How to fake tan, avoid fake tan fails and remove fake tan instantly

Fake tan fails: How to remove fake tan and deal with tan lines and patchiness

22nd January 2024 | Author: mamabella

Whether you’re a pro or novice, anyone who has applied fake tan has likely suffered from fake tan fails. Here’s how to remove fake tan and deal with some of the most common tanning faux pas


When the weather is poor and the nights are dark, it leaves many of us dreaming of long summer evenings and holidays. Not least because it’s when we can get out in the sun and get that all-important Vitamin D.

One way to get into the summer spirit and lift your mood is with fake tan. It not only gives you that “just off the plane” glow, but it’s a much safer alternative to sunbeds.

However, fake tan is not for the faint-hearted. It can be tricky to master and is easy to get wrong, resulting in patchy tan, dark elbows and knees, and tan lines.

Such is its difficulty, the #faketanfails hashtag on TikTok has more than 13 million views and counting.

We’ve previously explained how to fake tan as well as what to do, and avoid when tanning for the first time in our beginner’s guide to fake tan. In this guide, we’re focusing on what to do when things go wrong.

We’ve spoken to Jordan Cook, expert tanner at St. Moritz as well as Jules Von Hep, co-founder of Isle of Paradise to find out how to avoid, and fix fake tan fails. From dealing with patches and tan lines to how to remove fake tan completely if you’re had an absolute nightmare.

FURTHER READING: How to fake tan: How to apply fake tan to your back, face, and bodyA beginner’s guide to fake tanDrunk Elephant Bronzing Drops review


How fake tan works

Fake tan: How to remove fake tan instantly from hands, how it works and how to apply fake tanGetty Images/iStockphoto

To understand how to remove fake tan and deal with your fake tan fails, it helps to know how fake tans work. To help you know which products and techniques are likely to work best, and why.

Traditional fake tans contain a molecule called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). When applied to your skin, this molecule reacts with the amino acids in your dead skin cells to produce brown molecules called melanoidins. The higher the percentage of DHA, the darker the tan.

Gradual tanners, like those found in tanning moisturisers and similar, use a compound called erythrulose instead of, or as well as, DHA. This causes the same reaction with amino acids but the reaction is slower so it takes longer to show, but also lasts longer.


How to avoid fake tan fails

We explain the full step-by-step guide in our how to fake tan article but as a summary, to get the best out of your tan and avoid some of the most common fake tan fails you need to do the following:

  • STEP 1: “Make sure you shower and exfoliate well ahead of applying tan,” Jordan Cook, expert tanner at St Moritz told mamabella. Exfoliating gets rid of patches of skin that contain more dead cells than others – which are likely to react more strongly with the active ingredients in the fake tan and turn darker
  • STEP 2: Moisturisers can prevent the tan from developing, but if you have dry patches like your elbows, apply a little bit of moisturiser to these areas only before tanning to avoid them becoming darker than everywhere else
  • STEP 3:“If you normally wax, make sure you do this at least one to two days before your tanning treatment,” added Cook. Likewise, “if you normally shave, make sure you do this at least 16 hours before tanning.” Hair removal can make your skin particularly sensitive, so giving your skin time to recover is important.
  • STEP 4: “Wear loose, dark clothes after you apply fake tan, as you don’t want anything tight that will rub where the tan is developing on your skin” she continued. “For females – if you can go without a bra afterward for a couple of hours, this prevents rubbing. Tanning before bed is a great way to let it develop fully overnight.”

Fake tan fail 1: Patchy tans

Patchy tans are usually a result of not applying the fake tan evenly. If you apply more product in one area than another, the colour will be darker. Similarly, tan can easily rub off during the development process at the joints, such as the insides of your elbows or the back of your knees.

“If you find yourself with a patchy tan, don’t panic,” Von Hep said. “The key here is gentle exfoliation. Use a scrub or exfoliating mitt to buff away the patchy areas, focusing on the uneven spots. Then, apply a gradual tanning lotion or mousse to even out your complexion.”

Beginners guide to fake tan first timemamabella | mamabella

Patchy, fake tan is shown on the knees in this image


Fake tan fail 2: Darkened elbows, knees and ankles

The skin on the outside of your elbows, knees and ankles is usually more dry and rough than anywhere else on your body.

Due to the fact DHA molecules stick to dead skin cells, and rough and dry skin consists of more dead skin cells, this causes your fake tan to look darker in these areas.

This is why exfoliating your whole body, but especially these regions, before applying fake tan can help avoid this fake tan fail.

Von Hep said that if this is a particular problem each time you self tan, “mix a small amount of your self-tanner with a moisturiser before applying. This will dilute the tanner’s intensity and give you a more natural look. Remember to blend well and use sparingly.”


Fake tan fail 3: Tan lines 

Tan lines aren’t just the reserve of sunbathing on the beach, it’s possible to get tan lines from fake tan too.

Sometimes these tan lines can come from not applying the tan evenly. If your arm can only reach so far around your back, or you didn’t quite manage to cover your whole leg, then you can get lines.

Lines can also form in creases around your body. When applying fake tan it helps to start at the bottom of your body and move your way up to avoid adding more creases from bending over.

“For tan lines, you’ll need to gradually blend the lines by applying a self-tanner one shade lighter than your current tan,” said Von Hep. “This will help soften the contrast between your tan lines and untanned skin. Make sure to blend thoroughly and feather the edges for a seamless transition.”


How to remove fake tan

Beginners-guide-to-fake-tanGetty Images/iStockphoto

Finally, if you’ve had an absolute mare and want to remove your fake tan completely, or you’ve had enough of your fake tan and want to get rid of what remains, there are a few things you can do.

Even if you haven’t made a mistake, it’s still a good idea to remove fake tan before applying any more. This is where patches can appear if older tan remains.


Remove fake tan instantly (or at least quickly)

Fake tan removers and erasers can help reduce the strength of fake tan and remove almost all of it instantly. And for those which don’t shift it completely, they get very close. The key is to remove the fake tan before it dries and develops.

We recommend the Isle of Paradise Over it Magic Self-Tan Eraser (£17.95) and the Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser (£14.99). St Moritz recently released its Self Tan Remover Pads (£6) which complements its Self Tan Remover Foam (£4.99) and both of these help remove fake tan. Especially from your hands.

The pads in particular are soaked in a liquid that contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), which is a mild abrasive that gently exfoliates helping to lift and remove the outer layer of dead skin cells. It also contains Cocamidopropyl betaine. This is a surfactant that helps cleanse the skin and remove the superficial layer of the tan.

how to remove fake tan instantly with self tan removerSt Moritz

The St Moritz Self Tan Remover Pads are soaked in a liquid that contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), which is a mild abrasive that gently exfoliates helping to lift and remove your tan

“I recommend using a tan remover,” said Von Hep. “Spray onto the skin, massage in so a lather is formed, and leave for five minutes.”

Von Hep also suggests spraying a sheet mask with your preferred tan remover. Leave it on the skin and re-massage every minute, paying special attention to areas that are slightly dryer such as elbows, knees, in between the thighs, and armpits.

There is also a bath bomb that claims to remove fake tan in just ten minutes.

The GlowBomb contains bicarbonate of soda and lemon to soften and penetrate the skin to lift off fake tan.

It then contains Australian Pink Clay, Kakadu Plum, which is rich in antioxidants that detoxify, and grapeseed, jojoba and avocado oil.

You can also exfoliate the skin using a body polish or scrub, without scrubbing too vigorously, or use lemon or lime juice to help the colour fade.

We highly recommend Evolve’s Tropical Blossom body polish. This polish has the added benefit of being oil-based. Oil breaks down the DHA molecules and helps the tan fade faster.

Alternatively, run a bath and fill it with bath oils – we recommend the Olverum Bath Oil. It’s not cheap but a very small amount goes a long way. Plus it smells amazing, or you can opt simply for Johnson’s Baby Oil.

Bath oils can also be beneficial if your tan is streaky or patchy. Soak in the bath and use an exfoliating mitt to remove any stubborn patches.

Read more about the benefits of this bath oil in our guide to the best multi-purpose makeup and skincare.

Finally, if a trip to a swimming pool is possible this can help lighten the appearance of fake tan due to the chlorine.


How to remove fake tan for free 

If you don’t want to pay for fake tan removers and dedicated products then there are natural ingredients that can help remove fake tan for free, or at least reduce its appearance.

For all of these natural removers (and this goes for all removers generally), make sure you perform a patch test and stop using them if you experience any irritation.

  • Baking soda: Mix two tablespoons of baking soda in water to make a paste. Rub it in, leave for a few minutes and then rinse thoroughly.
  • Lemon and sugar: Mixing lemon and sugar can help create a DIY tan-removing scrub. Or you can mix citrus juice from a lemon or lime with baking soda for a fast-acting fake tan remover. Rub into the affected area and rinse.
  • Olive oil and sugar: The oil helps dissolve the tan while the sugar acts as a natural scrub.
  • Whitening toothpaste: Adding whitening toothpaste to areas where the tan is too dark, for a few minutes, can help lighten the tan.
  • White or apple cider vinegar: Applied via a cotton ball can also work to remove tan instantly, or at least close to instantly

How to get fake tan off hands

Always make sure to wash your palms and the soles of your feet immediately after applying fake tan to avoid staining. If fake tan still remains on your palms, create a paste by mixing baking soda and water – rub this over the areas you want to remove fake tan and leave it for a few minutes.

This doesn’t work for other parts of your body because the skin on your palms and the soles of your feet is thinner than in other regions of your body. The other options – body polish, bath oils, and tan eraser products – can also help here, as can the St Moritz Self Tan Remover Pads.


How to get fake tan off face

In the same way applying fake tan to your face can be different to the rest of your body, more care should be taken to get fake tan off your face.

Scrubbing your face with lemon juice or bicarbonate of soda isn’t going to do your complexion any favours.

Instead, stick to your usual facial exfoliator or buy one that contains AHAs and BHAs like glycolic acid, and salicylic acid to help speed up skin cell turnover. Using retinol at night will also help even out your fade and skin tone. Just make sure you’re using sunscreen on the days after using such treatments as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.


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