You can’t tan without exposing yourself to wrinkles and melanoma, so fake tan is the way to go if you want to go brown. I’ve recently tried 4 gradual tanners widely available in Australia:
- Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk
- Dove Summer Glow Gradual Self Tan Body Lotion (Fair to Medium)
- St Tropez Gradual Tan Everyday Body Mousse
- Fake Bake Sport Daily Tan
If you’re not confident in your ability to apply fake tan smoothly, or you’re scared of people asking you why you became a super dark tanned glamazon goddess overnight, then gradual tanners might be for you! These contain a lower percentage of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the staining ingredient in fake tan, so the tan builds slowly over a few applications. (You can read all about how the dihydroxyacetone in fake tan works in this post.) Here’s how they fared:
Criteria: Not too orange is pretty much my only criteria. Getting a decent amount of colour after 2 applications is good too.
Results: All 4 were surprisingly comparable. I used a different tanner on each limb, and at the end they all looked pretty much the same. Fake Bake was a touch darker than the rest, and Dove was a touch lighter (Dove also has a Medium to Dark version which I haven’t tried). Dove and Fake Bake were a bit more yellow, while St Tropez and Bondi Sands are a bit more pink/brown, so they’ll look a bit more natural if you don’t have a yellow undertone.
Winner: Bondi Sands and St Tropez for a more natural colour for people without a yellow undertone, Fake Bake if you want a faster result and your skin works well with yellow.
Ease of application
I like my fake tan to be easy to apply in awkward places (middle of the back, especially!). I want it to spread evenly with minimal effort.
Results: Bondi Sands and Fake Bake are runny lotions, Dove is a thicker lotion, and St Tropez is a foam. The foam was by far the easiest to apply, though the runny lotions weren’t that difficult, especially when I started using a mitt. Dove was the hardest to rub in, but again it wasn’t too bad with a mitt.
Winner: St Tropez, though a mitt makes anything possible.
I’m a novice when it comes to fake tan, so a tan that spreads easily and is foolproof when it comes to streaking is super important.
Results: To my surprise, when applied with a mitt, all four were non-streaky! I also did a water splash test 5 minutes after application, and all 4 ended up with little water marks though Fake Bake was the least affected (probably because it was the oiliest and hence most water resistant).
Winner: Apply them with a mitt and you won’t have any trouble (or funny coloured palms). Like gremlins, don’t get them wet (this includes sweat!). If you can’t avoid water, Fake Bake is the safest option.
When dihydroxyacetone reacts with skin it smells weird, so a lot of fake tans have overpowering scents to hide it. Sometimes the overpowering scent is pleasant, sometimes less so, sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Results: Upon application, St Tropez smells strongly like perfume but fades over the next few hours. Bondi Sands has the weakest scent but it doesn’t fade much – it’s a creamy cocoa butter fragrance. Dove smells like fruity perfume and starts strong but fades pretty quickly. Fake Bake smells strongly like toasty caramel creme brulee, and the scent fades slowly.
Turns out I’m immune to fake tan smell, so I put a different tanner on each limb and had the boy come over to do sniff tests. Fake Bake and Bondi Sands didn’t smell, but both Dove and St Tropez had fake tan smell after an hour, but after 3 hours it was only detectable if he shoved his nose into my skin. When I applied them at night, there was no fake tan smell left by morning.
Winner: Personal preference rules here. For avoiding fake tan smell altogether, Fake Bake (slow fading caramel scent) or Bondi Sands (subtle cocoa butter) win, but applying at night removes the fake tan smell for all of them.
Staining your clothes isn’t a big problem with gradual tans since they’re close to colourless until they react with your skin, but putting on your clothes while it’s wet can still lead to smudging on your skin. Most of us have better things to do than stand around naked for hours trying not to touch anything, so a short dry time is convenient.
Results: St Tropez dries fastest, which isn’t surprising since it has the thinnest formula. Bondi Sands was next, followed by Dove. Fake Bake didn’t ever feel dry, since it’s a pretty oily-feeling cream, but at the same time, it didn’t smudge either.
Winner: St Tropez, but it didn’t seem to matter too much in terms of smudging.
Fake tan dries out your skin, and tan on dry skin gets patchy quickly. A tan that moisturises lasts longer without extra upkeep (though you should do that too).
Results: As you’d expect, the thicker the cream, the more moisturising it is. St Tropez was the least moisturising of the four, while Fake Bake was the most moisturising. Dove was a little more moisturising than Bondi Sands.
Winner: Fake Bake
It’s a little hard to compare prices since some products go further than others, so keep this in mind.
Results: Cheapest to most expensive
- Dove: $7.49 for 250 mL or $10.49 for 400 mL = $0.026-0.030 per mL
- Bondi Sands: $17.99 for 375 mL = $0.048 per mL
- Fake Bake: $26 for 236 mL = $0.11 per mL
- St Tropez: $39.99 for 200 mL = $0.20 per mL
Dove is the most budget friendly option, while St Tropez is the most expensive; however, St Tropez goes a fair bit further since the mousse spreads so easily, while you need to use a little more of the creams to cover the same area. Bondi Sands is surprisingly affordable.
|Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk||Budget friendly|
|Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Isopropyl Palmitate, Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethylsilane, Cocoglycerides, Dihydroxyacetone, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Glyceryl Stearate, Acrylamide/Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate Copolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Erythrulose, Parfum, Propylparaben, Laureth-7, Cetyl Phosphate, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Triethanolamine, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate.|
|Dove Summer Glow Gradual Self Tan Body Lotion (Fair to Medium)||Most budget friendly||More yellow|
Slight fake tan smell
|Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Isopropyl Palmitate, Stearic Acid, Dihydroxyacetone, Glycol Stearate, Dimethicone, PEG-100 Stearate, Collagen Amino Acids, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Hybrid Oil, Isomerised Linoleic Acid, Lactic Acid, Potassium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Urea, Cyclopentasiloxane, Isohexadecane, Glyceryl Stearate, Polysorbate 60, Sorbitan Isostearate, Stearamide AMP, Citric Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Potato Starch Modified, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance, Methylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Propylparaben, Caramel, Maltodextrin, CI 16255, CI 47005.|
|St Tropez Gradual Tan Everyday Body Mousse||Less yellow|
Easy to apply and spread
Slight fake tan smell
|Aqua (Water), Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Dihydroxyacetone, Ethoxydiglycol, Decyl Glucoside, PPG-5-Ceteth-20, Phenoxyethanol, Parfum (Fragrance), Hydroxyethylcellulose, Sodium Metabisulfite, Tocopherol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Linalool, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone.|
|Fake Bake Sport Daily Tan||Deepest colour|
Most resistant to water streaking
|Water, PEG-8, Glycerin, Simmondsia Chinenisi (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Dihydroxyacetaone, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Dimethicone, Lactic Acid, Ethoxydiglycol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Polyacrylamide, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Laureth-7, Aroma, Cyclomethicone, Cetearyl, Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Cetyl Esters, Hyaulronic Acid, Echinacin, Triethanolamine, Caffeine, Erythulose, Terasodium EDTA, Xanthan Gum, Tyrosine, Hypnea Musciformis Extract, Gelidiella Acerosa Extract, Sargassum Filipendula Extract, Sorbitol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Steareth-20, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Fragrance, Coumarin.|
It’s surprisingly hard to pick a clear winner – all 4 have their clear advantages over the others, depending on what you’re looking for in your fake tan:
- If you want the most budget-friendly option, go for Dove
- If you want moisture, rapid colour and water resistance you’ll want Fake Bake
- If you like ease of application and quick drying, go for St Tropez
- If you want a good all-rounder, Bondi Sands wins
The one I’ve found myself reaching for most often is the all-rounder Bondi Sands, though I’ve made a decent dent in all of them!
What’s your favourite gradual tanner? Do you prefer gradual or full-on tan? Let me know!
These products were provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.