SOS: Self-Tanning Products

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Splurge. Two summers ago, Miss M sold the entire D.C. area out of St. Tropez Self-Tanning Mousse ($32).  She promoted it to her clients, to her friends, to strangers on the street and the readers of this blog.  Within two weeks, I was having to import self-tanner from other cities because no one had ever seen a self-tanning product that went on so flawlessly with such realistic-looking color.

Because it’s a mousse, application is a cinch.  It doesn’t run or glob up like other tanners do.  I still recommend, however, that no matter what product you use, you exfoliate (esp. around knees, ankles, elbows, etc.) and moisturize 30-minutes before hand.

Save. In a pinch before a trip, I stopped into the Bed, Bath and Beyond in PQ to pick up some self-tanner for my “Hi, it’s January!” whiter-shade-of-pale legs.  I ended up with this Jergens Natural Glow Lotion ($7).

Unlike the St. Tropez, this isn’t a one-and-done self-tanner.  This is a lotion that builds gradually to create natural-looking color that won’t leave you doing a Snooki impression.  It also has SPF to help protect your skin, which is important since nearly every woman I know has forgotten that her fake tan can easily result in a real sunburn.

To apply this product, exfoliate well at the beginning of the week and then let it go.  If you exfoliate every day, then the color will never build up and you’ll be just as pasty as before.

Verdict: Mixed.  If you’re a dedicated self-tanner, buy the St. Tropez.  It’s better for regular users because the color is deep and lasts for days.  Basically, you can apply it on Monday morning and move on with your life.

However, the Jergens is a decent alternative for women who want a less expensive option or for those who only use self-tanner for special events.  (Just remember to start applying one week in advance, a single application gets you nowhere.)  The only thing I can’t stomach about this product is the god-awful smell, it’s treacly like a bad scented candle with a hint of chemical plant.  It doesn’t bother everyone, but it is a vile assault on my olfactory glands.

Do you have a favorite self-tanning product?  Leave your suggestions in the comments.



  1. Nora says:

    I just started using the Olay Touch of Sun gradual self-tanner and I like it so much more than the Jergens. I also had a problem with the Jergens smell and was thrilled to find a gradual tanning lotion that smells like, well, lotion. The color is pretty subtle, though, so if you’re looking for a deep tan, this probably isn’t your best bet. I love it this time of year, when I’m baring my legs to the world for the first time in months.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
  2. SarahT says:

    Bliss A Tan for All Seasons! Easy spray-on that starts purple so you can see where you’ve missed, natural-looking color, no offensive smell, dries quickly. Only downside – the can only gives you maybe 2-3 full body applications.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
    • Lar says:

      Thanks for mentioning this. I have heard good things about this product but always thought $36 was way too much to pay. But if it works so well, might give it a shot!

      April 11, 2013/Reply
      • SarahT says:

        @Lar – Check Amazon. I recently saw it for a bit less, in the $20s I think.

        April 11, 2013/Reply
  3. Teri says:

    Jergens just came out with another lotion tanner – “3 days to glow,” I think. Luckily, I’m so pale that the “fair to medium” version only took two days! It really gave me some appreciable color. It also smells SO MUCH better than their original tanning lotion. It’s about $11 for a bottle several ounces smaller than the original, though, so not an earth-shattering bargain. Still, I consider it a great alternative to avoiding ghost-legs, especially with the odd spring we’re having.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
  4. Liz says:

    Hi Belle,

    Last week, I bought another tube of the Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer and I noticed a new label saying “Finally great color without odor.” I did notice that the smell was much less obvious, but it didn’t really bother me in the first place. Maybe give it another sniff when you’re out shopping. Thanks!

    April 11, 2013/Reply
    • Lauren L says:

      Yes – I also wanted to point out the new packaging and scent. I do think it is an improved scent and formula! I am not sure if they changed the body formula with SPF yet…I didn’t like it as much as the firming version.. I also use the Jergens Natural Glow (fair to medium) Face Lotion daily and think it’s awesome – a little bit of color, perfect amount of light moisture, and SPF.

      April 11, 2013/Reply
    • Claire says:

      Yep, agreed! I could never stomach the smell before but I’ve used the new formula (it’s clearly labeled so you’ll know if you have it) the last three times I’ve moisturized and haven’t smelled a whiff. Considering the cost, it’s a slam dunk for me. I used to use St. Tropez but it adds up fast.

      April 12, 2013/Reply
  5. Eleni says:

    L’Oreal Sublime bronze spray is a great for a less expensive option. The smell is not offensive at all and it dries quickly. Gives a really nice, natural color.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
  6. Rachel says:

    Can someone please explain the appeal of self-tanner to me? I don’t understand what’s wrong with accepting your own natural skin color.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
    • Barefoot Bodhi says:

      Historically speaking, standards of beauty tend to be taken from the activities of the wealthier classes. Before the Industrial Revolution, the wealthy were the ones who were able to spend large amounts of time indoors, as opposed to the outdoor work of farmers. The fashion, therefore, dictated that pale skin was the most beautiful, as it indicated a lack of need to work. With the shift of work from the fields to the cities, the wealthy became those who had the leisure time to spend outdoors, so tanned skin became the standard of beauty. Add to that, the health benefits of adequate sun exposure for Vitamin D production, and tanned skin is a social marker that you are socially high class and physically in good health. In other words, the combination of good healthy physically and financially/socially indicate beauty. Self-tanner appeals to those who then have to balance the desire for tanned (“beautiful”) skin with the worry that excessive tanning can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging.

      Also, my mom used to use the St. Tropez tanner and I always thought it had a weird grey cast to it.

      April 11, 2013/Reply
    • Lar says:

      Using self tanner is similar to how a lot of women use tinted moisturizer on their face, except self tanner is for the rest of your body. It’s not really about getting a completely different skin color because self tanner doesn’t really do that unless you put a LOT on, it’s more about balancing everything out. The self tanner tends to even out out my blotchy skin and hide some imperfections. Plus, in the beginning of summer, my face and arms starts to be one color because they gets more sun exposure and then the rest of me seems to be a completely different shade. Looks weird in a swimsuit or when I wear something that shows a little more skin. I just feel better when my skin looks even. And if I’m being totally honest, I think I look a little bit skinnier in a swimsuit. And who doesn’t want that?

      April 11, 2013/Reply
    • Ellen says:

      I do not tan naturally, but rather my skin goes from glowing white to reddish with freckles. I use light self tanner to even out my skin tone and help get a touch of a glow. It has nothing to do with not accepting my skin color, I just prefer not to blind people with my bare legs come spring. Plus, it helps hide the cellulite that seems to have attacked my body at 31. I blame too much wine. 🙂

      April 11, 2013/Reply
    • GingerR says:

      I like to self-tan my legs in the summer when I wear shorter skirts and shorts. It covers up imperfections and makes me feel polished as I bare wrinkly knees.

      I have found that lotions separates over the winter, which is a bit mess when you first squeeze it out, so even if I have leftover from the previous summer I buy new. I’m going to look for the odorless tube soon.

      April 11, 2013/Reply
  7. Jen says:

    The best self tanner EVER is a knock-off of the St. Tropez one–it’s called St Moriz Tan. It’s about $8 online and amazing! It’s not streaky or orange, and it’s a mousse also so it’s easy to apply and dries quickly. I’ll never try anything else!

    April 11, 2013/Reply
  8. Courtney says:

    the Jergens glow will stain light colored clothes so I would let it dry a touch before getting dressed. other than that – it’s amazing!

    April 11, 2013/Reply
  9. Shelley says:

    I’ve used Jergens for years, but recently tried Clarins and I think it’s a lot better.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
  10. Lindsey says:

    Way too long of a name, but I love the Hawaiian Tropic Island Radiance Creme Lotion self tanner. I used Jergens years ago but after a while I noticed that it was staining the webbing of my fingers orange…not a great look.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
  11. Valerie says:

    This is a somewhat silly question, but is there a technique for applying self-tanner to my back? I’d probably get my roommate or boyfriend to do it, but if someone has a technique I’d love to hear about it.

    Also to answer @Rachel, I think it’s totally fine to accept your normal skin color, whether it’s pale, dark, or anywhere in between. Some women just feel more comfortable after the winter with a bit more color, but don’t want unhealthy sun or tanning bed exposure. I’m half-Irish and half-Italian, which means I alternate between crazy pale and tan depending on the time of year. I’d rather start the spring without a sunburn, so I use self-tanning moisturizer and wear sunscreen outdoors.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
    • Valerie says:

      I spent a good deal of time in India last year, and it is interesting to see the cultural differences between American and Indian perceptions of skin color. Many Indian women I knew had gorgeous dark skin and were buying lightening lotions, while back home all the pale American women were trying desperately to tan/self-tan themselves.

      April 11, 2013/Reply
  12. Meredith says:

    I used ot use Jergens and liked it, however I am currently used Clarin’s sunless tanner and LOVE it. I usually put it on my face, shoulders, neck, arms once a week, and legs about once every two weeks.

    April 11, 2013/Reply
  13. Jessica says:

    I actually use both the St. Tropez and Jergens, just in a rotation. Its more natural looking (on me at least) and gives me a chance to fix any mistakes I make. And no matter what I use, I ALWAYS apply with the St. Tropez mitt thingy that the woman at Sephora made me purchase – best $8 I’ve ever spent!

    Also, Maskcara just did a really, really good post on self tanners:

    April 11, 2013/Reply