Self-Tanner Road Test
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Self-Tanner Road Test

Airbrush sprays! Tanner-infused puffs! We tried 'em all so you can find your perfect formula and get a sexy glow.

You love the look of a tan -- it can make you appear healthier, happier, even thinner -- but the sun has become public enemy #1. Luckily, the newest sunless tanners impart a truly believable glow at prices that suit every budget. Choose your formula: an aerosol spray (just like a salon treatment!), a quick-absorbing mousse, an easy-to-apply cream or gel, or a goof-proof towelette. To help you navigate the options, FITNESS staffers tested 12 top products. Here's what you need to know.

Winner: Most Even Finish: Mystic Tan MysticSunless Tanning Spray

The Claim: "Delivers a healthy, even, streak-free tan every time."
Our Tester Reports: "It developed into a nice, even, golden color overnight, similar to what you'd get at a Mystic Tan booth; but you're able to control the coverage and don't have to leave home."

Winner: Deepest Bronze: Rodial Brazilian Tan

The Claim: "The darkest, yet most natural-looking, self-tan on the market."
Our Tester Reports: "It took time to apply because the shade is so intense, and initially it looked uneven. But once I showered off the tinted lotion, it looked really great."

Winner, Best for Legs: Bella Bronze Espresso & Crema Anti-Cellulite Tinted Self-Tanner -- Legs

The Claim: "Anti-cellulite agents help diminish dimpling."
Our Tester Reports: "After just a few applications, my skin didn't seem any firmer; but the color boost made my thighs look sleeker and my cellulite less noticeable."

Winner, Best for Dry Skin: Neutrogena Moisture Rich Sunless Tanning SPF 20

$9.49, drugstores
The Claim: "Contains an SPF, so you can use it outdoors."
Our Tester Reports: "I'm an avid boater, so the SPF was a great incentive. It went on smoothly, it didn't feel greasy like sun block sometimes can, and I got compliments on the golden shade."

Winner, Most Natural: Estee Lauder Go Tan Air-Brush Self-Tan Spray for Body

The Claim: "Vitamin E leaves skin moisturized to help maintain color for days."
Our Tester Reports: "The shade was very light (more of a glow than a tan), but it stayed even for days and faded uniformly all over, while most tanners fade in patches."

Winner, Easiest to Use: Almay Sunless Tanning Gel for Face

$9.99, drugstores
The Claim: "A tint makes the formula mistake-proof. Vitamins A and C soften skin."
Our Tester Reports: "The light gel spread really easily and evenly, and I'd go so far as to describe the scent as pleasant! The shade was pretty pale, though."

Winner, Best Buildable Color: Coppertone Gradual Tan Faces

$6.99, drugstores
The Claim: "Builds up to a natural-looking color, so users can customize their shade."
Our Tester Reports: "I was a self-tanning virgin, but this was so simple. I just applied it like I would a moisturizer. I got a nice, even glow, kind of like wearing a light bronzer!"

Lancome Flash Bronzer Glow 'N Wear Natural

The Claim: "Dries in minutes for an instant and even, golden glow."
Our Tester Reports: "The properties that make the light gel soak in quickly caused it to become dry and sticky right away, making it difficult to blend. But the instant glow it gave me was worth it!"

Dove Energy Glow Daily Moisturizer with Subtle Self-Tanners

$6.99, drugstores
The Claim: "Essential moisturizers hydrate skin, and tone-enhancers gradually build a subtle glow."
Our Tester Reports: "I used this four out of five days and saw only a slight change in my skin tone. But it doesn't require a lot of blending to look natural, so I'll keep using it."

Dior Self-Tanner Shimmering Glow

The Claim: "A hint of shimmer creates a luminous glow."
Our Tester Reports: "The built-in sheen made my legs look really sleek and glamorous, but I really didn't like the strong odor that stuck around until my next shower."

Lancaster Deep Bronze Aqua Gel

The Claim: "Incredibly easy to apply, and dries lightning fast."
Our Tester Reports: "I loved the watery consistency, but it dried so fast I wasn't able to blend it well enough. The final color looked a bit orange and uneven."

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July 2006.