The Best Sunless Tanners, Bronzers, Sun Protection

Have you heard the saying, “the only safe tan is a fake tan?” Well it’s true! Sad as hell, but true.

Trust me-I don’t want it to be. I remember taking the best power naps of my life in tanning beds in high school. I also remember a bee getting in a tanning bed I was in and having to get out, fully nude mind you, and swat it away. Ahh, memories.

Anyways, onto the subject at hand. I’ll try to make it as entertaining as the risk of skin cancer can be.

I have recently become more concerned with sun safety. My dear mom just had basal cell carcinoma removed from her nose. It freaked me out because although my mom lived through the era of baby oiling yourself on a tin roof, I’ve been no sun saint. I have run since 8th grade, outside 99% of the time. On really hot summer days, I’d put sunscreen on my shoulders and chest, but not always, and not always my face. I ran a marathon last fall and I shudder to think about the hours and hours of time I spent running outside training and without sunscreen…

Now that I work at Sephora, I have learned a fascinating amount about skincare. Fascinating…but horrifying at the same time. On a recent visit from our beauty educator, I learned this scary fact: UVB rays can penetrate to the bone. UVA rays can penetrate up to a half a mile into the earth’s surface. UH WHAT. So I’m turning over a new skincare leaf. I have to start wearing sunscreen on the daily. There are numerous great options in self tanners and bronzers now so you can be as tan as you want without the skin cancer scariness.

I’ve tried many, many, many sunless tanners! I am a dork so I even did an “informative” speech on sunless tanners in college. Haha, I am so cool. The upside to sunless/self tanners is that they are 100% safe, can be done in the privacy of your own home and work quickly. The downside is mainly that they stink. And not the worst smell in the world, but just a peculiar starchy smell. It results from the interaction between the top layer of your skin and the dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active chemical in all sunless tanners. Without it, it wouldn’t work so it’s a necessary evil. My husband said our cats once smelled like self tanner because of me, haha.

Here are some sun protection and sunless products worth using, and often!


• Shiseido Urban Environment Protection Cream

• Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral in SPF 30 or 45
This is a powder sunscreen. I love it  because there is no stickiness, it’s quick to apply and it’s a physical sunscreen (as opposed to chemical) so it is effective immediately. If you exercise outdoors, and often skip the step of applying suncreen, this could get you out the door protected in no time!

• Ocean Potion
These sunscreens smell like creamsicle! Mmm! I can haz eat them?

• Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion
Shieseido is the oldest skincare company in the world and one of the best to boot!

• Too Faced-The bronzer authority.
I love Chocolate Soleil for contouring or Sun Bunny for all over.

Benefit Hoola
Not too orange, not too brown. Winner, winner, be bronzed by dinner.

NYC Bronzing Face Powder in Sunny
The reigning drugstore bronzer champion!

• NARS Body Glow
The monoi oil in this smells heavenly! This gives a nice, subtle glow and hydration. I like to rub it on my arms and legs, especially for night.


bareminerals Faux Tan Body and Faux Tan Gradual Glow Face
Ok, this is it. The clear winner for me. Here is what makes bareminerals Faux Tan the best I’ve tried:
Most importantly-doesn’t smell like starchy sweaty stink! The body formula has a very pleasant cherry almond scent at first and even as the tan develops, it is a minimal to non-existent self tanner smell. This is the only self tanner I could apply and go to work or out and about not worrying I stink.  Also, this is not sticky, like at ALL. You can apply to your body and get dressed shortly thereafter. I also feel that the tan that this produces is very realistic and mimics my natural tan almost perfectly. The formula is tinted, allowing you to see exactly where you’re applying and identify streaks early on. You also get some instant color which is nice. I also love that this is a paraben-free product. I recommend applying this with a mitt as it is prone to staining hands easily and the mitt makes for quick and even application. The only downfall, if any, is that you may need to do 2 applications before you get a really good tan going.
• Sonia Kashuk Golden Tanning Towelettes
Not sticky, not messy, easy to do! Definitely my favorite affordable option. FYI-you will likely need 2 towelettes to do your whole body.

• Jergens Natural Glow Face
No breakout issues with this, minimal stickiness, absorbs quickly. I’ve used this face self tanner for years without any issues.

• Jergens Natural Glow Express
I really like this because the smell is fairly minimal and it really does give good color payoff quickly. It isn’t a gradual self tanner like most in the Jergens line.
Gradual?! Ain’t nobody got time for dat!

LORAC SelfTANtalizer
Very minimal self-tanner smell with this and good color payoff too!

Important warning: If you are using a retinol product or skincare product containing hydroquinone, please, please, please only use your retinol products at night and wear a very high SPF sunscreen daily!
These make your skin vastly more susceptible to sun damage and skin cancers!

Go on and be a little sun bunny! Just make sure it’s a tan from a tube or a compact and protect the skin you’re in!


  1. Alyssa

    05/07/2013 at 11:22 AM

    I just discovered the NYC blush and refuse to spend more than $5 for blush again!


    1. admin

      05/07/2013 at 11:31 AM

      I know! Isn’t it great?! I look forward to checking out your blog Alyssa!

  2. Marie Martin

    06/19/2013 at 2:08 PM

    I just recently tried Josie Maran Argan Self Tanning Body Wash from QVC and liked it. It’s on the expensive side, but no nutty smell and you apply it in the shower. Also tried and liked Banana Boat Summer Color Self Tanner Lotion and liked that as well; much more affordable. Kate Somerville 360 Tanning Towlettes are also a favorite!

    1. admin

      06/23/2013 at 7:31 PM

      I have been so curious about that Josie Maran Body Wash! Such an interesting concept! I have heard great things about Kate Somerville as well 🙂

  3. Britney

    03/03/2014 at 7:11 PM

    Thanks for posting this. Faux tanning is by far the safest way to glow.

    Years ago I tried Jergen’s and it was alright but it smelled god AWFUL back then, not sure if they’ve updated the formula since. Now I run a mobile spray tan salon and I’m lucky enough to have a boyfriend who will tan me. Sunless tanning has come a long way.

    In my work I meet a lot of young women. Some of them used to use UV beds religiously and are now switching over to sunless because they have skin cancer. It’s just not worth the risk.

    Have you ever considered getting airbrushed by a pro?

    Thanks again for posting!

    1. Ivy Boyd

      03/03/2014 at 7:56 PM

      Hi Britney! Sunless is totally the way to go-agree! I’ve done the booths like Mystic before, but never airbrushed by someone. I can see how that would be ideal for special events and if you want to avoid any streaks. I’ve seen some subtle contouring they can do too to give a thinner appearance? Gosh, who doesn’t love that right?! Thanks for commenting!

  4. Gemy Vinson

    06/18/2014 at 11:45 AM

    All these products are great for a sunless tan. You are so right that we need to still apply sunblock because we can still tan or burn under these products. Another great option that is safe is spray tanning. My salon offers this and it can be customized to a certain tan leave depending on what you are looking for. Hope you have a bronze summer and thanks for the tips!

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  6. Kimberly

    03/19/2015 at 6:07 PM

    Would love an updated version as so many new bronzes and self tab technology has come about in the past couple of years. The concentrates drops that you can use in any moisturizer to make it a gradual self tanning product are fabulous. But I’m sure there are equally great newer products too! Thx!

    1. Ivy Boyd

      03/22/2015 at 12:05 PM

      Great idea-I definitely plan to do an updated self tanner post! I SO want to try those drops you referenced now!

  7. Heidi Nelson

    02/22/2016 at 6:24 PM

    Can I use the tanning towellets. On my face? Where can I find them ?

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