Sunless Tanners, Part 1

A follow up to Faking It: The Art of Faux Tanning

Prior to starting this blog, I never used or thought about using self-tanner. I actually cringed at the thought of the off-putting, yellow-orange color. The technology needed tweaking. Even with improvements, and despite recommending it to patients who wanted to mask imperfections, self-tanner didn’t interest me. Besides the color concern, I didn’t consider myself patient enough for the applying and drying routine. But with such interest in self-tanning and the fact that it avoids the sun exposure I talk about so often here, it was clear I needed to do some reviews. Here, I explain the review process and provide comments that apply universally to all the self-tanner products I tried. Part II contains specific product information.


Which Ones?

I chose over-the-counter products through a combination of Googling, gathering intel from friends, bloggers, beauty magazines, and several self-proclaimed self-tanner aficionados at my local mall’s cosmetics counters and beauty shops. Ultimately, I selected five that had favorable feedback, with the goal of evaluating which of these is the best:

I also turned to these sources for criteria to judge the products, selecting:

  • color produced
  • scent
  • drying time
  • duration of effect
  • cost

Common Ground

I began testing these products on a weekly basis over the past few months. I have not tested any self-tanner on my face. I noticed the following with all five products:

  • Gradual tanning: All products yielded noticeable darkening after a single coat, achieving peak effect after using once each day for three days. None took a full week for color to plateau.
  • Significant Progress: Produces a superior hue compared to historical self-tanners. I did not observe any unnatural and distinctly orange or yellow tinge.
  • Fading: Without continued, consistent use, the color gradually faded and was completely within seven days. Application every other day prevents fading.
  • Color Concentration: Color concentrates on joints where the skin is thick and creased, such as the ankles, Achilles tendon, knees, elbows, wrists, and knuckles, and the webs of the hands and feet.  This yields darker and more yellow-orange coloring. I found that quickly glossing over the largest joints to distribute product sparingly can mitigate darkening but not completely prevent it. Much practice makes *almost* perfect.
  • Streaking: Even and careful distribution is careful.  If not, the products will go streaking in the quad.
  • Moisturizer Aids Uniformity: The products are easier to distribute evenly when I moisturize prior to or with application (marry the self-tanner and the moisturizer). This also helps reduce the concentration at the joints. I also apply a small amount of moisturizer and tanner to the tops of my hands and feet so that the color doesn’t stop abruptly at the joints. For mixes, a 3:1 ratio of moisturizer to tanner works well (a dab of tanner blended with a glob of moisturizer on your palm).
  • Regular Exfoliation: Daily, gentle exfoliation sloughs off dead skin cells, improving tanner absorption and prolonging its effect. Exfoliating will lift some product off your skin. However, the process not only helps to maintain a seamless tan, but it also allows for a more gradual and even fade as opposed to a patchy dissolution. A washcloth, loofah, or pouf will do the trick.
  • Shaving Impacts: Shaving within 24 hours of application yielded splotchy coloring because the razor blade(s) lift product off the skin.
  • Nail Bed Discoloration: Residual product discolors nail beds. I found it helpful to rinse thoroughly with water or rub them with an old washcloth or rag immediately after application. You also can wear a mitt or disposable exam gloves.
  • Quick-DryingSome of my research suggested that products may take 10 minutes to completely dry, but I found most dried within five minutes of applying – even less for some. But waiting less than five minutes meant dealing with a tan residue on the sheets.  I am happy to report I learned the hard way that self-tanner washes out of most fabrics.
  • You Need A Lot: All of the products run out quickly if used for full body applications.  Not only does this mean it get expensive quickly, but it also means you had better make sure you have enough for full, repeated applications.
  • Cheeks Are a Challenge: The products are very difficult to apply to one’s own backside, even with a dedicated back applicator from Bed Bath & Beyond. Uniformity is futile. If you want a matching and non-calico appearing torso, you may be better off with professional spray tanning.

While this list may seem mostly negative, despite the steady advances in hue, the challenges self-tanner presents pale in comparison to the downside risks of traditional tanning.

Part 2 coming soon….


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Categories: General, Product Reviews


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