This sunless overnight tanning product gave me just the glow I needed right now

It's like a foundation I don't have to wash off!
Bliss; Getty Images

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Before the stay-at-home order, I went to a press event for a new Bliss product and was gifted a jar of sunless tanner. I placed the product on my desk, adding it to the runway of beauty items I had yet to review.

Truthfully, I didn’t think I’d ever try this product. I have very fair skin and stick to a pretty simple skin care routine, which is one of the reasons I believe my skin rarely gives me problems. Adding something that changes its color — potentially leading to breakouts or other reactions — wasn’t something on my skin to-do list. But as I worked in front of my computer, my eyes kept drifting towards the bronze and white jar sitting in front of me.

Bliss Stay-Cay Glow Gradual Bronzing Overnight Mask

I’m not sure the person who named this product "Stay-Cay" could have predicted how timely their choice of words would be during this period of quarantine, or if they knew this product would launch when millions of women would be taking a pause from makeup, myself included. I began thinking maybe a little glow would lift my spirits. Plus, if I screwed up the color or if I suffered some type of skin reaction, who was going to see me besides my husband, kids, and the dog?

The mask works its magic overnight

Unlike the many other sunless tanners on the market, Stay-Cay Glow is meant to be used at night with the promise of being completely streak-and-transfer free.

I reached for the jar and unscrewed the cap. Staring back at me was a metallic lotion that a makeup artist working on the James Bond movie "Goldfinger" might have used on set. It was bronze, shiny and oily looking — not something I wanted to put on my face. The label says it has a coconut scent, but after a few passes under my kids’ noses, we all agreed it smelled like a cross between sunscreen and melons. Not particularly appealing, yet not foul-smelling like some other sunless tanners I’ve sniffed.

Still hesitant to give it a try, I turned to a top dermatologist for her advice. That’s when I discovered this product could actually be good for my skin. The ingredients that impart the glow — two naturally-occurring sugars called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and erythrulose — create a temporary brown color when they react with the amino acids in the skin.

“Because this reaction takes place on surface cells, you shouldn’t have any problems with breakouts,” said Dr. Alexis Young, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Columbia University Medical Center. “What you don’t want in your sunless tanner are pore-clogging ingredients like mineral oil and petrolatum.” Fortunately, this product has neither.

Young went on to explain that all skin types can benefit from this product, but that DHA can potentially have a drying effect. “This product contains squalene and hyaluronic acid to help prevent water loss and seal in moisture, along with vitamin-rich jojoba oil, so for those with oily skin, that might be enough hydration. Others may need to apply a daily moisturizer when using this product,” she said.

It also contains anti-aging acai and exfoliating glycolic acid, though Young advises reaching for a deeper exfoliating treatment before using. “For the most even distribution of color, you’ll need to use an additional exfoliator prior to the first application because if excess keratin— a protein found in the skin — is not sloughed off, those areas will end up looking darker,” said Young, who also notes you should avoid exfoliation once the color has appeared. “Since the pigment is only in the top layer of skin, you’ll just end up removing the color too soon."

According to Bliss Spa's manager of global brand development Amanda Cardiner, this specific blend of ingredients is what stops the formula from transferring onto your pillows at night.

“We included specific moisturizing ingredients that bind to the DHA and form a matrix on the skin, allowing the DHA to absorb more quickly and optimally, preventing transfer," Cardiner told me.

How did it perform?

On day one, an hour before going to bed, I washed my skin with a gentle exfoliant and then dipped my fingertips into the glistening mixture before dabbing and rubbing it onto my face, being careful to blend it into my hairline and down my neck. I was surprised by how easily it absorbed — the oily-looking liquid was not drippy or messy and seemed to dry on contact. It almost felt like there was nothing on my skin.

Cardiner told me I'd be "kissed with a bronzed glow" after one night, and then I'd see a deeper bronze after two to three nights. That actually wasn’t the case with me. After the first two applications, I didn’t see much of a difference in my skin. Neither did my neighbor Morgan, who was also trying the product. Yet my other neighbor Nicole (yes, this became a neighborhood experiment during quarantine) found she was glowing after the first night.

I wondered why some people reacted more quickly than others?

“The resulting shade can vary based upon an individual's underlying skin tone, the thickness of the top layer of their skin, and how much product they use,” Young said. “For example, the reason the package says to wash your hands after application is because the skin on the palms is very thick and could darken unnaturally. The thicker the skin, the more protein there is to react with the DHA, causing more pigment to develop.”

I noticed a nice, even glow after four days

On day three, I still didn’t notice a huge change so I decided to go a little heavier with my application. On days four and five, I started to look like I had a slight tan, and my blonde highlights seemed to pop. This is exactly what I had hoped for — a sunless tanner that gave me a just a hint of color — without any streaks, breakouts, or irritation.

It's my new go-to for no-makeup days — and it's expert approved

If you’re looking for a super affordable skin boost (and something to do during your time in quarantine), this affordable product is definitely worth picking up. I now apply it at night when I don't want to wear makeup the next day. It's like the foundation I never have to wash off!

Better yet, it's also expert approved. I included Young in my experiment as well, and she gave a thumbs-up to the formulation.

“It goes on really light, not oily at all, and doesn't leave a strange initial staining like some sunless tanners. I haven't noticed any streaking or staining of any clothing or pillowcases, but I did notice a light, subtle, even glow after five days. I applied it to my husband once, and he who woke up really bronzed, but he's about two tones darker in skin color than me,” she told me.

But Young does have one precaution: “It goes without saying, a tan from a topical product is preferable to the risks associated with sunbathing. But this product only contains a slight SPF — 1 or 2 max — and only against UVB rays. So be sure to apply a sunscreen over your new glow."

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