Not a goth girl, not yet a tanned woman
March 24, 2008 11:05 AM   Subscribe

De-gothify me, good MeFites! I'm looking for bronzing and self-tanning products for the very fair-skinned.

I'm a brown-eyed brunette with very fair, cool-toned skin. Normally I burn easily and don't tan well. This was all well and good in my goth days, and works out fine in the winter when I can just play up my high-contrast coloring, and my legs are discreetly masked by tights or pants.

However, spring has sprung and with it nice warm weather. I want to go bare-legged for once without forcing all in my vicinity to put on sunglasses to escape the glare from my milk-white legs. I want to wear bronzer on my face without looking like I have jaundice. Most of all, I want to have a healthy glow overall without looking like George Hamilton or a porn actress. I know it's not realistic, given my skin, to expect a deep tan; I just want a nice glow.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks between me and tanning products is that I naturally do not look good in brown, gold, and earth tones in general. I have not for the life of me been able to find a face bronzer that doesn't make me look sallow and muddy.
posted by Rosie M. Banks to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I'll be watching this thread with interest. I'm warm toned, but essentially translucently pale. I look great in earth tones, and have never used a bronzer that didn't just make me look dirty.

I've come to think that since that (bronzed) pigment just doesn't exist at all in my skin, there's nothing there for the bronzer to blend with, so it doesn't look natural. The same products look great on my mom. She's also rather fair skinned, just not as ghostly as me, and seems to have just enough pigment in her skin that the bronzer seems reasonable on her face.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:13 AM on March 24, 2008

I have VERY fair skin (i.e. I never tan naturally, just turn pink) and used the Jergen's natural glow self-tanning moisturizer last summer with good results.

My first attempt was a fail because I stupidly decided to try the "medium" skin tone one (I figured it's supposed to be gradual and subtle, but it was neither gradual nor subtle when I turned streaky-orange the next day). The "fair" skin one was awesome though...just exfoliate before you use it, and I'd err on the side of being conservative with it...apply it once every other day instead of daily.

It does smell like regular self-tanner, which I hate, but I have yet to find any self-tanner lotion that doesn't.
posted by tastybrains at 11:21 AM on March 24, 2008

The Neutrogena daily tanning lotionsm, for both face and body, work very well- the darkening is subtle over several days.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:21 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, Jergens! That's what I meant. Haven't tried the Neutrogena ones.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:22 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

We have the same coloring, and I find Jergens Natural Glow to be fantastic. There is an option for fair skin and a separate face product. I believe the resulting color is natural and subtle. I feel much more comfortable exposing my whitey-white-white legs after a few days using this product. It looks nice on one's face, too. I am aware that self-tanning products produce idiosyncratic results, so try it on parts of your legs first that don't show.

The only drawback, in my opinion, is that the smell isn't wonderful, but it isn't bad. It is a bit suntan lotiony. Good luck!
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 11:25 AM on March 24, 2008

[tastybrains, oops, I didn't preview. My bad.]
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 11:26 AM on March 24, 2008

I also have pretty pale skin which doesn't really tan, just kinda burns, never really tans.
Look for lotions that "gradually builds a natural summer glow" Every self tanner I have tried using leaves things streaky, orange, smells bad, is difficult to use etc. But things that are very light tend to be more forgiving of mistakes. Applying any sort of indoor bronzing/tanning product is infinitely easier if you have a partner to make sure you get all the tough places, (ie mid-back).

PS if you choose a self-tanner don't forget to wash your hands ;)
posted by silkygreenbelly at 11:31 AM on March 24, 2008

It's growing a little bit out of date since she no longer works on it, but a friend put up to assist with questions like these. There's a ton of information in there (and in the associated forums and mailing lists) that should help you find a product to meet your specific needs. The product search tool specifically lets you locate something that works best for fair skin.
posted by majick at 11:32 AM on March 24, 2008

i've used the jergens self-tanner and found it to be very natural and subtle. for your face, you might want to stick to a bronzer. you'll naturally get some sun, anyway.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:20 PM on March 24, 2008

Best answer: Like mostlymartha, I'm warm-toned, but very pale. I found that the Hawaiian Tropic version of the gradual tanner/moisturizer product worked the best for me. Jergens turned out quite yellow on my skin, while the HT turned light browny-toasty. It's hard to tell which one will work best for you -- I had to try a few before I hit a color that worked for me. Given what you've said about your coloring, I think the Dove version might be good for you. I found it not as yellow as the Jergens, but not as brown as the Hawaiian Tropic. I highly recommend the gradual color products in general -- I'm pretty sloppy with my self-tanner methods, don't like to fuss a lot, and don't want to go from white as a sheet to suspicious Caribbean glow in 24-hrs. The buildable moisturizers are a godsend, and great for getting just a little glow to take the edge off one's natural gothy incandescence.

For makeup bronzers: I don't worship Nars Laguna as many ladies seem to do, but it works fine for me -- used with a LIGHT hand and a skunk brush. I also like Too-Faced Carribean in a Compact (I think that's the name) -- but it can be a bit sparkly. The key to any bronzer in my experience is not to swipe it all over your face, but to focus on the spots the sun hits (top of the cheeks, nose, chin, forehead) -- apply gradually, building until you're comfortable. I'd recommend a bronzer with a hint of rosiness to it -- that can help with the whole "I'm dirty!" phenomenon, and looks pretty natural. After all, when you first get a tan, there's usually a bit of pinkishness to it, especially if you're an easy burner.
posted by tigerbelly at 12:21 PM on March 24, 2008

Best answer: Hawaiian Tropic Island Glow gradual self-tanner works just like the Jergens stuff, but without the nasty self-tanner smell. It smells okay, like some kind of "white tea" scented lotion, and builds up color without looking orange-y.

If regular bronzers leave you muddy, maybe a shimmery highlighting product is what you need instead? The Bobbi Brown shimmer brick comes in several different shade families; the pink or beige might work with your cool skintone better than the usual bronzers. (If you have a BB counter near you, an enthusiastic salesperson should be happy to sweep the stuff all over your face for you to try out.)

Finally, pale girl to pale girl: I find it's easier to leave my skin alone in the summer, and add some blonde highlights around my face instead. That and a brighter blush color will keep me from looking undead AND save me the trouble of constantly trying to calibrate a "natural" looking tan, matching my foundation to my darker skin color, hoping my face is the same color as my arms and legs, etc etc...
posted by junkbox at 12:25 PM on March 24, 2008

I've used the Bobbi Brown shimmer bricks as well, and quite like them. They're mad shiny, but if used carefully, can add a lovely, glowy look without unnatural brownness. I like it in apricot (which will probably be too warm for you) and beige (much more neutral). I've come to see that kind of shimmery glow as my paleface alternative to a "kiss of sun" glow.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:38 PM on March 24, 2008

I heard some makeup artist opine that you should never use bronzer on your face without also putting pink blush on the apples of your cheeks to prevent the sallowness and muddiness you describe. I think she said you could buy pretty bright pink blush and it would end up looking good (ie, not insanely pink) once you put it on.

Oh, and I'm greek and the jergens tanner (medium) did absolutely nothing for me after days of use. I'm pretty pale. I think the undertones of your skin matter a lot. I am pale, but fairly yellow. If you're the type of person who tans instead of burning, don't be afraid of the jergens self-tanner. If anything, it's too wimpy for some of us.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:19 PM on March 24, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, so many helpful answers - thanks! Majick, I had no idea about the website. Thanks for the link.

Junkbox and MostlyMartha, I LOVE Bobbi Brown products in general (you can't look like a streetwalker in her makeup!). I have a Shimmerbrick in Rose Quartz that I use as a highlighter. I'll try her Beige one. Apricot is probably too warm for me.

Tigerbelly, I will try the brand bronzers you mentioned. I can sample them at Sephora, and while I'm there, I'll ask the SA's for a "bronzer with a hint of rose," which is probably the key to "healthy glow" instead of "hepatitis" on my skintone.

And I will give Dove and/or Hawaiian Tropic self-tanners a try.

All your answers were great - thank you!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:19 PM on March 24, 2008

I love Jergen's Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer. I have very fair skin and I look like a superstar when I use it. It makes such a difference, honest. People always make comments along the lines of, "you look so healthy!"
posted by HotPatatta at 3:08 PM on March 24, 2008

I'm not much of a bronzer/blush type but as a fair skinned blonde, I once read that NARS' Laguna blush is the greatest bronzer ever for the fair. And it really is. Neither orangy nor shiny, it just give you a nice glow. Seriously terrific. Here are the makeupalley reviews.
It won't work on your legs, but I'd second the Jergen's for that. I still got some streaks, but because it's gradual, it wasn't too bad.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:47 PM on March 24, 2008

I'm also very pale/cool with dark brown hair. I've tried many different tanning lotions, and I like the Dove "Energy Glow" lotion in fair-to-medium the best. The smell doesn't seem as bad as with other lotions, as it seems Dove goes easier on the perfume (the bad smell we all know and love is caused by the chemical reaction that gives you that nice bronze glow. Yum!).

My strategy is to 1) exfoliate with a washcloth in the shower, 2) apply a very light layer of plain ol' body lotion to my feet, knees, and elbows, and 3) apply the Dove all over. That seems to help a bit -- at least, I think my elbows look a little more natural when I do step #2 (not that I spend a lot of time inspecting my elbows).
posted by korres at 4:31 PM on March 24, 2008

If you want to be tan -tomorrow- and not a few days from now, I really like L'Oreal's Sublime Bronze gel.
Use it carefully on your legs, and you might be surprised. I can go from deathly pale and must be hidden in pants or boots, which is now, to summer-worthy skirts by tomorrow morning.
posted by lilithim at 4:39 PM on March 24, 2008

Mmm. A $15? spray tan could be your best friend!

I'm a lily - of the blonde and blue variety - but have faced similar troubles. All I can say is... (get a spray tan or) trial and error. And don't be afraid to experiment (er, on your tummy ect.).

My first layer would be one with great depth but had an awful colour. Then when it had dried I'd layer a better colour over (invariably good colours never had any depth). The result in the end was what I had in mind. Some of them can be pretty shocking, but generally speaking they'll all give you at least something to work with. The gel type ones were usually bad, because they never seemed to set well. But that could have been a too thick/layer thing? Also not a fan of ones that go on clear, because it just intensifies and heightens the whole wait and see nature of the sunless tan.

Or... Step 1. Spray Tan. :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:08 AM on March 25, 2008

Personally, the Jergens stuff is a bit odd - I loved it for the first week and a half, and then all of a sudden it started coming off of me in weird spots, and over-darkening in others. I looked like I was melting.

I went to for recommendations and found that many others had a similar dissatisfaction with Jergens. On the other hand, lots of people were referring to the Coppertone gradual tanner as their HG ("holy grail"). I found it, bought it, use it religiously and LOVE it. And I'm very pale and cool-toned, also.

Whatever gradual self tanner you choose to go with (and they're great products!!), I'd check the reviews on makeupalley first, so you know what your success rate is likely to be.
posted by AthenaPolias at 2:51 PM on March 25, 2008

The internets love Famous Dave. I have never used it, however, so can't comment.

I use the Neutrogena glow sunblock on my face (I am more olive-complected, so it's probably not useful information for you) and am quite happy with the results.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:33 AM on March 26, 2008

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