Tanning Diaries: A Faux-Glow Novice’s Guide to Faking It

The year was 2006. Daniel Powter’s sappy “Bad Day” ruled the airwaves, and I was a pale-skinned college freshman in (what seemed like) a sea of gleaming golden goddesses. In a fit of insecurity, I headed to a local salon, stepped into a claustrophobia-inducing spray-tan booth, and walked out with a head-to-toe bronze finish. Thrilled with my new look, I headed back to my dorm and cozied up to a textbook. Fast-forward to the next morning (nothing puts you to sleep faster than Sociology 101) and the slow dawn of realization: “Holy guacamole, I fell asleep before getting the chance to shower, and I now look Snooki-level orange.”

After that catastrophe, I put as much distance between myself and self-tanners as possible. But with a bevy of next-generation self-tanners arriving in the Birchbox Shop, I felt like it was time to give it another go. Here’s my tanning diary.

Day 1: Introduction

I get the goods: Body Drench Quick Tan Gradual Self Tanning Lotion, Whish SPF 15 Self Tanner, and Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare™ Alpha Beta® Glow Pads. I make a mental note: “Do not mention past beauty blunders to your editors. They will use it as inspiration for your article.” (Obviously, I didn’t follow my own advice.)

Each formula has a different application method and ingredients. I set a few guidelines: I’ll use each product for two days, followed by a one-day “rest” period before moving on to the next product. Before and after each trial, I’ll exfoliate with Caudalie’s Divine Body Scrub.

Day 2: Starting Slow

Body Drench Quick Tan Gradual Self Tanning Lotion is ideal for newbies because it goes on like daily lotion and slowly develops into a subtle tan. After showering and exfoliating, I apply the thick formula and wait about 10 minutes before putting on my clothes. The lotion is odorless, but I notice a faint chemical scent about 30 minutes later—easily remedied with a spritz of my favorite perfume.

Day 3: Seeing a Glow

A friend tells me I look great—and not to toot my own horn, but I kinda do! My arms and legs are lightly tinted, as if I spent the weekend doing running and biking outdoors.

Day 4: Day of Rest

As reward for all my hard work (beauty testing is simply exhausting), I treat myself to a hazelnut ice cream cone from Van Leeuwen, the best truck in town. My scoops melt in the heat faster than I can eat them, but my tan stays intact. I end my “day off” with a long, relaxing shower. I gently buff Caudalie’s sugar scrub into my skin for about seven minutes, and can see my natural skin color start to come through.

Day 5: The Next Level

Next, I step it up with Whish’s SPF 15 Self Tanner. I immediately like the tropical coconut scent, and the pump applicator makes it easy to apply the silky body butter onto my arms and legs.

Day 6: The Results Are In

After a second morning application, the rich color really starts to develop—maybe a little too much. While the deep bronze hue is gorgeous, it looks a bit jarring on my pink-undertoned, typically Casper-white skin. Next time I’ll stick with a single application, though someone with a medium complexion could definitely do back-to-back doses.

Day 7: Houston, We Have a Problem

On my next tanning day off, I treat myself to a pedicure. Big mistake. The leg massage and scrub that felt so rejuvenating also had the effect of stripping away my lovely bronze color from my shins down. Sad face. Luckily I still have more product at home.

Day 8: Master Class

I eye the dainty Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare™ Alpha Beta® Glow Pads skeptically. They don’t seem quite big enough for my body, despite the fact that I’m all of 5-feet-2-inches. I rip open the packets and start swiping them all over. It takes about six to get the job done. It’s only when I finish that I realize the instructions specifically state that the wipes are meant for your face, neck, and chest. Doh! Lesson learned: Read before you apply.

Day 9: The Doctor Is in the House

The natural-looking glow looks particularly swell on my face and décolletage—where the formula was meant to be applied—and also has the happy side effect of smoothing out rough patches. The good doctor also offers Alpha Beta® Glow Pad for Body, which I’ll definitely pick up before the next entry in my tanning diary.

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