Whether you want to amplify your summer glow, or add some shade to your winter-white skin, there's nothing like self-tanner to get the job done. Skincare can only do so much; therefore, giving ourselves a gorgeous bronze glow year-round is one of the best ways we can instantly elevate our mood. Personally, I feel so much more put together when I'm, well, glowing—even in the coldest months. And though there are a number of self-tanner products you can use at home or in the spray tan booth at the salon, there’s still a chance one may fall victim to a fake tan gone wrong. Stripes, splotchy wrists, orange feet—these are just some possibilities you can experience during a self-tanner mishap. Sometimes bad tans can happen to good people, what can we say? Even the wrong application of classic St. Tropez tanning products can send anyone to the dark side (not the kind we hoped for here). Or sometimes it’s the discoloration of tan build-up over time.
Luckily, there's no shortage of ways to fix a spray tan gone wrong. But before we get into the hacks, there are three things you should never do. According to The Tan Bible founder Kelsi Zimmerman, loofahs contain a ton of bacteria, so steer clear. And don’t even think about applying household chemicals like Windex to get the job done. You’ll only end up with chemical burns (or at the very least, you’ll apply poisonous chemicals directly onto your skin). Lastly, don’t exfoliate an old tan off immediately before applying a new one. “Allow a few hours in between (24 hours is suggested but not always doable) to give your skin time to return to a neutral pH,” Zimmerman advises. “Hot water and exfoliating both raise your skin’s pH level, so aggressively exfoliating, paired with hot water right before applying a new tan, can lead to a fast-fading, uneven tan.”
To get your self-tan full of uneven patches off in no time, keep reading for more of Zimmerman’s tips, along with additional pro-pointers from tanning expert Amanda Arnold, founder of The Shady Sun Tanning Co. and Shady Sun Spray Tan Services.
About the Expert:
Seeking a powerful natural exfoliator that can help fade a streaky self-tanning job? Look no further than your kitchen. Lemons contain a high pH and high levels of citric acid, a known alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which can help scrub away the top layer of your skin that may look streaky from a tan gone wrong. Arnold advises that it’s best to combine lemon juice with baking soda to create a paste mixture that will help slough off the tan from your body.
"It's the most gentle, and a great way to gradually start removing color from areas where it should not be," she shares. "I usually suggest letting this sit for several minutes before rinsing off as well. This combo is usually great if the area isn't too dark. This method is probably the best to start with because it's not as harsh. The citric acid in the lemon juice helps break down dead skin cells, while the baking soda helps exfoliate the tan away and has natural skin-lightening properties."
Another mixture Arnold swears by is a combination of baby oil and baking soda. Lemon juice can be a little bit irritating for more sensitive skin types, so baby oil may be a safer option if you’re in that camp. Arnold shares that "it helps soften the skin while buffing away mistakes,'' while it gently removes any streaks or blotches. Oil breaks down DHA (AKA the color) that’s responsible for giving you a bronze glow, and applying baby oil will help fade unwanted pigment. It’s especially useful as a full-body treatment to help gradually and evenly fade the color, and it’s also a great solution for removing a four-day-old tan that’s still lingering on your skin. Stubborn, leftover tans are no match for the softening properties of baby oil.
Zimmerman agrees, explaining, “It sounds counterproductive because moisturizing is suggested for maintaining a tan, but it also helps to remove tans as it’s harder to remove a tan from dry areas of skin. Let the oil sit for at least five minutes before exfoliating those splotches away.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Dish soap not only cleans your dishes, but it also evens out a streaky spray tan. Who would've guessed that an excellent tan-remover solution was sitting near your kitchen sink? Arnold shares that she specifically likes to use it on more stubborn areas, like the palms and bottoms of the feet, to remove self-tanner easily. "Dawn dish soap (especially the DAWN Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray) with a pumice stone works amazing,” Arnold says. “Callused areas tend to really love soaking up tans and typically need something a bit stronger to pull it out," she notes. This method is a bit drying, so those with dry skin should apply a lotion or moisturizer to the area after applying the dish soap.
As we mentioned before, oil is a great way to break down any unwanted fake tan color. Arnold suggests going with an oil-based body scrub, as it "can do wonders" for removing color. "This is great for areas that need more color removal, but need to be blended well with areas that need color to remain, like hands, feet, knees, and ankles," she shares.
When it comes to the best oil-based body scrubs, Arnold recommends the FRANK BODY Original Coffee Scrub and the TRULY BEAUTY Moon Rocks Whipped Body Scrub. Using these formulas will not only help get rid of any and all self-tanner remnants, but will also help prepare the skin for your next self-tanning session. Need a few more options to choose from? Check out the list of our favorite body scrubs.
Arnold shares that "hair removal creams can work, especially in areas where hair isn’t needed." Using depilatory creams, such as VEET or NAIR, can even out patchy self-tanner spots and even remove an unwanted tan all together—all while taking your hair with it in the process. If you're using it to make your tan a little less streaky, you won't want to leave it on for too long, as it works quickly to exfoliate the skin and remove your self-tanner in the process. Leave the product on for half the recommended time and watch your tan fade into something that appears a bit more natural looking.
The 1975 once said: "Get in the shower if it all goes wrong." We like to believe they were referring to self-tanner mishaps, because taking a warm shower can help fix unwanted self-tanning mistakes. Arnold shares that her first go-to for streaky areas is "buffing them out in a warm shower with a soft washcloth. This helps [neutralize] streaks without removing too much overall color." Taking a warm shower even works for times when you want to make your fake tan appear more natural. Arnold notes that "a few warmer showers will help speed up the fading and tone-down process" in no time.
And this applies to warm baths, too. “Soaking in warm water softens the skin and raises its pH level, making it easier to exfoliate,” Zimmerman explains. “The longer you soak, the easier it is to remove dead skin and an old tan.”
And you can even get a 2-for-1 experience if you shave and your self-tanning mishap is on an area like your legs or arms. “Shaving actually removes sunless tans, so this is an easy next step,” Zimmerman says. “Since shaving is a form of exfoliating, it will remove the top layer of tan, causing it to fade faster.”
Steam from a sauna session works as an excellent tan eraser and is also a great way to de-stress. It's a win-win self-tanner removal method if we’ve ever heard of one. "A good session in the sauna can help when you’re ready to break up with your old tan," says Arnold. "The steam and heat can help soften the skin so it's easier to remove the tan when you exfoliate in the shower post-steam." And you won't really need to use a harsher exfoliant, since even a loofah will work to slough away your tan.
While most experts would advise against spending too much time in the pool if you want to preserve your fake tan, if you’re hoping to speed up the process of removal, you can dive right in without any worry. "Salt water and chlorine are two properties that can certainly speed up the fading process for many tanners," says Arnold. "If you're trying to get rid of your tan, certainly a dip in the pool, ocean, or hot tub can help you speed up that process." She does note that this method can be a bit drying on the skin, so be sure to have your preferred lotion or moisturizer on hand to nourish your body afterward.
Have trouble getting rid of that fake tan? Meet your new best friend: exfoliating gloves. "Exfoliating mitts are great tools to have on hand, should you have a fake tan uh-oh," Arnold shares. "They work great on everything—from removing extra tan from palms, to helping you break up with your tan when it's old. Plus, they're reusable, which is always a win!" When you’re in the shower, lather up your exfoliating mitt with a good scrub or soap and rub in circular motions to help buff away the top layer of your skin. You can also use them to rub in lemon juice or baby oil to help break up the color faster. If you aren’t sure what to reach for, Arnold recommends THE SHADY SUN TANNING CO. Shady Removal Mitt.
Though there are a number of DIY methods you can use to get rid of a spray tan, sometimes using self-tanner removal products is the best way to go. They don’t always work, but they’re definitely worth a shot when combined with other methods. Arnold notes that when it comes to tan removers, she prefers "a spray or mousse. These are great for fixing mistakes or removing as much old tan as possible before hopping in the shower to scrub away." Her favorite is the X-TAN Sunless Tan Remover Spray.
Zimmerman stands by this product as well, along with Loving Tan’s Deluxe Tan Remover. She suggests applying the tan remover to damp skin and letting it sit for at least five minutes. Then grab a sopping wet washcloth or exfoliating mitt and rub the skin in circular motions. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
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