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How to fix it when fake tan goes wrong

May 4th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment


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From streaks to patchiness to dodgy colour, self tanning can be a minefield. We quizzed tan expert James Read on how to come back from even the most disastrous of tanning mishaps…

We’ve likely all been there, at least once. You’ve got to dash out the door for an important occasion, and your tan’s gone stripy. Maybe you’ve also got a bit of tan on your top, not to mention your bathroom walls, and you don’t know where to begin the clean-up process of both self and space. It’s starting to feel like tanning was far too much trouble to go to in the first place, and your stress levels, not to mention your skin tone, are no longer on an even keel.

It doesn’t need to be this way. We called on tanning pioneer James Read to solve some of our most burning frustrations relating to fake tan, and for reassurance that it’s not only possible to salvage a botched job, but to avoid it altogether.

The last time I used self-tan it went a bit streaky and smelled less than fresh...

James Read: “Tans have improved over the last few years and they continue to do so. I would say always use a tanning mitt as this helps to make the application much more even. Apply one thin layer, wait 30 mins and then apply a second layer. Remember to leave your hands and feet until last, and work the excess tan from your arms onto your hands and from your legs onto your feet and ankles. Self-tans will always have that ever-familiar smell, as it comes from the DHA chemical that stains (tans) your skin. Each person is different, so it smells different on everyone, but most brands now use odourless or organic DHAs now which helps.”

I've made a massive mess in the bathroom and my partner/ housemate/ mother is going to kill me. Is there any way to get this stuff off? How can I tan with minimal damage to towels/ interiors/ relationships?

JR: “Always tan standing over a black towel, or stand in the bath so that you can wash any mess away! The trick is to clean straight after tanning, rather than leaving it and hoping it will disappear… because it won’t! Spray a bathroom cleaner over the areas but leave for a few minutes to soak in then use the shower head to wash it away.”

I've managed to tan my palms and the soles of my feet. What now?

JR: “Always use a wet wipe straight after tanning on these areas, as this will remove the tan. If you have forgotten to do this and they are stained, soak a flannel in a mixture of lemon and lime juice with water, put in the microwave for a minute and leave to cool. Then rub over the areas which are over tanned and this will break the colour down.”

I've booked a tan with a professional - will I have to get naked? How long will it take? What shall I wear afterwards? Do I need to rinse it off? So many dilemmas.

JR: “Professionals should always give you some paper knickers to wear, but you can wear your own if you would rather. If you’re feeling uncomfortable you can wear your bra, but I would suggest to take down your straps, as you don't want tan lines. When they have finished just wait a few minutes before getting dressed and make sure to wear loose, dark clothing. Don't wash (including your hands!) and shower as normal the next morning or 8 hours later.”

My tan is tacky. Can I still get dressed? What should I avoid? I'm worried about my sheets…

JR: “Always wait a few minutes after tanning. Rub talcum powder under your breasts, armpits and backs of legs as this will stop your tan from sweating off. White sheets are ok as the tan will come out when you next wash them, but if it really bothers you, try to use something like my Sleep Mask Tan, £35, as this is colourless so you won’t get any transfer.”


My tan has gone waaaay too dark. Is there any coming back from here?

JR: “Yes of course. Get thee to a steam room and sit in there for 20 mins. Sounds bizarre but it does tend to reduce the colour by a few shades, and if you can handle the heat, stay for a bit longer until the tan has completely come off. I learnt this trick from personal experience!”

My tan seems to disappear in no time- what's gone wrong?

JR: “Maybe you did not apply enough, or you have used an old self-tan that been sitting in the cupboard for a year, which means it does not work as well. I always recommend to use an aftersun or my Tan Accelerator, £25, as this prevents your tan (real or fake) from fading too quickly. Instead it’ll wear off nice and evenly.”


Actually, I've got the opposite problem. Patches of my tan are sticking around for way too long. What shall I do?

JR: “Rubbing these areas with face wipes will remove the old patchy tan, leaving the skin fresh and ready for a new layer. I do this to all my celeb clients and it works so well.”

My legs are prickly, but if I shave, will I end up removing my tan too?

JR: “Yes it will remove your self-tan if you wet shave. The best way is to use an electric shaver, as it will remove the top layer of your hair rather than your skin.”

My normal makeup now looks quite off with my deep tan. Any advice?

JR: “Keep the tan very natural on your face. Less is definitely more and you can always build up the colour with a bronzer. Take a selfie with your phone making sure the flash is on, this way you can see if the colour suits you.”

For a very diffused, subtle glow, add tanning drops to your regular moisturiser. Clarins Radiance Plus Golden Glow Booster, £20, is set to become a classic custom tanning option, while Hylamide Glow Radiance Booster, £20, uses a different kind of sugar to those used in tan inducing DHA, so it could be a good option if you’re averse to the effects of DHA as it develops.


For a budget option, M&S Autograph Self Tan Glow Booster Serum, £12.50, is a good dupe for Clarins.


I'm tempted to tan again, but I'm not certain that all of the tan from the previous one has worn off. How long does a self-tan normally last? When can I tan again?

JR: “Tans usually last five to seven days but it's important to moisturise daily to keep your skin hydrated, and this also stops it from fading in a patchy way. Exfoliate after three days, then every day after that so your tan fades evenly. It's important to wait for your tan to fade before you apply more otherwise the colour will look orange and unnatural.”

I don't have time for all of this. How can I get a glow with a minimal amount of fuss?

JR: “Wash off tans are great and you can’t go wrong. Bronzing mists tan you in minutes and dry in 60 seconds so they’re another great alternative, that's why I created my H2O Tan Mist, £20. This works over the top of your makeup or SPF - it's all about ‘on the go’ tanning next year, which means quick, easy and hassle free.”

We also love a slinky golden body oil for gleaming limbs in seconds - Show Beauty Allure Body Shimmer Oil, £36, is light as air yet will last for months.


After more tanning advice? Check out 10 self-tan tips that everyone needs to know before attempting a glow...

Follow James on Instagram @jamesreadtan, and Anna @annyhunter


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