Bronze Ambition

7 years ago by

The goal of seeking a tan is perhaps rooted in vanity. The goal of seeking an artificial tan at home is safety (and convenience, fear of wrinkles, reducing the risk of skin cancer, etc.) While there is no actual truth in the notion that in order to look good, we need to be tan, I understand (and am guilty of) participating in the desire to look sunkissed.

So, in the spirit of vanity AND safety (and since Garance already has the sunglasses-parasol-gloves-spf-visor combination covered) a few of us at the Atelier have turned to self-tanners to see how they work as a sun alternative.

While our products, opinions, experiences, and results varied, a few things were unanimous: exfoliate first, apply evenly and thoroughly, wash your hands immediately, don’t crawl into your white sheets for a few hours, and YES your back is as hard to reach as you’re imagining.


Natalie’s Self Tanner of Choice: Kiehl’s Sun Free Self Tanning Lotion – A lightweight, non-greasy formula that promises a natural, even glow with no streaks. It’s filled with apricot oil, cocoa seed butter, and vitamin E, and I wholeheartedly and without reason trust any brand like Kiehl’s that boasts its natural qualities.

I approached my self tanner excursion like I approach most things in life: impatiently and without much preparation. In fact, I was pretty close to giving the application a shot while my internet was being installed in the kitchen by a man named Kevin. I (sensibly, thankfully, responsibly) waited until he left. Then I stripped off all my clothes and slathered a generous amount of the Kiehl’s tanner all over my body, as evenly as possible. Then I ran around naked until it dried, put my clothes on, and went to work.

As the day progressed, my skin began to bronze while my skepticism of getting a successful tan faded. I caught my darkening reflection in the bathroom mirror and was overcome with excitement, which my coworkers did not seem to care about as much as I would have liked them to. They redeemed themselves in the following days by reassuring me that I did look tan. Recognition and reassurance is the point of using these things, right?

While I overall prefer a from-the-sun, natural bronze, this Kiehl’s option was a solid, safe alternative with the welcome added bonus of feeling like an extra notch on the ole responsibility belt.

My tip: Slow down, wait for the internet technician to leave and your roommate to arrive to help you reach your back.

Pia’s Self Tanner of Choice: Loreal’s Sublime Bronze Summer Express – A 24 hour, wash off bronzing lotion with color-correcting pigments to instantly soften and perfect. Because I have a fear of commitment and I’m also chronically pale.

The idea of using self tanner sends me into a sweaty panic. Which is bad because (and it doesn’t take a pro to know this) sweat + self tanner seems like it might = streaks. Ever since a girl in my high school class had an unfortunate pre-prom spray tan faux pas that left her 50 shades of orange, I have given all forms of pigment altering lotions a wide berth.

But I’m Australian! What I lack in my ability to tan, I make up for in adventure, so I pledged myself a volunteer for a temporary tan via L’Oreal’s Sublime Bronze Summer Express which was great for my arms and legs but terrifying for my face (will it ever come off?!) which looked very dark. My panic was quickly unfounded as I was able to wash it straight off (shout out to accurate advertising!), no soap necessary. It’s apparently sweat resistant too, but my adventurous nature is not strong enough to put that to the test on a 90 degree day in a white skirt.

All in all, it feels like the perfect tanning lotion for first timers and commitment phobes, and is super friendly to the hands of your boyfriend, who generously says yes when you ask him to rub it on your back.

My Tip: To reiterate: wash your hands immediately. And apply one layer at a time, unless unnaturally orange and shocking is your goal.

Caitlin’s Self Tanner of Choice: Organic Pharmacy’s Self Tan lotion which promises a subtle, even glow that develops in three hours AND hydrates. Also, it’s derived from sugar beet (100% clean and natural!) and is sold on Goop. I love Goop.

This is not my first time using a self tanner. My first experience with a promised full body “glow” in a bottle was when I was in my late teens and living in the city for a summer as an intern… and it wasn’t pretty. It was actually very traumatic. I was sufficiently orange, striped in all the wrong places, and all my white summer clothes from the discount store across the street were ruined.

But here we are, a good decade later, and I’m newly in love with the idea of no sun needed, self tanning. The Organic Pharmacy’s Self Tan potion is straight up magic. As it’s derived from sugar beet (can’t get over that) it’s gentle coloring makes it impossible to mess up. I haven’t found the semblance of one streak! Plus it’s safe enough for your face, which means you can go easy on the bronzer, too. A new fixture of my summer beauty routine.

My tip: Apply the product post-shower in the evening while you still have time to let it dry before you crawl into bed. Oh, and use a moisturizer after the tanner on difficult spots to even it out.

Carie’s Self Tanner of Choice: L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Body Towelettes – single use wipes that contain vitamin E and can be used on the go – and, you guessed it, streak free! They seemed like the most easy and least messy option.

A California upbringing instilled in me an early love of the warmth and golden hue brought on by year round sun (not to rub it in). It also meant I never needed to use a self tanner. Yet here I am, one long New York winter later, after countless conversations with women who preach the benefits of such products, reporting on wiping invisible self tanner on my legs at 11:45pm while my cat cries outside the bathroom door, outraged I’d want some privacy in the room he firmly believes is actually his own.

The wipes smelled good, the application was quick and easy, no acrobatics required, though I opted against trying to reach my own back. Overall, I was not into it. I felt like a phony. It didn’t give me that warm, fuzzy feeling of earning the tan, actually enjoying the sun while you slowly become a natural shade darker, not that weird iodine hue the self-tanner brings.

I understand the repercussions of too much sun exposure and I always wear sunscreen, but I now know I actually need the sun in a visceral way. I’m happiest when it’s out, but I don’t care enough about being tan to apply an artificial one to make up for the lack of it. I need the sun, not the tan.

My Tip: Don’t apply at midnight, do keep track of the body parts you’ve already applied, and do lock your cat out.


It feels like we’ve only punctured the surface of the self tanner possibility – should we DIY? Do you self tan in the off months? Should we embrace our natural skin, no matter how long the winter? Perhaps we’ll never know, but I would love to hear your thoughts on self tanner – pro tips and horror stories!

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  • Hi guys

    Great post and very helpful since I”m already collecting my annual collection of self tanners and tinted lotions. These I typically throw away at the end of the summer since they don’t give enough value for the effort. None of you mention the dreaded odor that comes as self tanners start to work. How do these solutions stack up? Thanks!

  • Natalie June, 20 2017, 4:51

    You’re totally right. Actually, I was the only one who seemed to notice / be bothered by the smell of the tanner. And it didn’t even smell terrible, just like self tanner, but I couldn’t shake it!

  • Well, once I was stupid enough to put on self tan the day before I got my legs waxed.
    It came of by patches and I looked like a leopard after that! :) My beautician looked horrified until I told her what was the reason! :)

  • Mathilde Cornet June, 20 2017, 2:56 / Reply

    I’ve been reading the blog since its beginning and never commented on any post… Even if most of them have deeply touched or influenced me sofar, I’ve always told myself that my first official reaction should be a very thoughtful one ( a very sincere love declaration to Garance and her amazing journey (un jour, je prendrai vraiment le temps de le faire correctement. Car ce doit être fait. En attendant, tellement merci, pour tout ?) , and to you, super Dore’s team for your passionate work. You guys have such an important place in my daily life !!) so I’ve always decided to wait before posting anything.
    And today, after reading an article about self-tanning, I surprise myself starting to type………. What’s happening to me ???!!!
    Our first exchange has to be way more philosophical than that !!! No ? … No !
    Because let’s be honnest, since self-tanning has become such an art to master, talking about it is almost as philosophical as talking about how to find your balance in life (which in fact cannot be totally and properly found without a good self-tanner… Ha ! So here we are !) !

    So all that gibberish to tell you ladies… I think the Scottish brand Tan Lux is going to change our lives ! I’ve just discovered them (after years of failure in this tricky field …) and I’ve tried their self-tanning drops for a week now and I have to say I’m starting to be really convinced ! They have a wide range of self-tanning products (serum, water, mousse,…), made with natural components. It’s easy to use, no streaks, no clogged pores, no smell (I promise you that THE disgraceful smell doesn’t come up !! And I was kind of sceptical !) and as they write (on their beautiful packaging) no drama (just dramatic positions when trying to cover your back). Even it’s to good to be true… I think I can say that I’ve switched from sun – burnt to sun-kissed thanks to them.
    Go check their website ! I hope it will help some of you !
    Have a nice day and plein de gros bisous belges to all <3 :)

  • Natalie June, 20 2017, 4:49

    If Tan Lux was the brand that propelled you to comment for the first time on the site, I think we HAVE to try it. Also thank you for reading and for commenting, you should totally do it more often :) xx

  • I also started using Tan Lux and their products are great! Highly recomended:)

  • I swear by St. Tropez mousse for body–it gives a very even, brown (not orange!) tan and is easy to apply and doesn’t stain anything. And for face, I use Chocolate Sun, and Clarins drops that you add to serum/moisturizer. I have it down to a science at this point haha.

  • Ecotan all the way. Natural, you can dress or sleep in it in after about 1 minute, skin softener, and a gentle tan that looks great on my olive skin. My pale face friends love it too.

    Highly recommend

  • Please, Atelier Dore, hire someone/pay a consultant who can read labels and ingredients lists, it will help be accurate in analyzing what’s “natural”, “clean” and “responsible” in cosmetic formulas. Kiehl’s marketing revolves around these concepts, but have a look at the actual ingredients lists of their products:

    They claim that the key ingredients in this particular product are apricot oil, vitamin E and cocoa butter. Then why are those nearer to the bottom of the ingredients list, which means they are present in very small quantities, less than, say, sunflower oil (cheap), methylparaben (a preservative) or phenoxyethanol (another preservative)? Isn’t it a bit concerning that a “natural” product should contain more harsh preservatives (one of them a recognized endocrine disruptor) than natural actives? To me, this exemplifies how Kiehl’s is a company that cares about extending the shelf life of their products (and their profits) not about our health and the planet’s.

    Now compare to Organic Pharmacy’s formula… The later is three times more expensive, indeed, but their main ingredient (first on the list) is Aloe Vera, not water (Kiehl’s).

    Please, you can do better than echoing marketing strategies; be thorough, otherwise what’s the point? Thank you.

  • MrsMuir June, 24 2017, 8:04

    I totally agree with Julie about the blindness we may get from reading “organic”, “natural” etc.
    We are (all of us) experiencing such changes in the way we consume that we may also be patient with ourselves too; some of us can only change slowly so let’s start with switching the veryvery bad products for better ones and eventuallly we’ll come to buy the totally “good” ones, knowing that one good for me may be bad for you.
    Love from France where we read carefully and happily the blog all year round too :)

  • Trop peur de devenir zèbre comme vous toutes, j’ai botté en touche les crèmes et lotions , et essayé cette année les gélules Oenobiol autobronzantes : très convaincantes! mes jambes ne sont plus endives mais disons, pain bis? Pas abricot certes -mais ai-je été un seul jour de ma vie abricot? Non!

  • Helena June, 21 2017, 5:35 / Reply

    I love Vita Liberata products! they give you a very natural result, with a really nice colour and no smell. I particularly like a hydrating cream that gives you a gradual tan (develops over a few hours) and is very easy to apply (I can guarantee that, I am a mess and I am able to get a good result).
    They also have a very nice bronzing powder for the face that looks beautiful and also has a gradual tan effect!

    However, I do wonder whether using self-tanning products too much can have adverse effects. Does it contribute to skin aging? It’s an issue I would really like to have more information about.

    Thanks! Xx

  • I prefer to slather on the sunblock rather than the self tanner now (now that I’m 21 and older and wiser :P )
    But early in high school I used the self tanner Bare Minerals makes and I remember it worked very well. They’ve changed the packaging and may have changed the formula, but I suppose I would trust them again.
    Except in the end I’m fine being pale.

  • It’s all well, but… please remember that sun exposure is necessary to synthesize Vitamin D and prevent osteoporosis.
    “The major natural source of the vitamin is synthesis of cholecalciferol in the skin from cholesterol through a chemical reaction that is dependent on sun exposure (specifically UVB radiation).” (from Wikipedia)
    You don’t need to burn in the sun for hours on end, but a little sun without sunblock on your arms and legs actually does you good.

  • Delphindes June, 27 2017, 6:35 / Reply

    Cette année, j’ai découvert l’huile de carottes : non seulement elle donne immédiatement une jolie couleur dorée, mais elle accélère le bronzage tout en protégeant un peu la peau.
    Et je bois du jus de carotte, c’est plein de béta carotène (et de plein d’autres supers vitamines) – et en plus c’est délicieux.
    Eh bien pour la première fois, je suis déjà joliment bronzée alors que nous ne sommes qu’en juin.
    Et je ne pue pas l’autobronzant !

  • Nature’s Gate Glow Lotion! C’est une crème hydratante qui donne un bronzage progressif. Pas de traces, on l’applique comme un hydratant. N’a pas l’odeur typique des autobronzants, et on peut contrôler son bronzage. Pour le visage, j’adore l’autobronzant hydratant en gelée d’Avène. Parfait pour les peau sensible, et encore une fois, donne un hâle progressif. Personnellement je suis nulle pour l’application des autobronzants, alors quand c’est progressif, aucune gaffe possible!

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