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Price Tag Cage Match: Sunless Tanners

Jul16

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesThis might not be “smackdown” worthy, but in a previous column you recommended the Aveeno Continuous Radiance sunless tanner. AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but it made my pasty-white-Irish self comfortable wearing skirts, dresses, and tanks which was key to survining a D.C. summer while 9 months pregnant. But now, I cannot find this product anywhere! Even on the interwebs! Did they discontinue it? Why? Why would they do this?

Anyways, I am in mourning, but can you recommend another sunless tanner? Or do you know a guy selling Aveeno Continuous Radiance off the back of a truck?

I KNOW. WHY. WHY, AVEENO? WHYYYYY?

I got a heads-up about the discontinuation in the Smackdown queue a few months ago. And I went with: Denial. I chose to ignore the issue completely. I still had some left! I’d just use that! And maybe the absence at stores was seasonal and the product would be back in time for summer! Yes. Yes. Yesssss,

No. No. Nooooo. I don’t know what happened, but a slew of brands decided to discontinue or change up their “gradual” sunless tanner options. I guess they weren’t as big of a sell as the traditional, faster versions, which are fine but often a little…risky for us REALLY REALLY pale-legged folk, who easily get streaky or orange.

But. What’s done is done. I have now spent the last couple months literally trying EVERY SELF TANNER EVER in an attempt to find a worthy replacement for the late, lamented Aveeno. Wanna hear how it went?

FIRST UP, THE TERRIBLE AWFUL NOT VERY GOOD AT ALL TANNERS:

Loreal Sublime Bronze ($9): It makes you SPARKLE. Like, there’s actual Twilightly shimmery GLITTER in the damn stuff. Look: I will fully cop to breaking out the glittery body powders every year at Sparklecorn, but most of the time, I am this little thing called a grown-ass-lady, who does not really need to be all reflective under the ceiling lights at the Target. For the love of GOD, Loreal, please reformulate so we can take you seriously as an everyday self-tanner.

Neutrogena MicroMist Sunless Tanning Spray ($11): I don’t even know what possessed me to try this one. It SEEMED like a good idea, because you can actually spray your own back and hard-to-reach places and stuff. But here’s the list of cons: 1) it goes on invisibly so you cannot tell where you’ve applied and where you’ve missed, 2) it freaking puffs and mists everywhere, leaving a thin film of tanner all over your bathroom, and 3) OH YEAH, it doesn’t work AT ALL. Like, it failed on the most fundamental level. I occasionally saw some streaks if I REALLY applied a lot, but most of the time, I saw absolutely NO color change at all. (My husband tried it too and declared it a Miserable Failure as well.)

Jergens Natural Glow Express ($8.99): I’ll admit. I got greedy. This is basically a concentrated version of the gradual lotion tanners, and promises full color in three days instead of the usual week. And yes, the color does show up with a few hours, as promised, but YIKES. Talk about no room for error. I ended up TERRIBLY streaky with this stuff. Like, as bad as a poorly executed salon spray tan. The color was orange and stubborn (I was unable to fully spot-treat the streaks), and after three days my body had that distinctive chemical smell emanating from my pores. Awful!

AND NOW, THE PURELY MIDDLING:

Dove Energy Glow ($11.99): This is not a bad one, but just not for me. Using the “fair to medium” shade barely resulted in any color at all, and I am definitely fair to medium. I had to use it for more than a week to achieve anything approaching a tan, and by that point I was really noticing That Horrible Smell, and seeing color show up on my sheets at night if I was sweating. I tried the “medium to dark” version and the color did show up much faster, but not surprisingly, wasn’t a good match for my complexion.

AND NOW, THE SERIOUS CAGE MATCH CONTENDERS:

At this point, I was getting desperate. And annoyed. And well past my skincare budget for the month. Bottle after bottle of cheap stuff had cost as much as buying a “nice” version at Sephora in the first place, so I decided to see whether it was really worth it to upgrade past the drugstore.

Clarins Delectable Self-Tanning Mousse, SPF 15 ($42): Clarins has a LOT of self-tanning options, and I chose this one using a highly-scientific process of opening up the tester bottles and picking the one that smelled the best. Plus, I really like the word “delectable.” And you know what? THIS STUFF IS GREAT. DAMMIT.

PROS: Color appears within hours, and lasts for days with a single application, so your pricey product should (in theory) last longer than a cheaper version that requires daily or near-daily use. Also great if you suddenly need to be at the beach on Saturday and oh crap! it’s only Friday. It doesn’t smell, it contains SPF, and comes off easily with lemon juice if you do make an application error (more on that in a bit). Plus, it really is a delectable, lovely, rich cream.

CONS: Uh. Price. That.

So. Now what? Did I really have to come to the Internet and say that a $42 tub of self-tanner was the best or only option? No! NO! I went back to the drugstore for one last attempt.

Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer ($10.99): This is the “gradual” version of the Express formulation that I hated with the tanning glow of a thousand suns. But I thought maybe it was worth a try. And it is!

PROS: Very gradual natural color, with a great moisturizer to boot. Little to no smell, even after several straight days of use. With proper application, you should not streak or look orange. Plus, it’s a great price! Available everywhere! Yay!

CONS: Did I mention it is VERY GRADUAL? After getting spoiled by the Clarins, I admit the appeal of building a subtle glow over five to seven days faded quite a bit. If you do get some “real” sun, this will boost that color nicely, but if you’re putting it on a fish-white belly that hasn’t seen the sun in years? Be prepared for a very long wait and a LOT of applications.

SO WHO WINS?

Honestly, both of them. It just depends on your schedule — do you need color NOW or can you wait? — and your budget, of course. Or whether you want some SPF, or are looking for something your significant other will want to use too. (There’s a subtle fragrance to both, and the Jergens probably gets the more unisex edge.)

I put the two products to one last test this week, after coming home from the beach and getting some “real” color. Could either cream get rid of tan lines? Would the fake color look weird next to a real tan? I used the Clarins on my back and shoulders, and the Jergens on my front — stomach, bikini-bottom line, etc. After two applications, the Clarins blended in BEAUTIFULLY, while the Jergens was still several shades lighter — but no less natural looking. So again: if you want color now, pony up for the Clarins. If you’re willing to be patient and maybe okay with just looking a LITTLE sunkissed (as opposed to actually tanned-looking), I hereby name Jergens Natural Glow to be a worth successor to our beloved Aveeno Continuous Radiance.

GENERAL SELF-TANNER APPLICATION TIPS:

1) Shower, shave, exfoliate first. Don’t ever use these on dry, dead, flaky skin without exfoliating first.

2) Rub it in for longer than you think you need to. This is especially true for the Clarins, or anything with SPF. The “white” sunscreen part will rub in first, but the actual self-tanner ingredients may still be sitting on your skin. Keep rubbing until your skin feels as dry and greaseless as possible.

3) Follow up with regular moisturizer. I know. These are all supposed to be moisturizing, but trust me: using a regular body moisturizer right after will solve 99% of your application mistakes. It will prevent streaks and ugliness around your elbows and knees, and will result in a more subtle, natural all-over color.

4) Lemon juice will remove most streaks and splotches. Sometimes, you’re in a hurry and you miss a spot or end up with something not-great looking. Dab some lemon juice on a cotton ball or just rub a slice over the problem area. (I’ve tried baby oil too, but find the lemons work much better.)

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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23 Responses to “Price Tag Cage Match: Sunless Tanners”

  1. KB Jul 16 at 3:22 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think the Jergens Natural Glow has a TERRIBLE smell. I’ll admit that it works pretty well, but the smell sometimes makes me a little sick. I had initially tried their natural glow facial moisturizer last year and it was great. This year I decided to go for the body moisturizer and I’m not happy with it. I bought the foam spray too and that smells even worse.

  2. Dani Jul 16 at 3:26 pm Reply Reply

    Okay so can I ask the most stupid of all questions? What exactly does one do to exfoliate? Does that just mean wash thoroughly? Scrub the heck out of myself?
    I am so not girly in this way. I haven’t worn makeup in Years, don’t screw with the hair in anyway outside of a brush but I desperately desperately don’t want to be pasty white scary mom at the pool. I burn spectacularly easy so i layer on the spf and generally am so pale I could pass for deceased. (Wow, I sound so attractive here, don’t I). So I really would like to try these but I’m scared.

  3. Suzy Q Jul 16 at 4:07 pm Reply Reply

    I think I might have an almost full tube of the Aveeno stuff. Any bidders?

    Also, for a quick “tan” I just use the Sally Hansen Airbrush Pantyhose. It’s a Miracle in a Can. No streaks, quicky-drying, doesn’t come off on clothes, but does come off in the shower. Spray in in your hand, rub it in, voila!

  4. Wallydraigle Jul 16 at 4:16 pm Reply Reply

    How do you all work around knees and elbows? I either have ragged white circles around my knees and elbows, or they turn Oompa Loompa orange. Maybe I just haven’t found the right product yet, but I look like a lunatic when I use self-tanners.

    Also, I have a permanent soccer tan from when I played in high school. I graduated TEN YEARS AGO. And I’m not even prone to tanning well. It fades in the winter, but the first day I spend more than ten minutes outside with shorts and a tank top on, I’m suddenly sporting the perfect outline of shin guards, shorts, and jersey on my body. My regular skin color is so white that I’ve often wondered if I could wander around naked during the summer without anyone noticing. It would just look like a skin-tight white suit! Everybody would die of blindness, but I’d be comfortable when it hits 90 with 362% humidity.

  5. Wallydraigle Jul 16 at 4:27 pm Reply Reply

    I forgot to ask my actual question for the second part: what do you do about tan lines like this? Will self-tanners just kind of blend the two areas together, or will I end up with ORANGE! on the pale parts and an actual tan color on the tan parts?

  6. Amy J Jul 16 at 4:37 pm Reply Reply

    The Jergens winner’s smell actually causes me to get migraines, so anyone with a tendency towards them should be careful with it.

  7. Valorie Jul 16 at 4:47 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, since you now have both products in your arsenal, do you think thatit would be possible to start with the Clarins for quick results and then switch to the Jergens for maintenance? Could you try it out (if you already haven’t) and let us know?

  8. EB Jul 16 at 7:28 pm Reply Reply

    TO EXFOLIATE:
    In shower, use shower poof, or loofa, or whatever that thing is called. If you don’t own one, get in there with a washcloth and soap.
    It can be really helpful to add a ‘scrub’ product – these usually contain sea salt, but are occasionally made with sugars as well. The crystals help to slough off the dead skin cells. You can make one yourself with sea salt and an oil, such as olive, almond, or sesame. It exfoliates and moisturizes!
    I’ve heard a lot lately that a sugar scrub is better because of the shape of the crystals: they are more of an over-lapping shape with more edges, where as the salt is a larger and square, and those corners are sharp. Tiny, but sharp. Do a search – homemade sugar scrubs are easy to make, and I heard strawberries are a good addition due to the acids they make, which brings me to..
    The last approach, a bit more extreme, are exfoliating products with salicilic acid or Glycolic Acid. These are pricey, and not always necessary. Plus, you are going to see a bigger difference if you use those products for at least a week before going sunless tan. And, they can be very irritating to sensitive skin. I use them on my face, prescibed by dermatologist.
    Yeah, that’s about all I know. Good luck in your exfoliations.

  9. Lori Jul 17 at 3:56 pm Reply Reply

    What’s wrong with being pasty white? :) I sport it proudly.

  10. christina Jul 18 at 12:38 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve never ever tried any sunless tanning products, but I’m thinking about getting the Clarins. My question is whether I should try a small patch (both arms maybe??) before putting it everywhere to see how I react/how it looks with my skin? How do you know how much to use/apply?

    Also, my sister had horrible headaches as well from the Jergens…99% sure same won mentioned here.

  11. Moira Jul 19 at 12:03 am Reply Reply

    Wow, my question in the Smackdown! I am still pasty white without the Aveeno – I tried Nivea Sun-kissed but it did absolutely nothing. I have a tube of Jergens that I’ve used once, but the smell turns me off and now, based on Amalah’s advice, I’ll try the Clarins – I leave for vacay on Friday. Thanks, Amy for the tips!

    P.S. I envision a youtube video where Amy teaches us all how to exfoliate an apply sunless tanner.

  12. Meredith Jul 19 at 11:39 am Reply Reply

    Mary Kay has a sunless tanner called Subtle Tanning Lotion and my friends and I love it! It smells great and gives great color. It’s been great while being pregnant during the summer in the nasty heat and humidity of Kansas.

  13. Pinkie Bling Jul 19 at 12:41 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a big fan of Banana Boat’s Summer Color, among the drugstore brands.

  14. MizJawnson Jul 19 at 3:27 pm Reply Reply

    DISCLAIMER: Huge Bare Escentuals fan. MEGA HUGE. Earlier this summer, I picked up the Bare Escentuals Faux Tan Body Moisturizer and fell. in. LOVE! Even a haphazard application didn’t produce noticeable smears. It didn’t have the strong chemical smell of some self-tanners, even the gradual ones. I think it must have a bronzer in it, as I had some color within a few hours. My biggest complaint is the same as with other self-tanners: drying time. At $18, it’s a great option!

  15. Alex Jul 19 at 3:43 pm Reply Reply

    I’m getting married at the end of October and will 100% bookmark this to come back to and see if I can get rid of my terrible tank-top tanlines at that time.

    Thanks for the info!

  16. Katie Jul 19 at 5:18 pm Reply Reply

    I am a HOPELESS self-tanner and the absolute best product i have tried are Tan Towels. Totally idiot-proof, they dry in 30 seconds and no smell!

  17. savvysavingbytes Jul 19 at 6:40 pm Reply Reply

    This year after many years of summer tanning by the sun or packaged products, I finally started seeing all the women with fair, untanned skin as looking normal and natural. So I stopped buying all those tanning products and now save myself lots of time, energy and lettuce.

  18. Cindy Jul 21 at 6:02 pm Reply Reply

    I’m with you…Aveeno was the BEST!! Loved it , loved it , loved it!! I was so shocked when I couldn’t find it this year! Can not stand Jergens, Dove , Neutragena…only luck in drug store brands was Coppertone, it didn’t smell too bad but takes FOREVER to tan. Thought I could use Bath and Body works tanner/bronzer but no. I’ve been outside now and have some color, so have given up. Maybe Aveeno will read your blog and bring back the sunless tanner !?!?!?

  19. Bethany Jul 22 at 1:18 pm Reply Reply

    I had a “natural” non-animal tested one from Whole Foods that was decent. It wasn’t super quick, but it made my legs look a little nicer and didn’t smell awful which was all I wanted.

  20. Shannon Jul 22 at 6:55 pm Reply Reply

    OK, this is weird, b/c I am a super pale Scandinavian, and have tried several self-tanners over the years with little luck, but this year I tried the Neutrogena Micro-Mist airbrush self-tanner spray and it is the only one that has ever looked nice on me! In fact, I sort of love it! And you hate it! CRAZY!

    I will say that the first time I used it, it was a bit of a disaster. However, I quickly learned that even though you’re not supposed to have to, you really need to rub it in all over after you’ve sprayed. Otherwise, you WILL have missed places, crazy stripes, etc. I just spray my legs liberally, then quickly rub all over my legs and feet (even though I can’t see the product). It ends up even and perfect. I swear!

  21. Shanna Jul 27 at 11:25 am Reply Reply

    I just tried a sample of Mary Kay’s new self tanner and LOVED it! It smells good, goes on nice and gave a gradual color change. I did have a slight real suntan going on but needed some evening out and it did that plus covered several bruises that I can’t seem to help but have all year long from the kid and general clumsiness. Worth a try in my book and I have the pastey, years of sun damage freckle thing going on with my skin so if it can hide that it is all good in my book. ;)

  22. Tiffany Aug 06 at 11:28 am Reply Reply

    Thank God for you Amy. I have a wedding next week to which I am wearing a strapless dress, and still have a summer’s worth of bathing suit strap tan lines I gotta fix. I was just wondering what to do, when BAM there it is.

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Carly Aug 08 at 10:45 pm Reply Reply

    You need to try Bare Essentials Faux Tan… it’s around 20 bucks, smells like Almond, and goes on and looks great. You can actually see your application and fix your streaks, as well. I bought it off QVC one day, but many of my friends have purchased in store. You gotta try it! :)

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