How to Get a Sun-Kissed Look for Less -- Savings Experiment

How to Save on Self Tanners
How to Save on Self Tanners

So you want a golden glow that will convince friends you've been lounging on a Caribbean beach for two weeks. If you can't swing a pricey vacation at the moment and you don't like the thought -- or expense -- of baking on a salon tanning bed, it's time to hit the bottle.

Today's self-tanners have come a long way from their predecessors of the '80s and '90s, Megan McIntyre, beauty editor for beauty website, tells DailyFinance. With the old self-tanners, "you ended up with orange palms and looked like an Oompa-Loompa," she says, referring to the tangerine munchkins from "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." Now, "there are all sorts of products that can give you a healthy looking glow at home without looking like Snooki" from "Jersey Shore."

We've shed some light on at-home tanners that will give you that sun-kissed look and save you money.

Form and Function

Self-tanners come in many forms: lotions, foams, sprays and even towelettes.

All of these -- and in fact, all sunless tanners, whether they come from salons or from drugstores -- work essentially the same way. They rely on something called dihydroxyacetone, which is derived from sugar and reacts with dead skin cells to color the skin's surface area, says Carey Rossi, family and health editor for, a website that aggregates product reviews from experts and users.

And both salon and at-home methods deliver approximately the same tan life cycle of up to a week. (The tans usually begin to fade after four to six days, Rossi says.)

But a bottled tan will save you a bundle. "For the price --or less than the price-- of one professional application of self tanning solution, you can get multiple applications" from your at-home self tanner, Rossi says.

An over-the-counter bottle of self tanner can cost you anywhere from about $8 to $35, while a single salon spray tan costs about $35 per session, Rossi estimates. Salon airbrushing, which is a spray tan administered by a technician, can range from about $25 to as high as $150, McIntyre says. That can really add up if you want to maintain your bronzy look all summer.

Meanwhile, tanning beds can cost a little bit less, but post some health concerns. "There are so many health warnings about increased risk of skin cancer," Rossi says. "The risks outweigh the savings."

First Things First

When shopping for a self-tanner, first consider whether you want an instant tan or a gradual tan.

Gradual self-tanners contain lower-strength ingredients that produce tans in about a week, Ross says. These products will produce a more subtle tan, which might be the preferred option for a fair-skinned person or a sunless-tanning newbie who wants to ease into a golden look, McIntyre says.

But if you want a deeper tan more quickly, instant self tanners will do the trick. "They offer more rapid results -- typically six hours for a full tan," Rossi says.

Double Duty

One way to save money on a self-tanner is to find one that also works well as a moisturizer, such as sunless tanners from Jergens and L'Oreal. and each recommended Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer, a gradual tanner priced at about $9 for a 7.5-ounce bottle. L'Oreal's Body Expertise Sublime Glow Daily Moisturizer, which costs about $11 for an 8 ounce bottle, is another affordable option.

Another approach is to go for a product that delivers a longer-lasting tan, thereby making each bottle last longer. St. Tropez's self-tanning products -- which are sold a specialty stores such as Sephora -- cost $25 to $65, making them pricier than many drugstore brands, but will also likely last you longer, McIntyre says.

And here's an added plus: St. Tropez's tanners incorporate its Aromaguard fragrance technology, which is designed to eliminate the unpleasant smell that's often associated with self-tanners, replacing it with a fragrant scent.

Prep Before You Tan

tan summer skin
tan summer skin

With any self-tanner, though, extending the life of your golden glow can save you money. "By making your tan last longer you will be dipping from the bottle less often," Rossi says.

Here's how to do that:

• Before you embark on your self-tanning journey, spend a week lavishing your body with lotion -- preferably one without alcohol, which can be drying, Rossi recommends. Healthy, hydrated skin holds a faux-tan longer.

• Exfoliate before you apply a self-tanner to get rid of dead skin cells that might cause your tan to streak and flake off.

• Right before you self tan, make sure your skin is clean, dry and free of any products -- including lotion, makeup and even deodorant -- which can interfere with the tan adhering to your skin, Rossi says.

• Once you're tan, use a highly emollient body lotion, which will help prevent your tan from flaking off.

• And don't forget to use sunscreen with your self-tanner to protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays.

Tap Websites for Savings

Meanwhile, you can find discounts for a wide range of self-tanners online:

• Mine online discount beauty sites, such as, for bargains on self-tanners.

• Look for coupons on,, and

• Keep an eye out for drugstore deals at stores like CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Duane Reade.

"In general, you can't go wrong with your local drugstore," Rossi says. "Since all self tanners work the same way, it's these [drugstore] brands that are your best buy."

Follow these steps and Malibu "Suntan" Barbie will have nothing on you -- and you may even have some cash left over for some cool shades!