Sometime during my freshman year in college, I was preparing to compete in a small beauty pageant. I worked out a little harder, freshened up my hair color, whitened my teeth and unfortunately decided I should get a booth-style spray tan. Even more unfortunate still was the fact that I chose to do this the night before the show. I spend the better part of the pageant morning scrubbing feverishly with a loofah hoping the splotchy, stinky, day-glo orange layer would come off in the shower. I wasn't so lucky. I graced the stage looking like a pumpkin and smelling like a gym sock. Ever since then, I have been terrified of sunless tanning products, spray on or otherwise. Flash forward an unmentioned number of years to this February, when a dear friend got married. She offered to pay to have her bridal party spray tanned, and as you can imagine I was a bit apprehensive. She assured me that there had been considerable advances in spray tanning world so I nervously agreed. After one of my friends left the room in the back of Extreme Tan in Wasilla looking naturally bronzed, even and gorgeous, my mind was put much more at ease. I got my airbrush tan that evening, and thoroughly enjoyed the glow I had for the next several days.
Since my fears of all things sunless had been put aside, I decided to venture into the world of gradual tanning lotions.
After a little research, I learned that Dihydroxyacetone (also known as DHA) is a colorless sugar that makes your skin darken by reacting with dead skin cells. It doesn't penetrate deeper than your epidermis, and will completely wear away as you shower and exfoliate. The trademark smell is from the proteins in your skin reacting to the DHA, and has been lessened over the years through different processes and using perfumes that cling to the skin.
I wanted to start slow, so I opted for a gradual tanning lotion. With so many to choose from, I decided to put head to head the cult favorite and first gradual tanner on the market- Jergen's Natural Glow and the winner of Consumer Report's trial, Nivea Sun-Kissed Firming Moisturizer.
Jergen's offers a Fair, Medium and Dark option- I decided on Medium and went on my way. The next morning after my shower, I liberally applied using a circular motion and making sure the lotion absorbed completely- visible streaks in the lotion where it is thicker in some areas or shows white on the skin can end up looking streaky once the DHA begins to react. I washed my hands and gave myself a few minutes to dry, then carried about my morning. Day one gave no color, but that was to be expected. I did notice a faint smell, but it wasn't anything too unpleasant and my perfume masked it just fine. I wasn't thrilled with the amount of 'moisturizing' it did, as I was a little dry by the end of the day. Day two proved to be a little noticeable in color and smell, again, neither one was overpowering. It wasn't until about day 3 that I really noticed color- but I also could tell that my legs were looking a bit orange. It wasn't bad, and I did prefer the slight orange tint to the luminescent white they had become over the winter. Overall, it was just a resounding OKAY. I did like the color for the most part, but after about day 5 it was getting to be a bit much so I switched back to my normal moisturizer. I did appreciate the lack of streaks and splotches, though. I'll keep this one around, but I not sure if I'll repurchase it.
After seeing a Consumer Report's covered the self tanner craze, and awarded Nivea Sun-Kissed Firming Moisturizer top honors. They said the color was natural and it was actually moisturizing to the skin. This brand only had a light to medium and a medium to dark option, so I went for medium to dark and got to work. Immediately I noticed the consistency was considerably more viscous and didn't feel as hydrating as the Jergen's. The smell was noticeable but masked in a perfumy scent. The next day when getting ready for work, and putting on round two of the lotion, I notced that the webs of my fingers had turned colors. I had always washed my hands after applying, and I never noticed any problems with the Jergen's. I took more care with washing after that, and didn't have much more trouble. The color developed quickly, but was much more powerful than I expected. I had a few streaks on my legs and by my ankles. The shade was surely less orange, but the smell was a bit more than the competition. It beat the Jergen's in color, but not in scent or hydration. I'm also not sold on any 'firming' effects, but I wasn't really expecting any to begin with.
Unfortunately there wasn't a clear winner- if you suffer from dry skin, I'd suggest sticking with the Jergen's for the moisturizing ability. If you are naturally very fair and prone to looking orange, I'd stick with the Nivea. Also, I ran into a problem with my arms above the wrists looking like they went to Hawaii while my hands stayed at home- I started using a baby wipe on my palms, making sure to get around my nails and in my finger webs which helped alleviate the dreaded white glove effect.
Overall, I'm glad I've incorporated these into my routine, as they have given me a flash of color without the risk of old fashion tanning beds or outdoor sun bathing.