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Sunless Tanners For People Who Don’t Like Sunless Tanners

By Amalah

Hey! I have an idea! Now that summer is basically over, let’s talk about sunless tanners.
(Good one, Amy. You jackass.)
So I deftly avoided the whole topic all summer, mostly because I hate sunless tanners. All of them. And I have tried all of them. (I may be exaggerating here, but seriously, I have tried an INSANE number of sunless tanners.) I hate the messy application, the waiting-for-it-to-dry part, the inevitable smears, the orange palms, the smell, and I particularly hate how much my husband complains about the smell.
I found that mixing tanners in with body lotion solved a few of the problems, and then even sort-of liked a couple tanners that came pre-packaged with a body lotion in a fancy double-pump kind of thing, but still. I never found one that I liked enough to really stick with using faithfully.
Well, newsflash, moron. Now everybody in the whole world makes a gradual sunless tanner and body lotion IN ONE. Maybe you should try them out. You know, for the people.
It’s crazy, how many of these lotions are out there now. Dove, Aveeno, Jergens, Olay, Almay, EVERYBODY MAKES ONE.
dove.jpgMy foray into this exciting new world (where new = 2005, probably; I haven’t been paying attention), began when Dove shrink-wrapped a sample of their to my beloved body wash. It was actually the moisturizer for medium to dark skin tones, which I do not consider my pasty self to be. So I tossed it in a drawer and forgot about it for awhile. Then I forgot about the medium-to-dark part and started using it anyway. (I am VERY easily distracted.)
Nice! True to the product’s promise, after about 24 hours I noticed a definite golden tone to my skin — nothing outrageous and nothing orange-ish. I realized it was possible to still get streaks from this stuff (mostly on my feet and the extremely pasty underside of my arms), but I chalked that up to the fact that I was using the wrong shade for my skin. But after a few uses I also noticed that *smell.* Jason noticed it too.
Still, I was pleased, and when the sample ran out I purchased a full-size bottle for light skin tones.
Not nice. Day after day of application yielded little to no results. My skin looked the same, yet STUNK of self-tanner. After a full week I finally thought I saw a little color, but then I accidentally skipped a day and was immediately back at my natural whiteness.
aveeno.jpgI went back to the store and stared at the wall of options, and somewhat randomly decided to go with . I like Aveeno body lotions, and since Curel doesn’t make a tanning version, I figured this one might actually moisturize enough for me to use it through winter. I also went with the one for medium skin tones.
Nice! Nice nice nice! Love this one. The color shows up quickly but again, isn’t orange or fake-looking. It never really gets THAT dark, although a solid week of use will definitely give you a summer-level glow. I never had any streaking problems, and there’s no drying time needed. You can get dressed as soon as you normally do after moisturizing, and I never noticed any color transfer to my clothes — even white capris.
The moisturizer is thick and long-lasting (still not Curel-winter-eczema awesome, but I think I could probably get away with using Curel in the morning and Aveeno at night) and the best part? ABSOLUTELY NO SELF-TANNER SMELL. Instead, it’s got a very light, generic lotion-y fragrance. 100% Husband Approved.
One thing that seems to be true about all these lotions, however, is that unless your skin is truly alabaster, you probably want to go a shade darker than you think you need. And I wonder if the “medium-to-dark” color would work as well on someone who actually HAS a medium-to-dark skin tone. But for under $10 (most of the lotions are in the $6-$8 range), it’s probably a worthwhile thing to try, especially if you’re shelling out big money on high-end self-tanners in order to avoid all the complaints I mentioned before.

(Remember! These lotions DO NOT contain SPF and offer NO SUN PROTECTION. Just because you feel tan and glowy doesn’t mean you’re invincible to the sun. Wear your sunscreen, chickies.)

Published September 12, 2007. Last updated September 12, 2007.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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  • Ginnie

    September 12, 2007 at 11:50 am

    I am delurking to add my 2 cents. Like you, I have tried almost every self-tanner out there. I use the medium-dark lotion but I would classify my skin tone as barely medium. I really liked the Aveeno but (possibly coincidentally) I developed an itchy rash on my legs that migrated to other parts of my body. Not good. Right now, I am using Olay. It has a little bit of the “smell” but, while I can tolerate it, my husband loves it. It works well but you have to use it everyday or the fade is noticeable. I don’t think it has an orangeish tone (at least no one has mentioned it) and I haven’t noticed much streaking. So, there ya go…use it for what it’s worth.

  • Stephanie

    September 12, 2007 at 11:52 am

    I’ve tried both the Jergens one and the Dove one with okay results. Both have that tanner smell, though, and I’ve found that while indoors or in midday sunlight the color of my skin looks naturally sunkissed, it’s looks sort of orange-yellowy if it’s cloudy out or as the sun starts to go down. I think I’ll give the Aveeno one a try, especially if it doesn’t have that smell.
    I also noticed that I need to pre-moisturize my knees, elbows, and around my ankles because those areas on me are prone to just suck up all the color and be darker than the rest.

  • Stephanie

    September 12, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Oh wait, it was the Olay one, not the Dove one, that I’ve tried.

  • Lily

    September 12, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Actually I think your timing might be perfect… keep that ‘healthy glow’ all through winter, right?
    Thank you for mentioning the Aveeno stuff. I love their lotions and body wash… makes sense their self-tanner would be good. But I had also tried the dove tanner/lotion (the lighter skin tone one) and was less than impressed. I would have given up completely were it not for this article.
    I’m slightly optimistic that I won’t forever be pasty white girl or streaky-stinky orangey glow. Or leather tanned sun-damaged, obviously. Woohoo!

  • Jenn

    September 12, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    I bought the Dove sunless tanning lotion over the summer and I loved it. I actually had the opposite problem that you did, if I used too much at one time, or used it every day, it started looking really obvious. If I use it every day, the results are perfect. I didn’t notice any unusual smell, so maybe I got lucky?
    I tried Dove’s Energy Glow moisturizer for my face and that seemed to do diddly-squat.

  • Nicole

    September 12, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    I tried the Dove when we went on a Mexican cruise in the middle of the winter and I had my pasty-white winter colour on. H-A-T-E the smell. I would put it on on days I wasn’t working only so I could shower it off before Darren came home, it smelled so bad.
    But definitely will try the Aveeno.

  • mdvelazquez

    September 12, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    I’ve never tried sunless tanners because the smell turned me off. I have liked all the Aveeno products I’ve tried, so I may give that one a try. Thank you, Amy.

  • Susan

    September 12, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    I like the Jergens variety for my body, but this summer used Banana Boat for my face, because it’s SPF 15. I give up my “tan” for the winter. PS: September is “winter.” I’m done with tanning until April ’08.

  • Elissa

    September 12, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    I’m very excited to hear that this stuff works well! But, Amy, I’m guessing you didn’t use it on your face, so how do you get your face to match? This is the question I’ve always struggled with when thinking about self-tanner. I don’t want a weird line where I stopped near my head, and I want my face to look the same as my body.

  • Amy Corbett Storch

    September 12, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    Elissa – I use a pressed powder bronzer on my face. (There was a Price Tag Cage Match on them awhile back with my favorites.) Bronzer gives the same subtle glow as the lotion so it seems to make everything match pretty well. I believe Aveeno does make a version of tanning lotion for your face, but I’m a little chicken to try it for fear of hideous breakouts.

  • Jasmine

    September 13, 2007 at 10:58 am

    It’s really kind of ironic that here in tropical Asia, most of the women are always glowing (from sweat and from perpetual tans) and slapping the cash for whitening lotions! I myself wish I could be fairer, too. 🙂

  • Amy

    September 13, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    I am a sunless tanner queen — my natural skin tone is Casper with a blue undertone, and tanning is completely out of the question, unless you consider beet red and peeling to be a “tan.”
    After trying all of the various moisturizer w/ sunless tanner options, I have to say that I like the Olay version the best. It works well, without any obvious streaks or that hideous orange glow, and (unlike the Jergens) it does not leave you with that “eau de sunless tanner” problem.
    For my face, I am in love with the Olay Complete Touch of Sun moisturizer. Its got SPF 15 and doesn’t make me break out — both of which I require from any face product — and gives me a nice natural glow. I use it year round, adding a bit of extra bronzer powder to my make up in the summer when I want a darker look.
    (I just re-read the above and realized that I sound like an Olay spokesperson, but honestly, I don’t work for P&G!!)

  • psumommy

    September 13, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    I’m always thrilled when this time of year rolls around because yay! No more trying desperately to self-tan and then saying forget it and going without sunblock for a few days (I know, BAD Emily, *smack*…I’ve been blessed…cursed? with skin that tans extremely well despite being pasty white). Every spring, I go for some new sunless tanner, although I’ve fallen in love with the L’Oreal Sublime Bronze…but I don’t have *time* to do a sunless tanner, not with 3 kids who are bouncing off of the walls by the crack of freaking dawn.
    ALL of that was to say…I’m totally trying the Aveeno gradual tanner! You had me at ‘You can get dressed as soon as you normally do’. Thank you for doing all of the dirty work!

  • Emily

    September 14, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    I’ve tried both Jergens (no streaks, but nasty tanner smell) and Neutrogena Summer Glow, which I highly recommend. As an added benefit, it’s SPF 20.

  • Stephanie

    September 27, 2007 at 10:39 am

    I just went out and bought the Aveeno the other day and I LOVE it. I think it has an ever so slight tanner smell, but the more lotiony smell it has makes it hardly noticeable, if at all. And totally no streaks! And I don’t even have to pre-moisturize my knees and ankles like I do with others.

  • Kelcie

    March 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I am about to try the Dove Energy Glow for the first time. I’m hoping it works. I tried the Aveeno before but after about a week I developed a rash which was itchy and returned each time I used the product. I don’t recommend the Aveeno if you have sensitive skin.

  • Mary

    August 13, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    The drug store brands I’ve tried are Loreal, Jergens and Aveeno. The Jergens smell is way too strong. Can’t handle it. Loreal doesn’t do anything. The Aveeno I can’t remember….must of been a long time ago, but it was probably a bad smell. My sense of smell is too sensitive and I always prefer lotions/moisterizers without fragrence. I was searching for a fragrence free self tanner for so long, and one day I thought to ask the Clinique counter when I was in Macy’s. YES, to my suprise, they do make a fragrence free self tanner lotion. Now this stuff REALLY works. I got the medium/dark lotion. If I use this lotion for 2 days, my skin looks as bronzed as the Mystic Spray Tan. I love it! The only negitive is that I can’t really afford it. It cost $20 and doesn’t last long enough, maybe 5 applications. So I will use for special occasions.