Self-Tanner: My Favorite Formats

I've been using sunless tanning products for over 10 years, so I know you can get a fantastic glow at home for a fraction of the cost of a spray tan in a salon.
Publish date:
June 14, 2013
moisturizers, Kiehl's, self-tanners, l' oreal, jergens, Shady Day

In my 26 years of existence, I have realized one thing: People either love sunless tanner or they are completely afraid to touch it. Maybe it’s the flashbacks of applying Hawaiian Tropic Extra Dark in middle school and forgetting to wash your hands. Or maybe you’ve never touched the stuff, assuming you would end up covered in embarrassing streaks.

I wanted to write an article that would be useful for veteran self-tanners and self-tanning virgins alike. As a strong proponent of sunless tanner, I want to spread the message that you do not need to sacrifice the health of your skin to look good in your summer clothes! And no, you won’t turn into an Oompa Loompa overnight, regardless of how pale you might be.

I have been using sunless tanning products for over 10 years, and through my fair share of trial and error, as well as the wonderful evolution in quality sunless tanning products, I have a very important message for you: You can achieve a fantastic glow, at home, for a fraction of the cost of a spray tan in a salon. You’ve heard it all before, but wrinkles and skin cancer are real, and no matter how young you may be, none of us are immune from sun damage.

Sunless tanner’s active ingredient is dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which causes a chemical reaction with the amino acids in the top layer of your skin's surface and creates an artificial glow that lasts about three to five days.

With all sunless products, it’s recommended to exfoliate beforehand. I find scrubbing with a soapy washcloth works just as well as any other scrub.


I find lotions are best applied little by little. My favorites are L'Oreal Sublime Bronze and Kiehl’s Sun-Free Self-Tanning Formula. The consistencies of these two are a little different, but I use them exactly the same way.

Sublime Bronze is good because it has a tint to show you where you have applied it. The Keihl’s self-tanner is a white lotion, but it goes on very smoothly, and as long as you rub in circular and linear motions thoroughly, you will be fine. You’ll also get a nice circulation glow as a bonus for rubbing it all in so diligently.


Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer is available in two shades, one for fair skin and one for medium-tan complexions. I find this lotion to be a great refresher on days where you don't do a full-body sunless tan, and to maintain color for a few days longer.

Using this on my legs, I rarely need to sunless tan my lower body. The lower amount of DHA in gradual lotions makes them totally foolproof.


I don’t know why I was so skeptical and weirded out by these for so long, but recently I tried one for a “half body application.” It gave me a gorgeous, natural-looking glow that lasted two days. (I take a lot of baths, so my sunless tanner fades faster. The longer you spend in hot water, the faster the DHA-colored layer of skin goes away.)

You will need to be a little careful with staining, but usually just washing my hands and generally avoiding my feet gives me good results.


Aerosol sunless tanners are my favorite for when I am the laziest, because they require little to no rubbing and you can get your whole body covered the fastest. All you really do is shake the can, hold it a little over a foot away from you, and in soft motions mist your entire body.

Right now, I am using Shady Day Shady Glow Self Tanning Micro Mist. I don’t really know how to properly dispose of them though, so I try to hold on to a can as long as possible before I put in the recycling bin with the best intentions.

Just remember, most sunless tanner does not come with sun protection, unless an SPF is clearly marked on the packaging.

So, what are your favorite self-tanners? Anything I definitely need to try?