Is Self-Tanner Still A Thing?


In college, I used self-tanner the same way I used NoDoz: too much. I loved the stuff; I went through bottles. I got it sprayed on. I used foam, gel, and towelettes. I am the color of popcorn, and at the time it seemed like everyone not only approved of me constantly dyeing myself, but also actively wanted me to be dipping my body in DHA on a weekly basis and were doing the same. I was like an Easter egg left in its lil color bath a touch too long—but I was so happy! And then one day (I would say the exact same day I moved to Mumbai, where self-tanning just made all my friends laugh at me), it simply ceased to be a thing. I didn't miss the chemical-death smell, or the zebra streaks, or walking around the house trying unsuccessfully not to touch anything, so I just never went back.

But once in a while I'd see some fellow Casper gone all Jersey Shore and sigh, or fleetingly consider the fact that tan people look like 10 pounds thinner, and wouldn't that be nice? Honestly, I've been having weird tanning pangs ever since the weather warmed up. After you've had a taste of Jergens Natural Glow, it seems, the hunger never really goes away. But I'm not sure it's even feasible at this point. I'm a redhead these days; at least in college I was beach-y blonde, so the whole thing made aesthetic sense. Now I might just look like some kind of insane anthropomorphic carrot.

So I'm asking you, dearest internet friends: Is self-tanning still something I should be doing, or should I just stop being so sentimental and get on with the business of being pale? And what about you? Are you a fan, or not so much? Opinions, questions, and critiques, s'il vous plaît!

—Your Friendly Neighborhood Lacey

Photo courtesy of ITG.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • The BTQ

    Let's just say some of us can't pull off the pale look all that well...

  • Alyssa Gapske

    This might get long: I'm also the color of popcorn, but actually kind blue and pink because you can see my veins I'm so pale. Even when I get some color naturally, it's the color that most people are in the winter.
    I went through a lot of self-tanning phases (some good, some not so good) and every year I say I'm not going to do it again, but I always come back. The good news is that products keep getting better, so they're easier to use. I try to stick to the Jergens lotion or their new BB Cream because it's subtle. I'm over looking like a carrot. But I just can't get over the fact that looking like a carrot/piece of toast does make you look so slim and healthy! The problem is it is so much maintence and most nights I crawl out of the shower and it takes all of me to slap some regular lotion on, which means I'm less likely to try to rub in self tanner.
    I have to say though, this spring I've been rocking my paleness and only using Sally Hansen body make-up on my legs when I'm desperate for consistency on my legs.
    Nice chat Lacey!

    • ITGLacey

      Thank you so much! :) I've been doing the same thing with rose hip oil because it's orange and it just makes my blue-pink-yellow tones look a little less sallow.

      Also, applying lotion is the WORST; my favorite thing about Lush Ro's Argan Body Conditioner is actually that it lets me skip post-shower lotioning-ing : P

  • A Little Lilly

    A really interesting, and different post. I have been wondering exactly the same recently!! I am pale and blonde, so it makes sense I tan... But I just hate the streaky look you sometimes get when you are too eager to get your clothes back on, or when it washes off.. Oh and the smell! But it's undeniable the benefits a tan does for you, everyone looks better tanned! Look forward to reading the responses! Lilly xx

    • ITGLacey

      The smell... Some brands aren't too bad, but others? It's like

    • Anna

      I have to disagree with the idea that blondes look better tan. As someone who's been both a tanorexic and blondorexic (surely there's a different word for this ) I thoroughly believe that pale, healthy looking skin beats any other look, with any hair colour. Especially if you have very cool blonde hair the combination with orange-y skin is dreadful. You just need a little makeup and/or some blush to make your face pop and give it definition. Also, I've noticed that jogging regularly and drinking a ton of water on top has made my skin look more peachy and a little less vampire-y

  • KittyMakesUp

    hmm tricky as a redhead I think its ok to add a *little* colour to your legs to warm them up a little! Better then a sunbed! x

    • ITGLacey

      True—I think Jane from Sea of Shoes always manages to look slightly sunkissed but not orange-y?

  • Julia

    Love this topic! A few years ago I used to try to get as brown as possible (including not so healthy sun burns and baby oil or using an unbelievably big number of Comodynes towelettes) however I've come to terms with myself (at least with this issue, still have plenty left): I know I'm not brown and that I'll never be very tanned. Since last summer I sunbathe responsibly with my sunscreen SPF50+. Personally I do like dark and tanned skin but I wouldn't risk looking orange or having serious skin issues just to achieve brown skin!

  • Sophie Isabella D.

    Once upon a time, about 2-3 years ago, I was unhealthily depressed about my incredibly fair skin (to give you an idea, even Chanel's palest foundation shade isn't light enough for me), especially since my sister, mother and father all went brown in the sun, and I got the raw deal skin-wise. I was even googling skin grafts for having darker skin- that's how disgusted I was with my skin. So, I tried almost every method (except sun beds, because I knew the danger) of artificial tanning, from self-tanners to expensive spray tans. I concluded that, yes, I looked glowier, slightly more toned and trim, but really, it was high maintenance and expensive for a student, so I decided to embrace my pale skin. Being English with blue/green eyes, my milky skin and fair hair, I attract a lot of attention and am actually often complimented on my "English rose" look, more so than I was with my fake tan, so now I don't touch anything involving tanning at all!

    • ITGLacey

      OMG... have you heard of MelanoTan? I was obsessed with it for a while because I thought it was the permanent solution to all my sad no-melanin-having problems. Not just for vanity reasons—I'm similarly too pale for all foundations & it's miserable when you can barely even go outside without getting badly burned. Anyway, MelanoTan's crazy stuff, but it never got FDA approved:

      • ITGLacey

        Quick explanation on the MelanoTan—it's this drug you inject that actually makes your body produce more melanin, so you not only look tan, you don't burn anymore & can enjoy life like, you know, 99.9% of all other humans. BUT sounds like it had some crazy, highly unpleasant side effects, so I was not in a hurry to rush out & start shooting the stuff up...

    • Laura

      Thank you for sharing, I think we might be the same person! I quit airbrush tanning two weeks ago (also because of the expense and how time consuming it is), and it seemed like one of the most difficult decisions of my life! Strange as it sounds, it is very easy to become unhealthy obsessed with looking tan. I'm still trying to come to terms with how I look with my naturally very fair skin. But we've got to embrace it, right?

      • Tracey

        I think you should try the new banana boat summer color. It works really well. Make sure you use a tanning mit or disposable latex gloves. Also when you apply it don't apply it up and down, instead apply in circular motions. The smell isn't too bad. And for $6.00 and change you can't go wrong!

  • Heather P.

    I got back and forth on this too. I'd say since you're a redhead now, leave it alone - or at best, tread very lightly! I find that the lightest shade of the Jergens Natural Glow isn't too severe, and since it's something you layer on gradually until you get the color you want, it's pretty easy to customize to suit how pale (or Jersey Orange) you'd like to go. :-)

  • fancies&beauty

    I used to be a tanning-bed-junkie myself. One of the things that I enjoy about summer is that golden glow. I used Xen-Tan last summer, and Jergens and really liked how it turned out. As long as I get a little color, since I stay out of the sun now, I'm happy.

    • Teckie

      I really like Xen-Tan. I think the key is exfoliation and patience. If you get lazy you're going to end up streaky.

  • Isabel

    I'm really pale (Irish pale), the only person I know who's paler than me is my sister. I have neutral undertones so I'm not pink, but I don't really tan at all. But I always wanted to be tanned! I have three cousins who I basically grew up with, and they tan more than anyone I've ever met (all Irish people are pale = not true). They all love being tanned and keep their skin permanently dark (with a lot of fake tan when they've not been somewhere with sun for a while).
    I remember discovering Rimmel instant tan with a friend when I was 11. We used it just on our legs, when we had PE. It was a good look. I spent most of my teenage years spending my allowance on fake tan (I once bought a 900ml bottle of st tropez, the kind you get in salons, because I used it so much it worked out cheaper).
    I don't remember if there was a catalyst, but I slowly stopped using fake tan. I remember when I threw out my last bottle, and was left with just a gradual tanner. It was a bit like losing the safety net.
    Now all I use is Palmers gradual self tanner, just to 'take the edge off' my pale. It's pretty strong so I don't have to use a lot of it, or very often (once or twice a week). It's extremely moisturising, so it doesn't fade patchily.

  • bella

    I slather myself in the medium to dark St. Tropez . It lasts for days and O can get really, really tan! Love the stuff.

  • ITGLacey

    Oh, it definitely works, but the side effects are, uh, interesting... "May cause nausea, stomach cramps, decreased appetite, flushing, yawning, darkened skin, spontaneous erections, and other side effects."

    • Sophie Isabella D.

      I think the spontaneous erections are what I'd be most afraid of..!

      • ITGLacey

        Erections... the silent threat!!!!

  • Katie

    I do a little jergens glow only on my legs in the summer. not enough that you can tell I'm only doing my legs, but enough so that it doesn't look like Im walking on leg shaped icicles. (I'm auburn w/ freckles).

  • Samantha

    I have also been going through this mental tug-of-war as of late. And what it always boils down to is how much I despise having orange stains on my sheets.

    • ITGLacey

      I forgot about the messed-up sheets! I actually had faux-sexy black satin sheets all through college because between girl stuff & the self tanner, all light-hued bedding had a verrrrry short life expectancy & I couldn't afford to keep buying new sheets every three months.

      • Samantha

        Oprah once had an episode where she let it slip that she has her sheets washed every two days because that's how long the freshness lasts for (not sure if this was by her or Nate Berkus' standards). Anyhow, ever since then I can't seem to get behind fake tanner as it negates the freshness of sheets on night 1.

      • Samantha

        P.S. Faux-sexy black satin sheets? How coquettish are you?!

        • ITGLacey

          Well if Oprah does it, I'm doing it! Now I just need sheet-washing elves to come take care of me...

  • Catherine C.

    I too am very pale - so much so that the idea of self tan makes me worry that I'll look too obviously fake orange or something. I don't mind being pale until it comes to bare legs or bikinis and then it's all a bit blinding. This Works Perfect Legs Skin Miracle is great for legs. That's as far as I've gotten though :) Glad I'm not the only one!

    Cat x

  • SWF77

    I have very patchy looking legs - tiny red veins, bruises, always bruises (embrace your inner Arya!), bla bla bla. Not the nice, plae skin, I'm not even that pale! I try to have a bit of a glow, without going into orange territory. Jergens Natural Glow is great for adding a teeeeny bit of color without the oompa Loompa look. PS- Everyone always has bad American stereotypes, but I have to say, I've never seen a country with so many leg-endowed ladies! What's with the flawless, tawny skin, and the muscular calves? Mama wants!

  • SWF77

    It smells like pepperoni.

    • Maggi

      Yes! So gross!

  • Anon

    Self-tanner is so not still a thing. Are we really still concerned about having the "right" skin colour in this day and age!?!

  • SWF77

    This is probably dermatologically incorrect, but to me the best color is a combination of the faintest of tans and the faintest of self-tanner glow. I use 30 SPF sunscreen on my face every day (started a year ago), but for my body I use an 8 or 12 factor... I know I will regret it one day. But I love to glow.

  • Georgina

    I tan very easily and I even if I'm very blonde my skin is never pale. But in the winter I still need a little colour for my face so I use a Clarins gradual self tanner. The colour is never streaky no matter how unevenly I apply it. I don't use anything on my body though, I live in Spain so my skin (except for face) generally remains a nice colour all year around.

  • Laurel

    I'm a pale natural redhead and definitely addicted to my self tanner. People usually don't know I self tan even when they've known me for a while. Of course I have my mess-ups, hands and feet are quite difficult.
    But I love being a slightly tan redhead. I use sun laboratories from amazon, a little goes a long way and it doesn't have the classic bad smell, it smells a bit sweet if anything, just wear gloves.

  • caroline

    Can anyone recommend an all natural self tanner?

    • Sam

      meiskin karamel kreme

  • sadies

    I started to feel the same way, but just like other poor unfortunate souls, I just can't pull off the pale look as well. I really really wish I could. But upon some local searching, I found a lady near me (Greenville, SC) who offers an organic spray tan. Her solutions are mixed according to your skin tone and are sugar based so, no nasty chemicals - and no where near the same smell. I only do it on special occasions, but I have to say, I'm super happy with it. It's more of a redish tint; so no buttered popcorn look and zero streaks. So to all the ladies out there like me, who still need a sun kissed glow to feel good about yourself, check it out. I know you don't live here, but maybe you can find someone who is doing or using the same thing. p.s. It's also affordable.. $35.00

  • Graphy

    I'm pale. And under severe air-conditioning, I just look a bit blue (especially my hands). It's unattractive.

  • Haley

    As a fellow Casper emerging from the dark depths of winter feeling oh so shy about showing a trace of my pasty skin, allow me to recommend Nivea gradual tanning lotion. Unlike Jergens (or most gradual tanning lotions for that matter) Nivea does not leave that lasting telltale smell, and I'm not tossing and turning all night worrying about how I'm going to reek the next day. I have fair skin with olive undertones which equals a nice sickly yellow when I am pale, so this helps warm my skin tone up.

  • Amanda

    Neutrogena Sunless Tanning Spray Micro Mist is the No orange hands, doesn't stain clothes, and you can control the tan without accidentally waking up looking like a Cheeto. I also noticed it tends to dry out my skin, clearing up most of my blemishes.

  • lemonpie

    I think it's a sign of becoming more confident in your own body! I'm also the palest person ever and it used to bother me so much. My best discovery is still st tropez self tan mousse. I still have it but I only use it in the summer and not very often. The ingredients also kinda scare me.

  • Meg White

    I'm pretty pasty, but I can tan relatively easy. People are usualy surprised because I'm pretty diligent about applying SPF regularly. I break out Moist Hemp Bronzing Moisturizer when I want some color. Applying it once a day does take at least the full week to build up to something noticable, but it makes me glow a bit vs glowing in the dark.

  • Joana

    yes it definitely still is. Self tanners nowadays do not make you orange.

  • schuiling

    I'm addicted to self tanning, the smell, the process of putting it on, I can't get enough. I am fully aware that sometimes it doesn't look too great when I have streaks down my arms or orange hands, but when I do a good job my self confidence sky-rockets! I find myself secretly hoping that somehow, someway, some one will see me naked so that my tanned, not so toned, body can be on display. I find that I eat better and workout more when I have a tan, and even make more courageous fashion choices. It could be that the fuses from my san tropez foam is going to my head but I cant say enough good things about self-tanning. ..... so yea self-tanner is still a thing, for pale, white girls everywhere.

  • Wear Eat Love

    I've never used self-tanners. I was thinking about it but I always choose not to. But if you find some good self tanner I'll be happy to try it even if I love real sun tan, with spf protection!

  • Billie

    Without a tan I look awful, I'm mixed race but my greeny-yellow undertones mean that if I don't use a self tanner in the winter even my own parents ask if I'm ill!

  • Averill B

    I like a bit of a bronzed skin color. Color is nice, but choose wisely. I adore Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pads for face. The towelettes make fine lines disappear and the color lasts for several days. That's the best options for the face. For the body, Clarins self-tanning gel is great.

  • Leigh

    Well, better self-tanner than skin cancer, but it is such a pain. I usually self-tan for a few weeks in the spring, when the sun comes out and I'm overwhelmed by my own pallor, and then I give up on it for another year.

  • Sarah

    I used to spray tan in booths (MysticTan) in college as well, and it grosses me out to even think about it now. I, too, took about a 4 year break from any kind of self tanning, but then I realized a lot of people are still doing it, just in a MUCH more subtle way.

    Now when I'm longing for the slimming, attractive bronze look, I use these:

    They are pretty subtle/natural looking - at least I've never been accused of faking it.

  • emily

    I definitely don't feel like i absolutely MUST be tan at all times like i did in high school and college. it was almost like a competition between all of the girls -- "who is the tannest of them all?" i stopped thinking about my skin color for about a year, then i discovered lancome flash bronzer gel. it changed my life. people don't look at me and think "she's tan." instead, i look sunkissed. glowing. HEALTHY. that's the goal. it's super sheer and golden-flecked, never orange, and it never streaks or rubs off. it's heaven. it evens out my skintone so i can wear less makeup, and overall i just feel way better during the summer! i can wear skirts and tank tops and all sorts of limb-exposing clothes without feeling like casper, and that is all a girl can ask for. i'm ALL for self-tanning.

  • cat butt

    I am all about self tanning. I only just got serious about sunscreen two years ago after going my entire life without. The thing is, I tan beautifully and never burn, and yes, I look so much better with some color. So all winter I am white as a ghost and it honestly gets depressing. Anyway so I do use sunscreen religiously now while sunbathing, especially on my face; I already have wrinkles and melasma and the sun really exacerbates both. So, in order to get nice and golden, I use L'oreal's line of Sublime Bronze self tanners. I've always had good results with both the airbrush spray and the instant bronze self tanner, both dry immediately- but the latter does require quick and thorough rubbing-in to avoid streaks. They're between $8 and $12 USD, which is super.

    For my face, the best technique I've ever come up with is to only apply self tanner to the areas you would normally contour. I use Clarins Self Tanning Milk for this as it's incredibly subtle. Apply with a cotton pad or beauty blender to the temples, edges of forehead, below the cheekbones. It's fantastic.

    I do my hands and tops of feet like this too- with a beauty blender, and sparingly. That way you don't have white hands and feet with tan everywhere else.

    Anyone new to self tanners, the best advice is 1) Less is always more and 2) Rub/blend it in until your arms are tired. Also don't forget to wash your hands after.

  • Sarah

    I am a self tanner. I try to keep it toned down by applying every few days, but I just love it. I won't dish out the big bucks for a professional tan unless I have a big event, but I do use it. I don't like applying it to my face because it just gets exfoliated off, so that's probably why I keep the rest of my body just a few shades darker than normal, so I can pull off the make up!

  • emonch

    I recommend Chocolate Sun for those who want a 'clean' version of autobronzant! It doesn't stain the sheets, the smell is a lot less pronounced and it just helps give a natural glow. I think its totally fine to cheat a little when it is still this cold end of April :) In the winter I embrace the snow white look however.

  • Sarah

    Tip for not messing up your sheets I heard is sleeping inside an old duvet cover (you don't care about staining) after you apply.
    As for tanning, I'm pretty pale but I don't have time or patience for the maintanence of dark tanners. In the winter I apply a light, spray tanner once a week which takes 5 minutes. It's easy, dries fast and fades evenly. I'm not exactly 'tan' but I am a bit more golden. In the summer I do it twice a week. For some reason my legs never tan as easily or evenly, so I'll put a bronzer on them to boost the colour a bit.

  • Natalia

    Actually I think Self tanner is more of a thing now than going to tanning beds was when I was in college 6 years ago.

  • Maggie

    If asked I would say I don't use self tanner and that is because the product I use is so deeply embedded into my routine that I don't realize I am using it. I have been using Aqua Tan every single day on my face since 2006. I am still white all over (Irish white), but it is the only thing that makes my face look healthy. I am sure if I layered it on I would look fully tan, but I put it on at night before I go to bed and wake up with a bit of color (but not so much that it doesn't not match my body). Sometimes I wonder if it does anything after using it for so long, but when I don't use it I see how transparent and weird my skin looks without it. As long as they make it....I am going to keep using it. I wouldn't say I am addicted, but that is what any addict would say.

    In my defense it is really great stuff and doesn't give you an orange color:

  • lucky

    I really feel like the only people thinking about how tan you are / are not, are other people who are super self-conscious about their own level of tanness. In other words - it's all in ur head girl.

  • Eliza

    I am extremely, extremely white and so obviously I went through the obligatory Casper-to-carrot phase (thanks, L'Oreal Sublime Bronze), but then I saw pictures of myself and quit it. But summer is the wooorst time to be "at terms" with being pale...I'm trying but I am sooo jealous haha.

  • Chloe Silverado

    As a first time self-tanner user, I bought the Omorovicza self-tanning cream (it's some kind of magic, it comes out white lotion-like, and adjusts to the colour of your skin). Does anyone have any thoughts on it? I haven't tried it yet, I'm too nervous!

  • g+m

    I've found the trick to wearing the pale well is to work really hard at keeping your entire body the same shade . . . i.e., be religious about the SPF on anything even remotely exposed. Pale legs only look weird when your arms/face are darker.

    I used to tan in high school, before the health factor won out (and I had the self-confidence to rock the paleness), but fake tanning never seemed worth it to me. I'd been pretty well inured to the allure of it (and averse to the smell) thanks to my bottle-blond fake-tittied gym rat auntie.

  • Zena Simpkins

    Totally having mixed feelings about this! My skin is so Norwegian looking and I live in Hawaii so tan is always in! As of now I know for sure if i started self tanning again everyone would know the difference between and real and a fake one and i'd be laughed out of the state!

  • Marie

    Depends on your shade of red but a light glow with red hair can be totally stunning! I LOVE fake tan, I live in the UK and I can tell you over here everyone uses it during the warmer months, we don't have a alternative and can't really get a proper tan anyway... I think it lifts my mood in the same way lying in the sun, it makes me feel more confident and yes slimmer too...
    There is a new Irish brand on the market that smells amazing and gives a very natural glow, it's called Cocoa Brown in case you want to try it. I have tried everything and this is definitely my favourite.

  • Isabel

    Thank you!! I've been having the same thought recently. I just bought the Neutrogena Build A Tan. Anyone have any experience with that?

    • Marie

      It's great, I love that tan. Unfortunately I can't find it anymore :( Enjoy!

  • Teckie

    I mystic tan like it's my job when I have to go strapless for a wedding in the winter, or wear a skimpy cocktail dress... and I feel no shame. There are days when I'd just rather be a teensy bit orange than pasty-pale Casper-the-friendly-ghost-white... and I'm OK with that.

  • Natalie Hale

    It`s a "NO" from me, but if you`re self-tanning, here`s my advise: Don`t overtan.

  • Alyssa Gapske

    I feel ya.

  • c.bray

    I just recently started "spray tanning" after years of dyi tanning, and I must say I really enjoy the results. I had a skin cancer scare at 21 ( I am now 27) from tanning bed abuse, so the natural way of tanning is no longer an option.

  • Sara C

    I am a natural/organic junkie and make my own facial oils, etc. so I stay away from the self tanner. Products made by companies like Jergens are chock full of chemicals, especially hormone diaruptors; since cosmetics are essentially unregulated by the FDA, you're trusting that these companies have your best interest in mind--but, they don't. Many, many other countries have banned the very chemicals most common in products sold in the U.S. I say, put down the self tanner for the sake of your own health. It is by no means "safe", a nice story we like to tell ourselves.

  • M Meador

    I am pale too, and blonde, and just embrace it now along with adequate sun protection. I believe it was Marilyn Monroe who was wisely quoted saying (against sunbathing) "I like to be blonde all over." :)

  • Niki Caron

    I think it can go either way! I embrace my paleness in the colder months, and start self-tanning in April when I can't take it anymore. By mid-summer I usually have some natural color (yes even with sunscreen) so I end up stopping the self-tanning. It's a cycle!

  • Katie

    I'm curious to see what you finally decide about this! I am a natural auburn/redhead with the fairest skin possible. I've always longed for beautifully tanned skin (natural or faux), but obviously the natural way does NOT comply with my genetics and the faux, well, it's easy to go overboard with my coloring. I'm trying to be cool with the pale, but man, it is a bit tough to not wish for a sunkissed look.

  • Julie

    i just mix tanner with my regular moisturizer (ocean potion this time of year... which also adds subtle color) and slap it on when i get out of the shower.

  • Julie

    I feel the same way

  • M Meador

    I believe it was Marilyn Monroe who said, "I like to be blonde all over." when asked why she doesn't tan :)

  • Elizabeth Walker

    It's just such a hassle. I'd rather be pale.

  • SuthnBelle

    I am extremely fair. The lightest shades of foundation can sometimes give me a summer glow, LOL! But I've embraced it. If I want to be a bit more polished I will use MAC's Face and Body foundation (my skin tone) on my legs and sometimes my upper arms. When I was in my teens and twenties I was one with the self-tanner. I never felt like I fit in because of my pale skin. I hated that it made me stand out. Now I've flip flopped and I love that it does make me different. Not to say I haven't tried a spray tan here and there for a special event. But it just doesn't feel like me to look that way. And I hate feeling self conscious over the smell. I do spend more time on my makeup so that my face doesn't disappear. I can't do the whole French thing of just putting on a lipstick and walking out the door lest I scare others into thinking that the zombie apocalypse has begun. But I'm comfortable now. I've got my makeup routine and I know the best colors to wear for me to play it up.

  • Natalia

    Oh no, there's many of us!