When it comes to getting your glow on, nothing is better—and safer—than a little self-tanner. A golden or bronze complexion in a bottle? Sign us up. The trouble is that sometimes your application process doesn’t go as smoothly as expected, leaving you with streaks, uneven application or too deep/dark of a hue. And now you need to know how to remove self-tanner before a day in the sun ruins it even more.
Before that panic attack settles in, know that reversing a faux no-no is possible and actually easy to do. To help you avoid any further beauty blunders, we spoke to a handful of experts to discuss the best DIY methods for fixing a self-tanning blunder. Thank us later and remember to tread lightly next time.
Astringent or Apple Cider Vinegar
“I recommend removing self-tanner with an astringent type toner or if you have apple cider vinegar at home, you can use this as well,” explains celebrity esthetician, Olga Lorencin. “Also, if you apply oils at night before going to bed, this usually helps to remove self-tanner or minimize color streaking, but it might take a few nights for it to fully work.”
Nearly every expert suggested coating yourself in baby oil and here’s why: “If you need to fix a mistake fast, like dark marks or streaks, the quickest way is to apply baby oil to the darker area and leave for 10 minutes,” explains St. Tropez Skin Finishing Expert, Sophie Evans. “Leave drenched on your skin for 10 minutes, then either soak in a hot bath or take a hot shower and get scrubbing!”
“The baby oil will make exfoliation more efficient and take that tan down a few shades. If you came out too pale, simply re-apply. St Tropez also makes an amazing Tan Remover Mitt ($6.50) that you use in the shower. It will erase any unwanted dark patches and remove self-tan completely once it starts to get old,” adds Evans who counts Kate Moss, Margot Robbie, Victoria Beckham, and Bella Hadid as clients.
It’s not just for pearly whites! “Toothpaste is a good [trick] if you get a little bit on the palms of your hands. It is just extremely sticky and not great for large areas—think of this more for removing little stubborn areas,” explains Molly Quiddington, social media manager at Australian tanning company, Bondi Sands. “Don’t be afraid to re-apply again to fix any missed areas.”
Her pro tip: try tanning at least 2 days prior to your event to give yourself time to fix any major mistakes.
If your color is too deep for your liking, dermatologist Dr. Gervaise Gerstner recommends hitting the shower. “[To tone down excess color] and make it look more natural, buy a dry brush and exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate. Use a body scrub to up the exfoliation and take long, soaky bath,” she advises.
For those who continuously have bad self-tanning experiences, she suggests Wonderskin Skin Perfected Body Foundation. “This works great to even out tone and fix any streaks. I use the natural color one on my legs to give an illusion of long lean airbrushed legs!”
Lemon Juice & Wedges
Still streaky? “Mix baking soda with lemon/lime juice and use a face towel to rub it over your skin to help to take down your streaks,” explains shares avid self-tanner and founder of his namesake line, James Read. “Resting your over-tanned elbows on lemon wedges will also help to remove tan.”
“When selecting your self-tanner, you may want to try a gradual tan—it’s great for tan virgins, or for someone just wanting a glow or wanting to custom design their tan by building it up,” he explains. Try his Coconut Water Tan Mist if you are a newbie.
Hair Color Remover
“Stain remover that hair colorists use can be good for treating small areas if needed,” adds makeup artist Marlena Orlowska of the Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa. “[However], this would likely be used in a more professional setting like a salon or spa if needed.”
Her advice is to always apply tanning products in bright daylight. “Your bathroom is likely not a good place since there are probably too many shadows and it could be a little dark. Also, make sure you do not exercise/sweat or go swimming until the next day post-application!”
It’s not just for your legs. “I recommend, rubbing your hands with shaving foam [or toothpaste as stated above] help to reduce the orange on your hands,” adds Read, who works with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Lily James, Laura Kitone and Ellie Goulding.
“Rubbing Nivea wipes over your skin can help to reduce your tan or any patchy areas.” One of the biggest mistakes he sees is over-application. “The best approach is to gradually apply your tan in thin layers. You can always add more if you want a darker color!”
Hair Removal Cream
According to Evans, hair removal cream (like Veet or Nair) is also very effective. “The hands will lose their color very fast so don’t freak out if they do turn out darker, but a great tip: use hair removal cream on a Q-tip.”
“Leave on the area for half the recommended time stated on the bottle,” she cautions. “We want to take the color down— not remove it completely. We want to make the skin match so half the time is recommended.”
Sauna or Steam Room
If you aren’t in a rush, using the steam room at your local gym can also minimize your color. “Sit inside for 20 mins and then wipe your skin with a towel—this will remove your tan,” adds Read.
With so many removal options, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to practice until you’re a self-tanning pro. Take your pick.