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Best Drugstore Self Tanner: Neutrogena Build-A-Tan

posted in: Bath & Body
May 1, 2021

I have never been the type of person to use self tanner, mostly because I tan so easily naturally! But after a year spent mostly at home, I could definitely use a little help before I jump into my summer outfits and show skin that hasn’t been exposed in a while. Being an easy tanner also means I end up with deep tan lines whenever I’m in the sun. On top of getting a head start on a glowy look, I wanted to set a bronzier baseline so that any tan lines I get this season won’t be as dramatic. My strategy was to start with a slight tan, and reapply as needed to blend tan lines. Choosing a drugstore self tanner can be super daunting… but I seriously think I found the best one ever!

I was really drawn to the Neutrogena Build-A-Tan Gradual Sunless Tanning Lotion for several reasons. I liked the convenience of a lotion formula, and the buildable color claim was appealing to me. One application is supposed to give a sun-kissed look, but you can keep reapplying to achieve a deeper shade. Seemed like a safe bet to start slow and see what happens.

As with any self tanner, you want to be sure to cleanse and exfoliate the skin before application.

The Neutrogena Build-A-Tan has the consistency of a thin lotion, and blends into the skin very easily. The formula is clear, and it didn’t stain the bathing suit I wore during application or the clothes I put on afterwards. It dries really quickly in just about five minutes, so you don’t need to wait very long before you can get on with your day. The brand has recently updated the scent of this product, which is light and similar to that of a mild sunscreen.

Some things to note: It’s suggested to apply sparingly to bendy areas– elbows, knuckles, knees, ankles– and to wash your hands immediately after application. The color starts to develop between two to four hours, and they recommend that you wait at least one hour before bathing or swimming. Once you start seeing your first layer of color, you can decide whether or not you want to deepen the shade. They suggest waiting eight hours between applications.

Left: Before / Right: After one application

After about three hours, I was super surprised to see my results. As you can see above, I only applied my right leg so I could get a better idea of the color difference. Wow! My skin tone looked darker and more golden than my bare leg, though still very natural looking. It didn’t lean orange at all, either. The results were similar to what my natural tan looks like, though maybe only slightly warmer. One application was enough to achieve the color I was looking for, but remember I was starting out with a light/medium skin tone. I also experienced zero streaks, which was surprising considering I just used my hands to rub it in.

Prefer self tanning spray? Read my review of the Neutrogena Micro Mist Tanning Spray!

I do want to let you all know that I decided to put a small amount of this on my face, and while I did see color results, this lotion is not friendly to acne-prone skin. I did have a couple pimples pop up, most likely due to the fragrance. That’s alright, though– I’ll let the sun take care of my face, with SPF of course!

Without adding any more product after my first and only application, my color lasted about four days before noticeably fading, which happened evenly without splotchiness. I’m assuming results may vary depending on your routine and other products you’re using (cleansers, exfoliators, loofahs, etc). So far, I’m loving this easy-to-use, low maintenance and effective drugstore self tanner!

You can find the Neutrogena Build-A-Tan Gradual Sunless Tanning Lotion at Walmart for under $9.

Have you tried any drugstore self tanners?

-Miranda

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