A Beginner's Guide To Finding The Perfect Self-Tanner


Glossier HQ is filled with fake tans. After our summer-opening roundtable on the subject, nothing got spirits flying quite as high as the delivery of Emily Ferber's new personal spray tan gun from Mine Tan. And yet there are a few hold outs—namely Kelly Dill, who had never even experimented with Jergens in high school. She was a true tanning neophyte (yet a Sephora VIB Rouge member??)...and a beauty site experiment waiting to happen. Kelly's journey starts now:

My perspective on tanning is full of dichotomies. I'm naturally pale, but feel better tan. I don't mind sunbathing, but have a near pathological fear of sun damage (and a family history of melanoma). I'm not opposed to sunless tanners, but would rather be pasty than look like I painted myself orangey-brown. Add in the mitts, the smell, the clothing stains—and the whole self-tanning realm felt too daunting, even for a beauty junkie like me.

Of course, after the casual mention of this to Emily Ferber, five different self-tanners appeared on my desk with a note: "Try these. Keep a journal." Oof, OK.

First, I mapped out a schedule. Each tanner would get a week for review—3-4 days to ramp up the color, and then another 3-4 to let it fade and exfoliate it away before the next. Preemptively, I left some holes in the schedule in case I did want to get some actual, responsible sun. You don't want to distort the canvas, y'know?

Then there were the Key Evaluation Metrics, to be ranked on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the best:
- Ease of application: Do you need something other than your hands to apply? Does it get everywhere when you spray it? Does it dry quickly?
- Depth of tan: Does it have a nice, rich color vs. an orangey-fake color?
- Length and fade of tan: How long does it last? How cleanly does it fade?
- Smell: Does it stink? (They all smell, which is ridiculous. We can get cars to drive themselves but we can’t get self-tanners to not smell.)
- Bonus points: If people notice and give you compliments.

I worry a diary won't actually be very interesting, so instead, I'll give you the rundown on how the challengers all measured up, one by one. How will it all turn out? Will I be forever orange?! I know the suspense is killing you.

The Mousse: Vita Liberata pHenomenal 2-3 Week Tan Mousse

Most tan experts recommend this brand, particularly the mousse. You have to apply it with a mitt–not my favorite, but if the experts say so, I will give it a try. The directions recommend a few applications to get you up to golden status, but after one coat, I was pretty richly tinted. The undertones are a violet-green, so no orange tint whatsoever—and a really lovely fade. But let's see how the metrics stood up:

Ease of application: 4
Depth of tan: 5
Length and fade of tan: 4
Smell: 3 (Claims not to, but definitely does. Points off for lying.)

The Oil: Josie Maran Argan Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Oil

If you're looking for the ultimate easy application, go for an oil. You have to use Josie's specially lined mitt, but the formula slides onto limbs without over-tinting. Plus, it's hydrating, completely eliminating the need for a lotion. After two applications, the color is warm and brown to my liking. Smell is moderate. Not streaky.

Ease of application: 4
Depth of tan: 5
Length and fade of tan: 4
Smell: 3

[At this point I am fully sold on self-tanners and will not live my life without them.]

The Mist: Tan‑Luxe Hydrating Self‑Tan Water in Light

Even though it's a mist, I still used a mitt to buff the formula only my skin. Which reminds me: Application is key, I learned. No matter the directions, always, always rub the product in as you go, in small sections. Be anal about it; it's going to take longer, but it'll be worth it. It's particularly important for this one so as to avoid streaks and splash spots.

The mist gave me the subtlest glow—not that that was a bad thing. It would be great to top off an existing tan, real or fake. And it smelled the least of the bunch!

Ease of application: 5
Depth of tan: 2
Length and fade of tan: 2
Smell: 4

The Luxe: La Mer The Face And Body Gradual Tan

Just like applying body lotion, albeit not totally stress-free. The tint is gradual, so you could certainly use this every day to build up to the most perfect, most expensive tan.

Ease of application: 5
Depth of tan: 4
Length and fade of tan: 3
Smell: 4
Bonus points: 1 (Lots of compliments!)

The Quickie: St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse

The gag with this one is that you have leave it on for a hour and then wash it off—kind of a hassle. I usually go to the gym after work and then take a shower, so I would need to put this on my sweaty body after the gym, wait an hour, and then shower. That's just not going to work with my schedule.

THAT SAID, there's defintely a visible tan after 1 hour. Would be great for an event. If I had an event to go to...

Ease of application: 1
Depth of tan: 5
Length and fade of tan: 2
Smell: 3

Tl;dr: I'm totally converted. Turns out, it's all in the application—any of the above can work, as long as you take your time with it. Give in to the mitt, even if you don't want to. If I had to pick one, it'd be Josie. The oil can be messy, but nothing beats a smooth application. Or the vacation glow without the thread of wrinkles.

—Kelly Dill

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