We've tested a number of self-tanning creams, some with sunscreens and some without. They contain DHA, a chemical that reacts with the skin to form a substance which mimics a suntan within a few hours. As the skin cells slough off, the 'tan' disappears, usually within a few days. For a more immediate effect, you can use instant tans, creams that are more like foundation make-up, but they wash off. Our testers slapped on lotions, creams and mousses to see which was least likely to give the game away.
Deborah Steel, actress and dancer at the Pineapple Studios in London, most recently appearing in Cats; Evelyn Harris, beauty therapist at the Body Clinic, north London; Annabel Ferriman, health writer; Paul Emelion, playwright, writer of music and lyrics for Crimes of Passion.
The panel gave the products marks for how easy they were to apply, how even and natural-looking the tan was, how pleasant their smell was and value for money. We also asked testers to say how long the tans lasted - although this depends on factors such as skin type, skin preparation and even how often you wash. All of them lasted more than two days and less than five.
**** AMBRE SOLAIRE EXPRESS BRONZER, pounds 6.49 125ml (with sunscreen factor 6)
The favourite, it was easy to apply and produced good results at a reasonable price. 'I liked the colour; people complimented me on it,' said Paul Emelion. Deborah Steel also liked it: 'It wasn't greasy, dried straight away and needed only one application.' Annabel Ferriman said: 'Very good value for money, with a pleasant smell like good quality soap. It gave a natural colour.'
**BERGASOL DUAL AUTO-BRONZING CREAM, pounds 9.95 75ml (with sunscreen factor 8) The most expensive by far, this produced a very dark colour which some loved but others didn't. 'Colour was rich and even and lasted very well,' said Annabel Ferriman. Evelyn Harris disagreed: 'On my skin, which is very fair, it was much too dark - it would be good for olive skins.' It was criticised for being a bit greasy and sticky and taking a long time to dry. 'Smells like lemon curd,' commented Deborah Steel.
**PIZ BUIN JET BRONZER SELF TAN LOTION, pounds 7.25 200ml
This lotion, which works out as one of the cheapest, was easy to apply and produced an even colour. But the effect wasn't as natural-looking as some of the best. 'The colour was too evident on me,' said Paul Emelion. 'People kept asking what self-tanning cream I was wearing. It also had a pungent odour. I wouldn't buy it in a hurry.' Evelyn Harris also had one reservation: 'You would need a top-up fairly quickly.'
*YARDLEY EASY BRONZE GEL STICK, Sheer Gold colour pounds 5.25 50g (with sunscreen factor 4)
This instant tan was not a match for the self-tanning creams and lotions, producing a less even and natural-looking colour. Paul Emelion commented: 'Quite thick, and in the heat it tended to leave traces on the collar. It may come in handy as stage make-up.' Still, an instant tan has advantages: 'I used it before going to a party and was complimented on my tan,' said Annabel Ferriman.
*BOOTS SOLTAN EASITAN MOUSSE, pounds 3.43 150ml (promotional price until further notice; normal price pounds 5.39)
Extremely cheap, but also the worst rated by the testing panel members. They found it the least easy to apply and didn't like the shade it produced. 'The colour is very light, so you need two applications,' said Deborah Steel. 'If I could have washed this off, I would have done so. No further comment,' said Paul Emelion. If, however, you don't want your tan too dark, it might suit you. Evelyn Harris, unlike the others, was very pleased with the colour.
***VICHY MOISTURISING SELF-TANNING CARE, pounds 8.50 100ml (on offer until September at pounds 6.95)
A popular choice, although the Ambre Solaire was rated slightly better and also works out a bit cheaper. 'I was very pleased with this. It's easy to apply, very good colour,' said Evelyn Harris. It was also Paul Emelion's favourite: 'It has a slight odour which was a bit off-putting at first but with a spalsh of eau de cologne, nobody was any the wiser.' But Annabel Ferriman found it stayed sticky for a long time.
**DELIAL MAXIBRAUN SELF-TANNING LOTION, pounds 7.69 200ml
'Hard to squeeze out of the bottle, with a thick consistency, so not as easy to apply as some. It did produce a nice, even, golden brown colour,' said Deborah Steel, though Annabel Ferriman found it 'streaky'. 'Quite good, but not at the top of my list,' commented Evelyn Harris. But it was one of the cheapest products tested.
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