Ever since a bronzed Coco Chanel came back from a Mediterranean vacation in the 1920s and made the tan the hottest fashion accessory, women have been going ga-ga over golden skin and self tanners.
Here are my top self-tanner picks based on tester and expert reviews.
In 1984, Guerlain of Paris created the first bronzing powder they called "Terracotta." At $35 - $50 it's still one of the best spray tanners on the market. So how does it rate among testers?
- Testers overall found it dried very quickly so they could dress within 5-10 minutes of application.
- Overall color was very natural, a brown color rather than orange and the tan deepened as the hours went on. No orange color reported.
- Smell factor was average like most self-tanners, some testers found the smell was less apparent after the first shower.
- One con is the price. This is not a cheap self-tanner.
This is a great, inexpensive gradual tanner. Testers found it best to apply product over the course of a couple days so the tan could gradually grow darker. Apply after you exfoliate in the shower and apply a thin layer of moisturizer.
Overall, testers loved the shimmer it leaves behind and the price. Some found the smell inoffensive while others found it strong. One con is the product tends to be runny and many testers would have preferred a pump. Still, this is a quality self-tanner for the money ($10).
Unlike other self-tanners, Laura Mercier's bronzing gel is meant to be used to enhance the tan on the face. The company suggests dabbing a bit on AFTER tinted moisturizer and BEFORE powders.
A bit pricier than M.A.C. and other bronzers on the market, testers found it's well worth the price. This bronzer provides a "just tanned" look with a touch of rose. Warms the skin and adds a spark of shimmer. $32.
The authors of "Total Beauty," one of the many beauty books I have, gave this facial self tanner 8.13 points out of 10 -- the highest rating for all their tested self tanners. Why did they like it? It's light, has a pleasant smell and lasts a couple days. ($52)
Why do self-tanners smell? Self-tanners contain a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (or DHA) which has an unpleasant odor. These days companies try to mask the DHA smell with essential oils, but every self-tanner I've tried has some sort of DHA odor, some stronger than others. Self-tanners tend to start smelling a couple hours after application. The combination of product with natural body heat makes the smell more obvious.
This is my friend Deirdre's hands-down favorite self-tanner and she's tried dozens. She loves that it's gradual because she has super pale skin and one-application self-tanners tend to streak on her. She used this daily after her shower and while it does smell (testers found the smell overpowering and rated it poorly because of it), she deals with it.
Deirdre loves to apply Palmer's Cocoa Butter Leg Gloss over it for added tan and extra glow. Jergens is only $4.
You'll find Decleor products to be one of the best and least pungent self tanners you'll try. Testers found the product to be almost perfect: Hydrating (cheaper tanners will dry skin out), non-streaking, natural, no orange color and with a bit of shimmer. Like all self-tanners, Decleor products do smell. The tanning agents are 100 percent organic and are suitable for face as well as body. ($36)
This salon brand is beloved by celebs including Elle MacPherson. You apply this and within a few hours you'll have a deep, naturally-looking tan. This is not a gradual self-tanner. Because the product is fast-acting and dries fast, testers recommend using the pad that St. Tropez makes for their self-tanners. St. Tropez's Website also features applications videos, which I highly recommend watching. The good news is that any missed patches are relatively easy to fix.
Testers found their tan deepened over 3 hours. Testers also found that Whipped Bronze has a more pleasant fragrance than other self-tanners they tried. Ideal for the entire body, including the face. ($40)
The highest rated and most loved Clarins self-tanner on Makeupalley.com. Reviewers raved about ease of use, didn't complain about the smell and said the product worked great on oily skin. ($32)
For an inexpensive self-tanner for the body, Neutrogena's Sun Fresh doesn't streak, dries quickly and allows for a buildable tan. If you have darker skin, you should opt for the medium/deep product because you may not notice a tan if you opt for the fair/medium. ($9)
Carry these in your purse or overnight bag and wipe onto legs and body for an instant tan. ($19)