SOS: Self-Tanner for Summer

As warnings about sun exposure increase, many woman opt for self-tanner over a suntan.  But no one wants to look like Snooki or a Real Housewife, so which tanning product should you choose?

Splurge. Miss M and I are both devotees of St. Tropez Self-Tan Bronzing Mousse ($30).  Not the lotion, the foaming mousse.

When Miss M first suggested this product, I was uncertain.  As a former beauty queen, I’ve tried dozens of self-tanners.  They usually smell terrible and impart my skin with a less-than-natural color.  However, St. Tropez is different.

The mousse is incredibly lightweight and easy-to-apply; it also dries quickly.  I apply the mousse after my shower and it’s dry before I’m done blow-drying my hair.  And as for the smell and the color, there is virtually no smell and the color is as natural a shade as I’ve ever found.

Save.  Paying $30 for a three month supply of sunless tanner was beginning to feel a bit excessive, so I went looking for a less-expensive alternative.  A friend recommended Hawaiian Tropic Island Radiance Tanning Creme ($11), so I purchased a bottle.

Unlike the St. Tropez product, the Hawaiian Tropic tanner is a thick creme.  It was easy enough to apply, but there were places where I over applied as a result.  Not exactly streaky, but definitely a little darker near the knees and ankles.  

Also, I found the fragrance to be really strong.  It’s not your usual DHA, bitter, burnt fish smell.  But like most Hawaiian Tropic products it’s a strong, sweet smell.

As for the color, it’s not as dark as the St. Tropez, though it does live up to the “2x darker” that the company promises.  But as it fades, the color reveals an orange base that makes your legs look brassy.

Verdict.  I’m sticking with the St. Tropez.  One bottle usually lasts me for an entire summer, though depending on frequency of use, you may need two.  And while it is more expensive, I think you’re paying for a far superior product.  

UPDATE: Someone sent me the link to this St. Tropez video outlining how best to apply the product.  I didn’t buy the mitt, but I always wear gloves because it will turn your palms bronze if you don’t.  But now, having seen the video, I am definitely going to buy the mitt.



  1. Trish says:

    I love St Tropez!!! I use to do the monthly spray tan package at the tanning salon for $54 a month and St Tropez is soooo much better and more economical!!! It looks so natural and a bottle lasts for a while! And the mitt makes all the difference. It's so good! Also I use it on my face but I wake up with a small blemish every time. So it's not perfect for that. Buy the mitt!!!

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. Sarah says:

    Any suggestions on where to go to get a spray tan in a salon? As opposed to doing it a home?

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  3. Belle says:

    I worked at Hollywood Tans in Penn Quarter when I was in grad school. It's a nice salon, and they offer either booth spray tans or airbrush spray tans by appointment.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  4. helixy says:

    I've been using the Jergens Natural Glow line. I'm not a fan of the smell (like Hawaiian Tropic's product, it is also not that gross DHA smell, but it is kind of artificial-sickly-sweet.) It abates, of course, but not as fast as I'd like if I am applying it after showering but before work. As a result, I usually apply after showering in the evening. They have a separate product for the face and I ADORE it. It has no smell. It is a bit more lightweight than the body formula, it is moisturizing, it is SPF 20 or 30 (can't remember which). I wish they sold the facial formula in larger bottles so I could just use it everywhere.

    The damage the sun and tanning beds can cause scares me. That said, I also work long hours in an office full of artificial light (and sadly no windows in the space I occupy). Sunlight prompts your body to produce more Vitamin D as well as serotonin, which can improve your moods. Earlier this year, I was visiting a tanning bed once, maybe twice a week not with the goal of developing rich color, but just to get that serotonin boost that I can't due to my job…I leave the color to Jergens. Due to some unexpected events that impacted my budget, I had to stop and I can really tell the difference in how I feel. Damn you skin cancer risks and wrinkles!

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  5. Belle says:

    helixy- There's a dermatologist who was actually interviewed by NYTimes magazine who recommended 15 minutes of sun on your exposed arms and legs twice per week. He recommended it for the vitamin D and seratonin boost, and he was basically fired from the college he taught at.

    I'm not a doctor, but every once in awhile I'll skip sunscreen on my legs and arms and take a short walk. I always feel better afterwards, and I'm diligent about getting checked for skin cancer. So I think it's all about finding a balance that you're comfy with. But I would never go without SPF on my hands or face.

    I used to “fake bake” with some regularity, but I don't anymore. The radiation scares me more than the sun exposure.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  6. Patty says:

    This post couldn't have come at a better time for me as I've been wrestling with the biggest white girl problem known to man all week – to spray tan or not to spray tan. I think I might try the St. Tropez instead. Do you apply it to your face as well?

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  7. Jill says:

    I have used the St. Tropez and really like it, but like you said, it can get pricey. Another one I tried recently and like is the L'oreal Sublime Glow in Medium. The lotion is tinted and thicker (obviously) than St. Tropez, but it's easy to see where you've applied. It doesn't smell as bad as some others I've found. The one thing I dislike about it — it has a small shimmer/glitter to it. This isn't a huge deal as long as I put it on at night and let it dry thoroughly before hitting the sheets. Speaking of–each time I've used this I've (stupidly) had white sheets on my bed. I haven't noticed it rubbing off at all, major plus.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  8. Belle says:

    Patty-I don't because I have acne-prone skin and don't want to risk it. But I think the company makes a separate product just for the face. I just apply some bronzer.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  9. S says:

    I am allergic to sunless tanner, so I stay pale. Is it the DHA (or DHS?). Is there a kind without the allergen that you or your friends recommend?

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  10. Sarah B. says:

    Perfect timing! I'm picking up some of the mousse today. Do you have tips on application? Is it worth buying the mitt to use with the mousse? Thanks!

    St. Tropez applicator mitt:;jsessionid=24D594C604722058F19F6F65F8953F32.node49

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  11. Belle says:

    S- You can find DHA free tanner. In fact, I think the save option is DHA free, but check the label.

    Sarah B- I don't use the mitt, just my hands, but I exfoliate before hand and wait until my skin is completely dry before I apply.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  12. Anna Louisa says:

    I used to use the Jergen's self-tanner foam that someone else mentioned, but I hated applying it so much that I stopped (strong smell, streaky, sticky). I now use the Neutrogena micromist self-tanner and love it…no weird smell and totally hands-free application! It also dries unbelievably fast.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  13. MeganElissa says:

    I have been thinking about St. Tropez for a while and now am definitely going to try it out! I've been using Jergen's self-tanner and haven't been too thrilled with the results.

    If I do have a special occasion though, I use the Lorac Tantalizer Body Luminzer. ( I would use it every time I wear a dress or shorts, but the price at $32/bottle keeps it in the once-in-a-while category.

    It adds a perfect tint to any skin tone and doesn't streak like some self-tanners. It did take me a little bit to find the right amount to use though, so try it out a couple times before an event. Lastly – make sure you wash your hands after applying and wait a minute or two before you get dressed!

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  14. Ellen says:

    St. Tropez Mousse is heavenly… but in a pinch the Neutrogena Micro-Mist will work, it's less expensive but I think it runs out much faster than the St. T

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  15. Heather says:

    @ Sarah, I've been going to Fit to Be Tan in Clarendon for 3 yrs now for airbrush tans and love it. The owner Heather is incredibly nice and knowledgeable (as is the rest of the staff), and the tans always look great and never that horribly orange mystic tan look. It's a little pricey, I think $45 a tan but there are cheaper packages and I think they used to do a new customers first-tan-is-free or seriously discounted deal.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  16. Erica says:

    This honestly was the best timed post ever. I've always been keen to try the St Tropez, but recently have been tempted to go drug-store-brand. I'm a self-tanning newbie, and am totally afraid of getting streaks or looking like snooki, so I think I'm going to splurge now based on your advice and try the St Tropez! Thanks so much!

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  17. XF says:

    I have a friend who does a lot of swimsuit runway/catalogue work and she swears by L'Oreal drugstore self-tanners. L'Oreal owns Lancome, which apparently is an industry gold standard for self-tanners but is basically only a higher-end version of their drugstore stuff.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  18. SarahT says:

    I agree with XF but also recommend A Tan for All Seasons by Bliss. It's readily available at most department stores or Sephora, is about the same price point as the competition, and leaves a really great, natural-looking color. I love that the spray come out purple to counteract any unnatural orange-y color and it really helps with the application too. Full disclosure – I'm blessed with medium coloring already so it may not work as well for ladies with lighter coloring.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  19. mallory says:

    The mitt makes all the difference with St Tropez in my opinion and is 100% worth it. This is a deeply staining mousse that can darken your hands almost instantly. The mitt stops this from happening as well as gives you a much more perfect coverage. FYI-they make a dark mousse now that I am loving because it looks a little more like a natural dark tan than the regular mousse.

    June 25, 2012/Reply
  20. Wendy says:

    Belle: I'm really interested in the St Tropez too. How long does the tan last, before you have to reapply? Thank you!

    June 26, 2012/Reply
  21. Trishelle says:

    I couldnt agree more! best self tanner hands down. Go St. Tropez!!

    June 26, 2012/Reply
  22. Anon says:

    Belle, how long does St Tropez last? A spray tan at my salon is $40 and since it lasts ~10 days, I just kinda deal with being pale unless it's for an event. How does it look when it wears off? Does it come off in splotches or is it all-over gradual?

    And another vote for perfectly timed post. We just got back from the beach and I FRIED myself accidentally, so badly I got sun poisoning! I'm now really scared of the sun, so I'm looking for ways to be tan without cancer.

    June 29, 2012/Reply
  23. Belle says:

    Anon: If I apply on Sunday, the tan is mostly gone by Friday. It fades evenly, but sometimes, if I've used dyed moisturizer (I used to use a grapefruit-colored one), I get some brassiness.

    June 29, 2012/Reply