Price Tag Cage Match: Sunless Tanners
This 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.)Published July 16, 2010. Last updated July 22, 2017.