Self-tanning products have come a long way

Josie Maran Argan self tanning cream

$32 for 4 fluid ounces

For anyone who has skin allergies or just prefers natural cosmetics, this product is free of parabens and infused with organic Argan oil, which is said to be hydrating and to protect the skin against pollutants and environmental toxins. Our tester said the product delivered a natural looking finish to her skin and turned her usually pale legs to a warm honey-brown color that came on gradually after she applied the cream three times over three days.

"It goes on just like my daily lotion and didn't turn my hands brown at all," our tester said of the white cream that "doesn't smell good or bad, it just smells like nothing."

One drawback to this gradual and natural self-tanner — the small (4-ounce) tube doesn't last long if you're planning to tan your entire body. Our tester used about half the bottle during her three applications in order to build up to her desired shade.

St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse

$30 for 4 fluid ounces

This aloe-infused, brown foam goes on easily and soaks right into the skin before it has a chance to streak or stain. Our tester said the lightly perfumed scent isn't cloying, but after putting it all over her body, the smell did start to become stronger.

Color-wise, this product seems to be for someone who is going for brown, a look-at-me-I just-came-back-from-the-Bahamas-brown. Our tester's medium skin tone took to this product immediately and turned about two shades darker with just one application.

Clarins Instant Smooth Self Tanning

$32.50 for 1 fluid ounce

In the one-ounce jar, Clarins self-tanner has the color and consistency of processed peanut butter, but our tester (the only male in the group) said it spread easily over his skin and body hair. Our tester noted that the instructions on the packaging made clear (in several places) that it does not contain a sunscreen and therefore it should be applied only after a daily skin-care regimen that includes one.

It's considered a "progressive" self-tanner, meaning that it should be applied daily until the desired shade is achieved. The first daily application was barely noticeable compared with the non-bronzed forearm; the second daily dose started to show a darker shade; and a decidedly bronze glow was present after the third application — by which time nearly a third of the one-ounce jar was gone.

The color did transfer slightly to a long-sleeve shirt, and since the product is intended for the face and neckline area, our tester suggests not wearing an expensive or favorite garment until you're sure the color can be laundered out.