Stay Connected


Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content


We Tried It: Six Different Self Tanners, From $10 to $45

Posted on

Despite our constant exposure to every beauty product under the sun, the PEOPLE beauty team’s self-tanning experience ranges from “super-newbie” to “could self tan evenly in my sleep” — and we decided it was time to even the playing field. Six of us took home different self-tanners to test-drive, and reported back on three factors: the ease of use, the smell (on a scale of icky signature self-tanner smell to so-amazing-we’d-use-it-as-perfume) and how long it lasted. The idea is to save you from scrubbing streaky heels or lamenting your sallow skin. You’re welcome!

Jackie Fields self tan
Courtesy Jackie Fields

Writer-reporter Jackie Fields Green streaks? I’ve hid them. Lizard-like splotches? I’ve scrubbed them off. Stains on my sandals? I’ve cried over them.

When it comes to self-tan products, there’s very little I won’t test. And in all my trial (and admitted error) I’ve come to depend on gradual tan lotion. They allow to you go for just a hint of color or a caramel glow.

For this challenge, I decided to try out one I’d never used before: St. Tropez’s firming gradual tan. I’d had success with the line’s other products before, and the idea that the formula would also tone my skin over time sold me. After three days, I was all nice and glowy, just in time for a wedding I was attending. I’m officially obsessed and plan on alternating between this and regular lotion to maintain my color this summer.

St. Tropez Gradual Tan Plus Firming, $40. Ease of use: 10, Smell: 6, Staying power: 9

Brittany Talarico self tan
Courtesy Brittany Talarico

Associate Editor Brittany Talarico: I’ll admit it: Self tanner intimidates me. I’ve dabbled a bit, but never tried a real concentrated color. So when my fellow StyleWatch editors suggested this “We Tried It,” I knew I had to jump on the bronzing bandwagon.

I tested the St. Tropez One Night Only Instant Glow Body Lotion. It’s perfect for beginners like me who want color but don’t want to commit to constant maintenance.

I exfoliated first and opted for an applicator mitt to spare my fingers. Three major observations: 1.) The smell of this stuff is amazing. It takes you on a tropical vacation in your mind. 2.) The dark hue of the cream is scary, but it rubs into your skin smoothly and streaking is minimal. 3.) It washes off almost instantly, so if you’re not happy with the results, just scrub clean with soap and water. I couldn’t believe how fast it worked and can’t wait to use it again!

St. Tropez One Night Only Instant Glow, $18. Ease of use: 7, Smell: 10, Staying power: 1 (it’s meant to wash off)

Pamela Edwards Christiani self tan
Courtesy Pamela Edwards Christiani

Style and Beauty Editor Pamela Edwards Christiani: I’d never heard of women of color using self-tanners until a former boss (with dark-chocolate complexion) told me she self-tanned her legs religiously in order to make them look more even in tone and with a bronzy finish.

So I started experimenting and just discovered Caudalie’s Divine Legs Tinted Body Lotion. It dries quickly and the tanning agent is natural chicory root, which is great for me since my skin is a bit sensitive to some artificial products.

I love that it washes off easily but won’t come off on your clothing. My white sheets and shorts still look spotless. It’s designed for legs, but I’ve also used it on my arms and décolleté with no issues. I did just one arm in the photo at left so you can see the difference — it’s subtle, but it makes all the difference.

Caudalie Divine Legs, $38. Ease of use: 10, Smell: 3, Staying power: 8.5

Alex Apatoff self tan
Courtesy Alex Apatoff

Style News Editor Alex Apatoff: I have the laziest beauty routine of my whole team by far. A self-tanner challenge is like asking me to scale Mt. Everest. I have to apply lotion evenly all over my body? Agh!

I finally braved the bottle of Xen-Tan I’ve had for ages (plus a handy pre-tan exfoliator I found lying around — score!) and I was glad I did. It’s pretty simple: You turn the dial to your desired tan level, and it dispenses the right amount of instant bronzer to go with the self tanner. Just be sure to rub evenly and quickly or it can flake!

It’s hard to tell from the photo but people have been commenting on my tan all day (and no one seems to be silently adding “obviously fake”) so I consider this challenging experiment a success.

P.S. This product was worth the cash if you love to self-tan, but I still swear by this stuff for an affordable glow. Yes, really!

Xen-Tan perfect blend, $45. Ease of use: 7, Smell: Starts off smelling nice (I’d give it a 6), but slowly fades into a more self-tan-y smell (a 2), Staying power: 8

Whitney Little self tan
Courtesy Whitney Little

Associate Producer Whitney Little: I’ve spent years avoiding self-tanner for fear of looking like Pauly D. But when I finally decided my blindingly white legs had frightened enough people on the streets of N.Y.C., I took Andrea’s advice and tried out the Jergens Natural Glow moisturizer. And let me tell you: My life has been forever changed.

I love that it’s just a simple moisturizer I can slather on after the shower, giving me instant results (I seriously felt like a bronzed goddess within 24 hours of using this stuff). No worrying about streaking or missing spots, plus the smell is divine. I no longer fear looking like Pauly. Plus, you can’t beat the price (under 10 bucks!). Consider me a self tanning convert — it’s even given me the confidence to try a new, bright lipstick since it looks great with a tan!

Jergens Three Days to Glow, $9.99. Ease of use: 10, Smell: 10. It smells like angels, Staying power: 7

// Director Andrea Lavinthal: Normally I ignore the directions on a beauty product and just wing it, but I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to sunless tanner, it’s best to do exactly as the box tells you.

Per the Vita Liberata instructions, I exfoliated in the shower and skipped moisturizing. I squirted some of the tinted gel onto the provided tanning mitt and rubbed it from my ankles up to my thighs in circular motions. My legs immediately turned a nice golden color just in time for bed.

The next morning my sheets were shockingly still pristine and my legs were a natural-looking shade of bronze. I didn’t notice any streaks or blotchiness, even around my knees and ankles, which is pretty impressive.

The product is supposed to be odorless, but I definitely smelled that telltale sunless tanner aroma (which weirdly reminds me of hot dogs — is anybody else with me on that?). Stench aside, I loved the nearly flawless results and the fact that the formula is organic and really moisturizing. Viva Vita Liberata!

Vita Liberata rich tinted lotion, $45. Ease of use: 8, Smell: 3, Staying power: 8