How to Get a Sunkissed Glow without Sun Damage

We’re grown-ass women who know better than to slather on baby oil, cover a record album with tin foil and bake in the sunshine for a deep dark tan. Hopefully we all know that though a sunkissed face looks pretty now, it will just add wrinkles and pigmentation and possibly cancer in the future. Celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, and Nicole Kidman prove that pale, sun-protected skin can be beautiful and fashionable but for those of us who still crave a bit of color in the summer there’s brilliant ways to achieve it without the sun’s rays.

sunless tanner review fair skin

While I was a tanaholic in the past (seriously, check out this Throwback Thursday pic I shared on Instagram, yep that's me in the green!), I’ve learned that tanning is incredibly dangerous and damaging. Now I like to have a subtle glow, just enough to hide veins and get away with a bit less makeup. Here’s the products I use to get an artificial glow that looks natural:

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pads

I love me some Beauty.com; cash back from Ebates and cash back on future purchases on their site (and they’re the same site as Drugstore.com so I can get a box delivered to my door with Greenies for Cindy, laundry detergent, Claritin, a lipstick from Revlon and one from NARS!). All that and free samples with purchases. Well one free sample I received was one of these wipes from Dr. Dennis Gross. I took it on vacation (the best time to play with beauty samples) thinking it was just an Alpha Beta peel. Wiped it on my face and neck before bedtime and woke up tan!

But not a weird orange tan, or a dark tan that didn’t match the rest of my body. Just that glow I used to get back when I wouldn’t wear sunscreen on my face and spend a spring day at the park. Afraid it was actual sun or that next time I’d end up with a streaky orange face, I ordered another sample with my next Beauty.com order. Tried again at home… again a subtle natural looking tan that faded nicely into my pale body. So I bought a box of these pads and use one a week on the weekend so I don’t show up to the office Tuesday pale and Wednesday sunkissed. I also have found it best to put on while wearing a dark bra or tank so when you wipe onto your décolleté you have an ending point and don’t end up with streaks near an armpit or one shoulder tan and the other pale. The product can work anywhere; there’s always leftover product so if you’re skilled you can use it elsewhere on your body.

Jergens Natural Glow 3 Days to Glow Moisturizer

This stuff is so good, I can do it with just my left hand. Since I’m dealing with just my left hand and a cast, I stick to putting it on just my legs, but it gives a very natural and gradual glow, doesn’t smell horrible, and doesn’t streak. I apply a dime-size amount to my lower leg and begin wiping it up and down my leg and rubbing like crazy. I do most of my wiping up over my knee to my thighs, very little on my feet, and keep wiping up and in until it’s completely dry. Leave any places lotiony and they will end up darker; try to tan your feet and they will end up darker. My goal (and the final result) is a slightly tan leg from above the knee to below the ankle and a subtle fade to natural pale above and below that point. It doesn’t look false, even with a bathing suit or low-vamp shoes.

I find Jergens Natural Glow works far better on dry skin than damp, and also works best with a regular exfoliation routine in place (for me it’s dry brushing). I use the Light to Medium, apply every other day and it gives enough color to feel confident in dresses and shorts in broad daylight.

Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Leg Makeup

I reviewed the spray before, didn’t like it no matter what tips and tricks I learned from you folks or on the web. It was messy, streaky, dark, and just too complicated. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So when I saw the liquid version I decided to try it. And I love it.

Just like the Jergens lotion, I rub rub rub like a fiend with a wide palm until it’s fully absorbed, starting at the front of my leg below my knee and then wiping up and back and around to cover all places. The color shows immediately, and it’s very natural. You can also build up for a darker color. I chose the Leg Makeup in Fair, and the color is equal to regular application of the Jergens lotion but airbrushed. The same effect as sheer hose but without the layer and weird webbed toes.  The more layers you apply, the more airbrushing/coverage you get. It stays on really well; go ahead and sweat, take a dip in the pool, go to the beach. Some will fade but not in a weird splotchy way. I only apply it for special occasions and only lightly, and I can’t feel it on the skin. Get a dark washcloth to scrub it off, though I’ll be honest I usually let it stay on, wash normally and let it fade with time. Again, haven’t tried it anywhere but my legs so no advice on using it elsewhere.

Do you sunless tan?  What are your favorite products for achieving a natural glow without the sun?

16 Comments

  1. Janie
    September 19, 2014 / 10:33 am

    I have found that the drugstore/Walmart, etc. brand Malibu Hemp Golden Glow is the most natural looking for my light skin. I apply after my morning shower and then stay naked while I dry my hair, running the hair dryer over my skin for a minute to finish drying so I can get dressed. As for the Sally Hanson, if you squirt it into your hands and then apply it, it works quite well.

  2. withluckblog
    July 18, 2014 / 3:29 pm

    I love that Jergens lotion! I bought a little trial version when it was starting to get warmer, never really expecting it to amount to anything. Jokes on me! It’s great!

  3. Cindy
    July 16, 2014 / 5:15 pm

    I am very fair skinned. I have used the Jergens in the past, but the darker spots I would get on my ankles were enough to make me keep looking for a better self tanning solution. I found Fake Bake on Youtube of all places, purchased it on Amazon, and I LOVE IT. Never streaky or blotchy, can use it on my whole body including my face. Doesn’t have a terrible smell, and it really does all it says it will. I feel naturally tan, not orange. I HIGHLY recommend it!!

    • Leah
      July 31, 2014 / 9:23 pm

      I’ve read mostly great things about Fake Bake! I went to Ulta for the first time because they carry Fake Bake on their website but I guess not in store. I ended up getting their sunless tanning gel. I didn’t go into this with high expectations; the last time I used a sunless tanner was about 10 years ago (Jergens, back when it smelled terrible haha), but so far I’m impressed!

  4. Michelle Van Ellis
    July 16, 2014 / 1:34 pm

    When do you use the Dr. Dennis Gross pads in your skincare routine? I see they are an exfoliator as well and think that would negate my moisturizing. What do you think?

    As an aside, your post yesterday convinced me to get a Nordstrom’s charge and order a few things from the Anniversary sale early. 🙂

    • July 16, 2014 / 1:36 pm

      After cleansing in the evening, I put eye and night cream over it. And ooh, did you get anything good? 🙂

      • Michelle Van Ellis
        July 16, 2014 / 1:41 pm

        That faux, black leather peplum shirt, a navy/black split back tunic and some basic brown leggings for the fall. I should have done that earlier in the year when I ordered from their half yearly sale. I didn’t even think about rewards so always paid cash. I’m glad I’m good at paying off cc balances! I’m a plus size and they have such great fitting clothes.

  5. Ginger
    July 16, 2014 / 12:55 pm

    I stick with the Jergens. They fixed the smell problem, it’s pretty thick so it doesn’t drip and I find the color to be not too orange.

    I only use self-tanner on my legs so I wouldn’t buy a product that combined sunscreen and self-tanner because I’d have to carry another sun screen for my face/arms/chest. Plus – how would I wash my hands off after re-applying tanner/sunscreen? It’s too much stuff to be toting around.

  6. Sonia
    July 16, 2014 / 11:08 am

    Believe it or not, as a woman of color, I tried out the Sally Hansen product. My skinny legs are lighter than my face and hands, add to that the scars of my childhood and other flaws are pretty evident. I wanted my legs to look nice in a skirt, so I tried it out. Well, I must not have put it on properly because it streaked everything–my jeans skirt, my panties, even my bedspread that evening before I showered! I guess I need to either lighten up on the amount used. Anyway, I haven’t used it since, but, maybe I’ll give it a second try.

    • July 16, 2014 / 11:15 am

      Oh yuck, that’s awful! Sounds like my experience with the canned version, I couldn’t believe it got such rave reviews. Unfortunate this formula is also so difficult for some, it’s crazy how tanning products can get wildly different reviews, I read online and get even more confused wondering if I’ll be one of the lucky few who actually has success. I wonder if any other readers have suggestions for alternative products!

  7. Lori McKee
    July 16, 2014 / 10:44 am

    I like the Jergens, but I’m never sure WHEN to apply it so I don’t get it all over my clothes or bedclothes (bedtime would be my most convenient time)> I’ve about decided to do it first thing after I get up in the morning, so I can walk around, getting ready, partially dressed and not sitting on anything – until it dries. It’s hard to make myself do it when it’s sticky hot inside or out… I guess another option would be to do it before tv-viewing time and just sit on our dark couch, in dark/old clothes, and on an old towel – until it dries.

    It would be nice if they could combine a sunscreen with this lotion, but lately I’m hearing sunscreens are ineffective or worse for protecting skin from rays?

    Maybe I’m just an old fogey but I think this Disqus commenting interface is confusing. 😉

    • July 16, 2014 / 10:50 am

      I’m sorry it’s confusing Lori! I swear I can’t figure out the best commenting tool, the easier ones make it harder for discussions – if you ask a question you have to subscribe or come back to check in. Let me know what’s the most frustrating, I’ll see if I can change anything in settings 🙂

      As for Jergens, I put it on in the morning. I dry brush, put it on, then brush my teeth and wash my face. By that time it has soaked in enough that I can put on my shorts and socks and go for a walk without it destroying the tan on my feet and my socks haven’t gotten too stained (one pair did, the rest seem okay). This doesn’t stain as bad as the actual tanner, that stuff I felt I had to stand naked for 30 minutes because I’d leave orangey brown stains wherever I went!

      • Lori McKee
        July 16, 2014 / 11:17 am

        I was thinking I should write down WHY it’s confusing. Let me think on this

        It does have some nice features, too. 🙂

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