We Tried All The Self-Tanners So You Don’t Have To: Here’s What We Discovered

Stevi Incremona
Stevi graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Drama. When she's not auditioning and running around New York, she's escaping to her original home at the Jersey Shore and most definitely lying on a beach somewhere equidistant between the ocean and tiki bar. She's a coffee snob, craft beer enthusiast, technology nerd, and obviously (most importantly) has a very real addiction to buying and trying affordable beauty products.

We’ve all heard by now that excessive exposure to natural sun and tanning beds is no good for our skin, but that hasn’t really made us any less vain. When summertime comes around, we want all exposed skin to glow like J.Lo in the Booty music video. Because spray tans are both a time and monetary commitment, I turn to self-tanners to fix my pasty pigment problems. This is my guide to the affordable self-tanners that I’ve been putting to the test.


If you want the long lasting color pay-off You’ll want to get your hands on Jergen’s Natural Glow Instant Sun ($12.)


The bottle suggests your hands as an application tool, but this is a tanning mousse you’ll want to apply with either a tanning mitt or a pair of latex gloves to avoid staining your palms. This product applies with a tan guard so you will know where you’ve placed the color, but it takes several hours to develop.

You will wake up with a color that’s a bit intimidating, but the guard will wash off in the shower and you’ll be left with a beautiful olive base. I found this color to last on my skin for over five days and then fade nicely without much streaking.

I think it’s the best tanner at the drugstore when it comes to color and lasting power, but the mousse formula will definitely work better with people who have had a bit of self-tanning experience. With a light-weight formula that dries in under 60 seconds, you won’t have any sticky grossness on your skin, but you also won’t have much opportunity to fix any application mistakes you might have made that could lead to streaks. If you’re nervous, check out these two easier options.


If ease of use is your priority You should acquaint yourself with the new L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Luminous Bronzer Self Tanning Lotion ($8.)


This tanner goes on like a moisturizer and can be applied with your hands. I recommend the use of latex gloves when applying to avoid uneven staining on drier areas of your hands, like your knuckles or wrists.

This product has a very shimmery tan guard that will help you see exactly where you are applying it, and the moisturizing formula makes smoothing onto your skin fairly effortless.

However, unless you want to be parading around the streets looking like a disco ball, you don’t want to go into public with this on. Definitely apply it before bed and wash off in the shower. Additionally, the product claims to have a “fresh scent,” but this really just means it smells like a self tanner with a hint of citrus. I highly recommend this product for beginners – the color guard and formula make it really easy to apply not just to primed skin, but also to drier areas that may look uneven with a traditional mousse formula.


If you have places to go and people to see… but you are also not cool with feeling like a distant relative of Casper the friendly ghost, run to the drug store and pick up the original L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Lotion in the “streak-free formula” ($8.)


This little orange bottle has become one of my best friends. On days when I have failed to prepare and self-tan the night before, I feel confident throwing this formula on in the morning and going about my day.

However, you want to be careful applying this to your skin if you’re going to go that route, because this particular formula does not have as bright of a color guard. That makes it very easy to get away with wearing in the daylight, but it also leaves room for error if you’re not careful. You could end up with some streaks as the formula develops.

I find this product to be extremely easy to apply because it is a lotion and glides smoothly and evenly over the skin. Because the tan guard is so light, it won’t transfer onto clothing which means you can rock your white summer dress while your skin is gettin’ some glow.

Also, instead of having that dreaded spray tan smell, this product actually has a really nice, light summery scent. I’ve actually gotten compliments on the scent while wearing it. Once it’s washed off, you’ll be left with a natural, sun-kissed base that I find to be really beautiful and healthy looking.


Photo Sources: UltaUltaUltaLalamer


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