which I talk about more below.
I read up on this after I purchased it, and found out that there is nothing specifically formulated in this that makes it better for the face. It contains the exact same ingredients self tanners for the body generally have. It’s also highly fragranced, so if you’re acne-prone (like me), you’d probably get turned off as soon as you put this on your face. This gel goes on coloured, so you can see it, like the St. Tropez face lotion, and I thought the fact that it comes with a paint-like brush would make it great for even application – but the brush does NOTHING other than swoosh the product around your face – it doesn’t blend it out at all. And I found this to be the worst out of all the tanners listed for transferring to my bed sheets and pillow case. Boo. Definite fail.
This is my top pick for giving your face a hint of glow. This also doesn’t my skin break out. I think it’s specifically made for day time use, hence the SPF (although SPF 6 is way too low), but I have taken to using this at night, after my skincare routine. In fact, it’s become part of my routine that once my night cream has absorbed into my face, I put a dab of this anywhere the sun would naturally hit my face (bridge of nose, cheeks and forehead). I wake up to a healthy, natural looking tan that makes it so I can skip using bronzer. I would definitely recommend trying this – it gives off great colour and the consistency feels luxe. (Note, I couldn’t find this available for purchase on a Canadian site, but I got mine at Shoppers Drug Mart).
This is a self tanner I’ve been using since the beginning of my self tanning days (post Neutrogena catastrophe). I like the nozzle because I feel like it’s super easy and quick to spray your entire body and back. The colour gives off a light bronze tone, similar to the colour a good cheek bronzer gives. It’s very subtle, but can be built up, so I think this is a good option for paler skin tones. I did find it a little streaky on my legs, so maybe rub the product in after, even though the directions say you don’t need to. The smell is bearable, and this works best if you spray in a large room where you can keep your distance from walls and furniture. I’ve used it on my face multiple times, too, and never once broken out. I know quite a few ladies who swear by this one, so if you haven’t tried this, and are looking for an affordable self tanner, this would be a good option.
This one is not a favourite of mine. I’ve tried this a few times, and it’s never worked out. When it’s first applied, it leaves a nice bronze to your skin – BUT, if any water or liquid gets on your skin – it’s ruined. And I mean really ruined. After application, I washed my hands and a droplet of water must have run down my arm, which completely removed the tan, so I had a streak of natural skintone running down my arm. Same thing happened that night when I washed my face. Droplets of water must have run down my neck, and my neck was SO streaky. No joke, and don’t even think about crying, or you may look like this. It was a hot mess. I do not recommend this stuff.
I feel like a broken record talking about this – if you’ve watched my YouTube videos, you know I LOVE this stuff. I talk about it in this video and this one. I use this stuff at least every other night. It has a sweet, vanilla, banana-y type scent (yum), and gives a nice bronze glow that builds up depending on how often you apply it. I also find it lasts such a long time, that if you were to only apply it once a week, you’d still be left with a beautiful natural glow. It retails for around $11CDN, and the pump makes it super easy to apply. It comes out as a white lotion, but I have never had a problem with streaking whatsoever. This stuff is a major win.
If you want a DARK tan, this one’s probably your best bet. I really like the colour this dries to, it has a brown-green tinge when first applied, but don’t get turned off by the green, because I think that’s what helps the colour dry to an actual brown, as opposed to orange. This is a very thick cream, where a little goes a LONG way. The smell is quite pleasant, resembling cherries, and the colour lasts at least a week, depending on how much you slather on. This one without a doubt requires a mitt for application; I learned the hard way and my palms were so dark and no amount of scrubbing took it off – you’ve been warned!
Note that I have definitely become better at embracing my pasty pale skin. My husband constantly tells me how much he loves pale skin, and I think I’ve come a long way from my grade 10 Oompa Loompa experience, to
loving liking my natural skin tone. But if you’re in to amping up your glow sitch a little like me from time to time, or are interested in starting to use self tanners, I hope this post was helpful, and good on you for choosing a safer than the sun/tanning bed method! Comment below on if there are any other self tanners you recommend.
Thanks for reading, and happy [safe] tanning!