Product Reviews

Neutrogena Build a Tan Review: Ingredients, Before & After

Summer is over, but who wouldn’t want to keep their golden tan during an entire year? Sadly, most tan lotions leave stains, not only on our clothes but on our body, as well. I’ve decided to try Neutrogena’s Build a Tan Sunless Sun Lotion in a search for perfect tanning lotion.

What Does It Offer?

Build a Tan is supposed to be a unique tan lotion as it allows you to control how much tanned you want to be. The more you apply it, the deeper your skin will look. This will enable you to create a natural look according to your preferences.

Also, this tanning lotion is said to not leave any messy streaks, unlike so many others. At the same time, it’s hydrating, and it dries quickly. This should make it great for everyday use.

This product was announced as a reader’s first choice in Allure magazine, which is another indicator of its high quality, and this set the bar high.

What Is the Product Like?

Build a Tan lotion, just like most similar Neutrogena’s products, can’t really be praised for unique packaging. It comes in a basic, large tube, which is golden colored with black accents. It isn’t ugly; it’s simply nothing new or out of the ordinary. In fact, it reminds a bit of a packaging we see liquid soaps in.

The next thing I’ve noticed is the strong scent this product has. It doesn’t smell like a beach or sun creams, but it’s so heavy that most people will probably dislike it. Personally, I didn’t mind it, but I would prefer it if the smell were a bit more natural and lightweight. Luckily, it goes away quickly, and it won’t stay inside your nose once you’re done applying the product.

The smell was probably so hated that Neutrogena recently released a new version of the product! The formulation looks the same, despite quite a different packaging, but the smell is quite improved in the latest version. This is a great decision from Neutrogena, as I am sure the scent kept many people from buying the product.

Unlike most tan lotions, Build a Tan requires you to do what its name says. You have to build the tan if you want to see a huge difference. This might turn someone off, but I think this is a nice concept. After applying the first layer, I immediately noticed my skin does look a bit darker, but not too much. Also, the product feels like body lotion. It’s creamy, and it leaves your skin feeling soft and silky. Everything is dried after just five minutes, which is quite fast. However, I did notice the color wearing off a bit when I washed my hands about ten minutes from applying it. If you plan on wearing Build a Tan and swimming, I suggest you wait for at least an hour before going inside the water. This way, you won’t mess up the results. After 2 to 4 hours, the color will reach its full potential, and your skin will look like you actually spent some time in the sun. If you’d want to look darker, just apply another layer. Everything builds up quite nicely, and there are indeed no visible streaks. It’s suggested you wait at least eight hours before reapplying it, but I couldn’t wait for that long, and I didn’t notice anything wrong with it. Also, once the product is dry, it doesn’t stain your clothes as much as some other tanning lotions do.

The biggest downside of this product, however, is that it wears off quickly. The color will stay on for up to three days before starting to fade noticeably. However, it doesn’t fade in stains, so you’ll simply look like your tan is wearing off. If you want to keep the sun-kissed look, you’d probably need to apply this product every two to three days. Still, as it feels completely like a moisturizer, this doesn’t feel like too much of a task. Also, this entire bottle costs no more than $10, so even if you end up emptying it quickly, it’s completely worth it.

What I really liked about Build a Tan is that it doesn’t make your skin orange-looking like many tanners do. In fact, it trully looks like you’ve been out in the sun for several hours. I used three layers in total, just to try it, and it never looked fake – apart from the fact that my skin can’t get that dark naturally.

Keep in mind that this product isn’t sunscreen. It won’t keep you safe from the sun, so make sure you use additional protection if you plan on going out during summer.


Build a Tan is free of gluten, nickel, and coconut. In fact, it’s pretty much allergen-free. However, the formulation is far from natural. It contains parabens, as well as propylene glycol and oils. It also has fragrances, all of which aren’t recommended for prolonged use. I probably wouldn’t use this product anywhere near the eyes or lips. It also contains DHA, an active ingredient that can damage the DNA cells. DHA is approved by the FDA, but only for external use.

After reading on several forums about Build a Tan, I have even found out that some people complained about having hot flashes when using this self-tanner, among many others! I, personally, didn’t experience any issues, and I have sensitive skin. However, this is something that I think was important to notice.

Is It Vegan And Cruelty-Free?

Neutrogena isn’t a cruelty-free brand, as it sells its products in mainland China, where animal testing is mandatory for imported products. Also, the product isn’t vegan, as it contains some animal-derived ingredients.

Before And After

The effects of this tanner are the best after a few hours, but leaving it on for just a few minutes already makes a huge difference.

The color looks the best some 12 hours after applying the product. It’s sad that the color wears off so quickly, as the shade it gives is very nice.

Neutrogena also has a version of the product with a much lighter smell, and I truly think this was a good idea.


All in all, this is one of the best-looking tanning lotions you can get, especially considering the price range. However, it does have some flaws. The color wears off quickly, and the smell of the original Build a Tan is way too strong. Also, just like most other tanning lotions, it does have some questionable ingredients.

Still, the look this gives you is amazing! There are no streaks or stains on the skin, and you’ll look like you really sunbathed, compared to the orange tone tanning beds give. Not to mention that Neutrogena actually listened to the customers and gave us a better-scented version of the product! If you’re looking for a good, natural-looking tan lotion, this might be the right product for you.

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Vanja Regoda
Vanja Regoda is a full-time freelancing content writer from Belgrade, Serbia that combined her passion for artistic writing with a professional carrier. She is a graduate of the Faculty of Culture and Media, so journalism and advertisement is something she has an educational background in. In her free time, she expresses her love of art by doing amateur modeling, jewelry-making, and make-up. In fact, painting is what started her love of face art, and this is what later got her into make-up reviewing. She loves testing out new products and sharing her knowledge about various brands – and her love of animals decided her preference for cruelty-free products. As product price and brand aren’t a determining feature for her taste, she is sure to give an honest review about any make-up product out there.

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