The Bronze Chronicles: Self-Tanner Tell Alls

The book of self-tanning is long and complex. You would think it should be easy, right? Lay out in sun, glow like a goddess on the French Riviera. But alas, the mission to gain a golden skin tone is as complex as finding a six-figure job in the middle of a recession.

Women drop hundreds of dollars a month to lie in the coffin-like tanning beds that threaten your physical health. Spray on tans like Mystic Tan are favored by wannabe-starlets like Paris Hilton, but skin can often turn out looking a bit more like a glass of Tang rather than gold. And while the budget-tanning method of lying out in the sun is wallet-friendly, the risks of burns and skin cancer are getting greater every day. So put down the SPF 600, and follow my journey to glow without risking my health, my wallet, and my common sense.

Many physicians believe the extreme reliance on being tan is in fact an addiction, stemming from the positive self-image gained from the skin color, and the endorphins generated from light. So are we really a nation of “Tanorexics?”

Tanning beds are the Holy Grail for proud Tanorexics. The phrase “GTL” (which stands for gym, tan, laundry) has become a national phenomenon thanks to the cast of Jersey Shore. But with the severe risks of skin cancer combined with skyrocketing prices, many people are looking to go in a different direction. We’ve seen spray on tanning systems but the results are often a little more…radioactive than planned.

In lieu of getting skin cancer, or looking like an Oompa Loompa, we tested a boatload of sunless tanners so you wouldn’t have to.

I first tried Fake Bake: Sunless and Skinny with major reservations. I could only imagine preteens on the Jersey Shore slathering it on under their denim cutoffs. But would it be creepy for a full-fledge adult to use it? After building a darker base on my pale skin with drug store go-to, Jergens Natural Glow, I was hoping for something a little more lively. I slathered on Fake Bake with great enthusiasm, and ignored the pair of rubber gloves that come with the bottle. My immediate reaction was “Wow, this stuff really works!” and then, “Crap! I should have worn the gloves!” My hands looked quite dirty, despite scrubbing after application. The smell is what you’d imagine from self-tanner, but luckily your skin doesn’t maintain the smell after application. After a few days of applying Sunless and Skinny, I loved the natural glow. In addition to its tanning abilities, Sunless and Skinny seeks to eliminate the visibility of cellulite and smooth skin. I wasn’t expecting my cellulite to diminish instantly, but the golden tone does have a slimming effect. My skin’s glow made me feel like a bronze goddess, except for the splotches of brown under my arms and on the upper thigh.

As one of the frontrunners in modern cosmetics, I was eager to test Lancome’s Flash Bronzing Leg Gel. After showering and exfoliating, I applied Flash Bronzer all over my legs. Satisfied with the result, I decided to use it on my arms and chest. For a few days, I basked in the glory of my golden tan. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. “Your skin tone is BEAUTIFUL!” a friend said to me after viewing a party photo of me. I began to plot out buying bottles of Flash Bronzer after my sample ran out. And then the honeymoon period ended. While visiting my parents in Connecticut, a family friend grabbed a glance of my neck. “Um….Do you have leprosy or something?” Okay, that wasn’t quite the look I was going for. But after a few days of laying low and not applying the bronzer, it had begun to fade into a splotchy mess which my mother described as “looking like dirt.” After some major exfoliating thanks to coarse sugar, soap, and a washcloth, I was able to get rid of most of the left over tanner. If you’re willing to undergo a few days of splotchy skin after a few fabulous ones, Lancôme’s sunless tanners are absolutely worth your money.

If you’ve cultivated a fake tan like I have, you’re eager to protect it. Sol Survivor is an SPF 30 spray that provides protection if you’re lying in the sun. While it acts as a traditional sunscreen in the face of UVA and UVB rays, it won’t diminish your carefully cultivated Fake Bake. Like other sunscreens, it needs to be reapplied after swimming of drying off, but its easy to apply spray bottle is quick and painless. But whether you’re just frolicking in the sun or looking to protect your tan, remember that no golden glow is worth risking your health. Even if you’re looking to get seriously tan, protect your skin by slathering on some form of sunscreen before you fry like bacon. Skin cancer isn’t attractive at any age.

For more information about Fake Bake: Sunless and Skinny and Sol Survivor, visit For more information about Lancôme Flash Bronzer, visit

Megan Sarah Johnson