My Fav Faux-Tanners and Sunscreen




Each year around this time I dutifully check the EWG's Skin Deep database and start the mind-numbing task of choosing sunscreen.  Weighing environmental safety vs effectiveness vs cosmetic appearance, I – with trepidation - order my top three.  They arrive, and from that point on my boys and I spend way too many days looking like greasy snowmen.  On a good year, the whitish cast is only observable for the first few hours.  The really good sunscreens, however,  provide a thick white layer that will last through several showers.  Sunscreen For Life!

At some point, we will meet friends at the beach.  Friends who don't obsessively search product ingredient lists for triclosan and retinyl palmitate or who can recite the list of the EWG's top ten safe sunscreens in their sleep.  These friends will come armed with the poison known as spray-sunscreen-in-a-can (not even paraben-free!!) and I will watch – ashamed by my jealousy – as they spray down their kids in 10 seconds flat.

"Raines and Pax?  Time for more sunscreen!" I call.  Raines, resigned to his fate, dutifully trods over and sticks out his arm.  It's covered in white streaks.  I squeeze out a blob of the safest-ever sunscreen and start rubbing.  Sand is stuck all over his body, combining with the sunscreen to form a particularly sticky type of sandpaper.  I resort to gentle pats.  Raines shoots me a death glare, his eyes very blue in his shiny white face.  Pax just runs screaming.  Can't blame him, really.

But at some point, I give up. I don't even care anymore.  I borrow my friend's poison-in-a-can or, if I'm being completely honest here, I just stop applying sunscreen altogether (my kids, like their father, don't burn anyway).  Somewhere in my warped brain I'm trying to weigh the risks of invisible chemicals vs the risks of sunburn.  Vitamin D is good for you, right?  I KNOW.  It's just…too much.  I am defeated by overabundance of information and fear.  So I come home burned to a crisp, my children annoyingly (thankfully?) tan.  I have tan children.  I AM THAT MOTHER.

I'm done.  I'm done with this whole mess.  This year I just want sunscreens that work, sunscreens that smell good and feel good.  Sunscreens that are a joy to apply, dammit!  Remember how exciting it was in high school to bust out the coconut-scented coppertone oil?  EXACTLY.  I want that.  But in, a, um…paraben-free version that actually works. ( My earth-mother bar has lowered, but it is still there.) 

For self-tanner, my requirements are simple:  no streaks, no orange, no parabens, NO SMELL.  Like, really, truly, none of that telltale self-tanner stink.  Don't try to hide it under stronger smell, just get rid of it altogether.  

And you know what?  I was shocked to discover that  products like this actually exist.  For the first time in a long, LONG time, I am L-O-V-I-N-G my sunscreen and self-tan products.  



1. Clarins Radience-Plus Golden Glow Booster, $30

This stuff is genius:  you simply add a few drops of this face self-tanner to whatever moisturizer you currently use.  Wake up the next morning with a little glow.  I typically use it a few days in a row to build up to the color I want, then take a few days off.  Or whatever.  It's pretty foolproof.

2. Supergoop Skin Soothing Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40

Sheer and blendable, no strange smells, not greasy, no whitish cast at all.  I love this stuff.  I now wear it under my makeup everyday.

3. Vita Liberata Phenominal 2-3 Week Tanning Mousse in Dark, $54

This one blew me away.  The color is perfection (no streaking, no orange), it dries in seconds (literally seconds), and there is no smell.  I mean OK:  hours later, once the color starts to really develop, there is an ever-so-faint smell of self-tanner, but it's NOTHING compared to other brands.  And this stuff is organic! Happy Hippy Earth Mothers rejoice! However, ignore the claims that this self-tanner lasts 2-3 weeks.  If you are shaving and exfoliating this tan lasts roughly 5 days like all others.  The good news is that when it fades, it fades really naturally.  And you must – MUST – apply with a mit.  (See #5.)  One bottle of self-tanner typically lasts me all summer (my look is more OK, tan enough, rather than sun goddess).

4. Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral Powder SPF 45, $30

I know powdered sunscreens get the EWG all worked up.  But here's the thing: I put sunscreen on in the morning.  Then I carefully apply concealer, blush, no-shine face powder, mascara, lippy….and so hell will freeze over before I smear goopy white sunscreen over all of that.  Talk about a hot mess.  So if I'm outside all day with the boys, I will end up sunburned and eventually turn into a wrinkled old lady.  Granted, wrinkles are inevitable, but until I succumb (NEVER SAY DIE), I'm touching up throughout the day with this stuff.  And ps.  I love this stuff for buffing onto my kid's scalp through little baby hair….or dusting their nose as they sprint past.

5. Vita Liberata Tanning Mit, $6.50

Because the self-tanning mousse dries so fast, attempting to use your hands will leave your tan streaky, and your palms dark orange.  This mit will change your self-tanning game regardless of which self-tanning mousse you buy. 

Here's what you do:  Shower and exfoliate (aka shave your legs).  Then when your skin is dry, put on your tanning mit.  Pump out a single pump of tanning mousse directly onto the mitt.  Then, crunch up the mitt by making a fist a few times to distribute the product a bit.  Quickly use the mit to rub the tan on – really go ahead and scrub, for evenly distributed tan.  I used one pump of product on lower legs and feet, one pump on thighs, one for each arm, two for my back, and one for chest and stomach.  I was done in roughly 3 minutes. 

6.  Supergoop Sun-Defying Oil Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $26

So…..that coconut-scented tanning oil of yesteryear?  This is exactly like that but SPF 50, not 5.  It's also lighter in both formulation and scent (which is vaguely citrus), and I actually LOVE putting this on.  It's a joy!  Really!  Even the boys don't mind it.  And while I know the recent sunscreen buzz has been all "NO SPRAY, SPRAY IS DEATH"….this is actually just…oil.  So I spray it on my hands, then rub it onto my kids.  (This is my current rationalization, anyway.)


Enjoy the beach!!




  1. Oh my gosh, I love all your posts, but this one was seriously up my alley today!! We have to stick with the mineral sunscreens as well, and they ARE SO THICK!! The powder one is brilliant, because I agree…I read the “re-apply every two hours” on the bottle that I apply under my make-up and think, “ha, yeah right.” And my bare minerals mineral veil is only spf 20, so sometimes I reapply that but wonder if it’s really doing much, so finding an higher spf powder is definitely an improvement.
    Also, my kids are lucky and get tan like their Dad instead of burning (I burn like a lobster without sunscreen), so I have two tan little kids too :).
    Anyway, thanks again–awesome finds!!!

  2. Oh man can I relate to this! We moved to Arizona last year from Washington, so finding adequate sunscreen for me and the kids was really important. I used to do the EWG list but after multiple tries of horiibly thick, sticky, gross white sunscreen, I gave up. I now swear by the Neutrogena Wet Skin for kids spray. Yeah I know. Spray. But let me tell you, when my kids are all antsy to get in the pool and it’s a dillion degrees out, I just need something quick. I still use a zinc stick on their sweet faces, but yeah spray all day. And even though it’s SPF 70, my kids are still tan. Life in the desert, I suppose!

  3. Love Super Goop products! Re: the faux tan – I thought you had always like St Tropez and I just bought it this week …. haven’t opened yet. Do you like this Vita Liberata better? I’m fair like you!

  4. Thank you for this post! Living in Portland, OR is so good for my pale skin, but the sun shines brightly here in the summer, so now I will be set!! Just ordered the 2 Supergoop products. 🙂

  5. Oh, my, I go through the same EWG ritual every year! I tell myself I’m not psycho, just careful ;-). Thank you for the faux tanner suggestions!! Have you seen the Goddess Garden sunscreen sprays? They are natural & go on clear! They are expensive as all get out (like $17ish a bottle), but they have a kids’ formula, as well. I found mine at a local natural market, but I know they have a web page, too.

  6. I always love your posts, but this one hit the money on the mark today! I’m a whiter shade of pale, and DD & DH both tan, despite me trying to slather them down. I gave up last year, and I spray them down as best I can. Just tried self tanner last week too; I used a spray, and it wasn’t too bad! I think it was Banana Boat.

  7. Emily, which Coola formulation do you like?  I tried a face one last year, but I seemed to burn fast – almost as if I wasn't wearing anything (not sure if it was reacting somehow to my makeup??). So I wrote off the whole brand.  But I did like how they felt…
    Sent from my iPhone

  8. Yes! This post is pure perfection. I’m so sick of feeling guilty that my 3 year old is tan (the horror!)and then trying to chase him around (unsuccessfully) with a can of paraben-aerosol-death-in-a-can. Not to mention the stinky (and sticky) self tanners I have tried, and the break-outs I have suffered from trying to use heavy sunscreens and goopy smelly self tanners on my face.
    Yeah, so…. I just bought FIVE of the 6 items you recommended. >whistling nonchalantly<

  9. This post is awesome and also made me realize how badly I need to step up my moisturizing game (I always forget to put lotion on. Ugh.), but if I can put on lotion AND look a little more tan? Yes, please!

  10. Love this post. I tried to use only natural products like badger for my son as a baby, but now I have to chase after him spraying sunscreen from a can while he runs around the yard, so I’ve definitely relaxed my standards….:-/ thanks for the product recommendations!!

  11. For a pale girl like me, would you recommend the medium of the vita liberata? I noticed you used the dark but wasn’t sure about medium v. dark for those of us who are super pasty white! Thanks.

  12. So… which one do you PRIMARILY use for the kids? Surely not the Supergoop Mineral stuff. Because at $28 for 2.4oz I can imagine going through a LOT of bottles $!?
    Thanks for the mineral powder recommendation! I didn’t even know they made those.

  13. My child turns into into a blond, tan surfer dude every summer. I feel the need to shout to strangers “He has SPF 55 on, I swear!”

  14. I’ve never bought the face-specific formulations, but I love the unscented Coola Sport, SPF 45. I bought it after my kids broke out terribly from California Baby.

  15. Yes! 100% the same on the kids’ sunscreen here! The hardest part is not being that mom & not saying anything when all your friends use the spray. So. Hard.
    I have found one for kids that I finally love & doesn’t turn my kids to ghosts. All-Terain waterproof spray. It’s decent on EWGs list and at least it’s not aerosol spray but a pump instead. Plus on Amazon it comes in a Phineas & Ferb bottle so my boys think it’s semi-cool. 😉 Thought I must share, off to purchase off your list for me!

  16. I have such a problem ever summer over sunscreen. We live in coastal Georgia and spend a lot of time at the beach. There are also six of us so a standard bottle is finished in 1.25 visits to the ocean , and that is me flying solo with 4 boys and everyone in rashgaurds (we’re tall). Every year I buy sunscreen in bulk and have used a few Target brands that made the EWG happy but they totally had the spreadability problem. I’ve wanted to try SuperGoop but lordy $30 is a lot of dough when multiplied by 6 or so. I may have to look into some of those oil sprays.
    Here’s a crunchy mama sunscreen question… has anyone here used coconut oil only or made their own sunscreen? I always read those article this time of year and wonder if they work…
    (and Shana, is that a JCrew convertible french top you have on? What does it convert to? I just got one in the mail 🙂 )

  17. OMG – NAILED IT. You are a goddess for doing the research & finding these. We have a beach in our backyard (I know, life is rough, right?) & this post describes EXACTLY my biggest beefs with the safe formulations. Ugh, scrub my sweaty body gently with sandpaper, Mommy! Then we all look so ghastly & ghoulish. I am SO DONE. I’m trying all of these, pronto. (Your hair is coming in so pretty & thick, BTW.)

  18. I too let go of the crunchy momma, EWG friendly list of sunscreens. The verdict is out on the dangers of parabens but I know this much, skin cancer kills for sure. The best sunscreen you have is the one you use. I have completely succumb and even use the spray now. I simply tell the littles to hold their breath while I coat them up. I tried, really tried to be a responsible consumer but we are outside all day, every day and I can not stomach paying $25+ per bottle. Life is gentle compromise and my red-haired children are coated in coppertone or, if they are lucky, some babyganics I find on clearance.

  19. Thanks for the Supergoop rec — who knew they sold good sunscreen at Sephora? Picked up some this evening. Hadn’t yet done my research (we typically use Badger, but it’s so thick + white), so I very much appreciate your roundup of these products! Thank you!!

  20. I swear by Josie Maran’s face moisturizer w SPF 47. I’m about to turn 30 and have NEVER worn sunscreen but I figured it was probably time and it’s just lovely. The white sheen is so faint I swear it just ends up looking glowy, not ghostly.

  21. I am with you all on the ordeals that go along with being crazy moms trying to keep up with all of the chemicals to avoid in what we eat and put on our bodies. I too scour EWG and other blogs to find the safest sunscreen for my kids. Badger is a nightmare to put on and everyone literally looks blue no matter how much you rub it in. Impossible. California baby better but still thick and white. The one I have been using for the past year is goddess garden. Very safe. Non nano. No parabens and other yucky chemicals. It’s much thinner in consistency than badger or cal baby and it goes on much more easily. It’s pricey but I can usually find their 8 oz bottles for $15-$17 which is still expensive but it lasts quite a while. Would highly recommend.

  22. Great post! And I totally agree with your thoughts on mineral suncream, I hate that I have to scrub their skin in the shower. This year I gave in (a bit) and I bought the Bioderma 50+ for them and I alternate it with a mineral one. On my face I use Clinique Even Better dark spot facial suncream (mineral, highly recommended, although a bit silicone-y) and the Bioderma mineral compact. Yay for summer!

  23. One more thing. Any recommendations on using self-tanner on your back if you happen to be alone and no helping hands? 🙂 I’m always worried that it will be streaky and spotty. (The mitt sounds good though, I should try one!)

  24. Perfect post. I somehow feel…absolved? Of a bit of mama guilt. Enough to make a couple of additions to my sunscreen arsenal, anyway. Oh and to ignore the *looks* at my son, with his unavoidable tan and sun streaked hair. I’ll also add to the mix our fave face stick- yes to cucumbers soothing natural stick sunscreen. Decent EWG, the fastest and easiest to apply. No white cast on the child who got mama’s fair skin and very minimal on a tan. I’ve got one in every bag.

  25. What’s recommended vs. what’s realistic is definitely a constant battle! I feel a just a pinch of guilt that I sat back, read your post, and let out a sigh of relief. Thanks for doing the lion’s share and making the rest of our lives a bit easier! Loved these recs!
    The Shaded Acorn

  26. I’m going to try this. 8oz at that price point is pretty good. Great post and discussion led me to a couple different products!

  27. Thanks for this post! I am going to try the Supergoop! For the kids, I use Babo Botanicals face stick and also their sunscreen for their bodies. I like that it goes on easier than California Baby or (eek) Badger. I’m going to check out other’s recommendations on Goddess Garden!!! Oh, All Terrain spray works well, provided you shake it up and reapply religiously.

  28. I’ve gotta say–I use the spray and feel pretty guilt-free about it because I know that otherwise the kids wouldn’t wear sunscreen as often as they do. We spray it on outside and I don’t use it on their faces, so maybe that helps? I’ve had three suspicious moles removed in the past few years so wearing sunscreen is non-negotiable. We go through a ton of it each summer so to spend a fortune on a bottle that will be gone in a week isn’t really feasible for us.

  29. Ok – I said I’d never be THAT mom…the one who’s little kids are now big kids and who gives out unsolicited information. But when mine were little, we lived on Cape Cod and so sand and dealing with it was just as much a part of life as trying to figure out how to put sunscreen on sandy kid bodies. But then i found out through the mommy network that if you rub on just a little baby powder…the sand slides right off. It’s like magic. No more trying to lotion up over the old sand. Easy-peasey.

  30. Try Kinesys. It’s a oil type spray. has it at a pretty good price and 2 or 3 bottles last my kids all summer. Not too expensive. I use chemicals on myself. Agh. Will definitely be looking into the powder you mentioned and the clarins stuff!!! Thx!!

  31. I read your blog- but never comment. I started reading EWG a few years ago, and threw away my mineral powder 🙁
    I use Alba Botanica sunscreens on myself and two children. I think it spreads well (or maybe I’m just not picky?) I don’t reapply on my face, but I do ALWAYS wear a hat at the beach. Thanks Shana!

  32. I agree with your sentiments re: mineral based sunscreens, but this year we tried trukid (the daily, not sport kind) and are LOVING it. it’s zinc based but actually dries and is not greasy. it’s not super water resistent, so i’d be vigilant about reapplication at the pool or beach but for everyday wear under clothes for camp and stuff, it’s great. for realsies.

  33. So – I just had to come back and give my two thumbs up for the Vita Liberata Phenomenal 2-3 Week Tanning Mousse. THIS. STUFF. IS. AMAZING. I have tried SO many Self Tanners (quite pricey ones), and even the best ones have all had at least some level of the three S sins of self Tanning: 1) Streaky 2)Sticky 3)Stinky.
    I tried the Vita Liberata in Medium (and the tanning mit, which does not come with it, but as you pointed out, is a MUST), and this stuff has effectively blown my mind. It commits none of the tell-tale self tanner sins, and looks SO natural, it’s shocking! And it is so darn easy and pleasant to wear, I was actually comfortable enough to wear it during a day on Point Pleasant Boardwalk, complete with sand and sun and climbing in and out of rides with a three year old. Yes, it lived through numerous flying pink elephant rides and sweltering hot miniature choo-choo train seats, and lived to tell the tale! I never could have done that with another Self Tanner. I used to apply them only when I knew I would be relatively sedentary all day, blasting A/C, and I would still count the hours until I could shower the sticky funk off of me!
    So yeah, I am officially hooked. I have used it 4 times already. The “lasts for 2-3 weeks” claim is only after you apply it 3 consecutive times to build the darkest color. I went for a 4th application, because, like #YOLO, ‘er something? Anywho, I have yet to see one single solitary streak. No spotty elbows, dark knees, or weird white armpits. Ah, MAZED. Thank you!

  34. Yay, Sarah!  Thank you for the feedback!!  I was pretty blown away too.  In the why-isn't-this-on-the-evening-news kinda way.  You know?  "Breaking story:  Self-tanner wows"

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