5 to Try

How to Fake Your Summer Glow All Winter Long

We put 5 self-tanners to the test to see which are best at faking that just-back-from-vacay glow.

By Beth Levine August 15, 2016

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Image: Shutterstock

As someone with an aversion to exercise, in the summertime I go by the age-old adage, “If you can’t tone it, tan it.” Which is challenging, because I am also very pale, like Casper the Ghost pale. Plus with skin cancer in my family tree, sunbathing is out (although I was guilty of this in my younger years at the Jersey shore).

So what’s a pale girl to do? Stock up on self-tanners and see which can give me a little color without streaking or veering into Ooompa Loompa territory. Once you get the hang of these products, though, the benefit is a sun-kissed summer glow that can last through every season.

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1. Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer, $8

There is a reason this product is always on everyone’s top tanner list. It is inexpensive, easy to apply and hard to mess up since it works gradually. That said, working gradually is one if its drawbacks if you need a tan, like, right now. As long as you can be patient for at least one to two days (for the fast-acting version), this product is a safe bet, giving a natural, authentic-looking color without a lot of commitment. One caveat: No matter how often Jergens describes this product as having no scent, it totally does—but it is still totally worth it.

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2. Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunless Tanner, $9

I really wanted to like this product, as everyone always seems to like Alba products. They are eco-friendly and the nice packaging feels like I am buying a higher-end product for medium-level drugstore prices.

Unfortunately, this one did not win me over. Besides not really liking the consistency of the product—it was a little too slimy for me. It did not spread as easily as I thought it would, and I kept thinking like I was over- or under-applying it. The color was similar to that of the Jergens, which was much easier to apply and had a better consistency.

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3. L’Oréal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Serum, $9.99

Though I've had good experiences with L’Oréal's Sublime line before, this was the first time trying the tanning serum and I have to say it was pretty damn good. The product suggests users exfoliate before using, and they aren’t kidding—the serum will get into every nook and cranny of your skin, even more than a lotion does. Be sure to shave first as well, especially since you have to apply the serum two to three days in a row for best results. For me the serum had a spot-on color and the benefit of a serum versus a lotion was that after applying it I felt glow-y and satin-y all over. 

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4. Sun Bum Sunless Self-Tanning Towelette, $15.99

This was another first for me as I have never used the little towels in any self-tanner product. Given that I like Sun Bum products, I figured this would be a good one to try. I was wrong. Maybe it’s the towel, or maybe I am just not very coordinated, but I ended up looking like a streaky mess and getting the product stuck in the groves of my elbows, knees and fingernail beds. To be honest, I washed it off right after applying—also a first. With only one application per unit, it's also incredibly expensive.

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5. Nivea Sun Kissed Radiance Firming Moisturizer, $6.99

I know, nothing I put on my butt and thighs is really going to firm anything, but this product suckered me in because it makes me feel better and it’s important to have dreams. This is a nice lotion with a great scent and I really liked applying it. However after five days I did not see much color improvement (despite using a lot of product) and I don’t really feel all that firmer. It is a really nice lotion though.

Bonus: How to apply self-tanner like a pro

Your skin, like any other canvas, absorbs things best when it is pulled taut. When applying fake tanner to the upper thigh/posterior region (you know, the area that needs to look really good especially in your bathing suit, or birthday suit), stand with your back to a full-length mirror, bend over and apply the fake tanner upside down so that your thighs are pulled tight. This is my foolproof method of making sure the coloring doesn’t fall into any skin dimples and create the opposite effect of what I am trying to achieve by tanning. Allow to dry and then stand up. It might look ridiculous while you are doing it (just ask my husband) but your backside will thank you.

The verdict? If you can spare a few days to achieve your faux summer glow, I found both the L’Oréal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Serum and Jergen’s Natural Glow give me the tan I want without breaking the bank or risking my skin.

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