How to Remove Self-Tanner When Things Go Horribly Wrong

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Who doesn’t love a sunkissed glow? Many of us grab our go-to self-tanner to get the summer look. However, despite how quick and easy it may be, sometimes uneven streaks, splotches or a great orangey mess get in the way of showing off your new natural-looking tan. But don’t throw in the towel just yet, here are ten ways to remove self-tanner and fix even the biggest tanning diasters. 

The Best New Products and Tools That Make Self-Tanning a Breeze

1. Exfoliate

Best for removing streaks

A sugar scrub can help remove any dead skin cells and buff away mistakes–big or small. Grab an exfoliating mitt and start scrubbing in a circular motion. Watch the streaky mess disappear while leaving your skin smooth and moisturized. (Need an exfoliation breakdown? Check this snazzy explainer here.) Just don’t overdo it—you don’t want to damage your skin and leave it prone to any cuts or wounds. 

Shop the body scrubs: Tree Hut Shea Sugar Scrub ($9), Necessaire The Body Scrub ($30);  Herbivore Botanicals Coco Rose Body Scrub ($36); Kopari Coconut Crush Scrub ($39); Fur Silk Scrub ($48)

2. Baking Soda

Best for removing tanner on hands

If you didn’t wear gloves while applying self-tanner, chances are your palms just turned into an orange palette. Baking soda is a great natural exfoliant and can remove pigmented stains. Its anti-inflammatory properties can also help reduce irritation and inflammation. Combine two teaspoons of baking soda and one teaspoon of water to create a paste before applying it on your hands or feet in a circular motion. Leave it on for 5 to 8 minutes before washing off with water. Repeat every other day if you’re dealing with a particularly stubborn stain.

3. Peel Pads

Best for removing it on your face

You strived for a sun-kissed glow but were left with tan mess. Instead of attempting to scrub away your mistake (which can lead to red, irritated skin), reach for a gentle alternative to use on your face. Look for calm ingredients like glycolic, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) or aloe vera which will fade it nicely for a less intense look. Rub the product onto your face every night for better results. 

Shop peel pads: Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel Pads ($24); Caudalie Glycolic Peel Mask ($39); Glycolix Elite Treatment Pads ($41); Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel ($88); GoopGlow 15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel ($125)

4. Rubbing Alcohol/Acetone

Best for fixing small imperfections

When it comes to self-tanning, nobody’s perfect. That’s why rubbing alcohol is a smart ingredient to have on hand to get rid of unwanted splotches. Use a cotton pad to rub it on before letting it sit for 1 to 2 minutes, then rinse it off. This hack can be drying and harsh on some skin types, so only use it in small areas and don’t forget to moisturize afterward.

5. Tan Eraser/Remover

Best for removing self-tanner on your knees

The easy-to-apply remover works to remove and fade away the pigment from your skin, and a light coat goes a long way. Let it sit for five minutes before rinsing. This works best on self tanning jobs that are a couple of days old. 

Shop the tan eraser: St. Tropez Remover Mitt ($6); Tan Eraser Exfoliating Fake Tan Removal ($14); Tanologist Tan Eraser + Primer ($15), St. Tropez Prep & Maintain Tan Remover Mousse ($19); Bandi Sands Self Tan Eraser ($24); Isle of Paradise Magic Self-Tan Eraser ($27)

6. Lemon Juice

Best for helping fade an uneven tan

The vitamin C and citric acid blend in lemon juice can lighten up dark spots quickly. Grab some lemons, squeeze the lemon juice out and dip a cotton pad into the liquid before dabbing the juice directly onto the area. The natural exfoliator can also be combined with baking soda to create a paste for double the product-lifting benefits. (Bonus: Try using a lemon wedge directly on your elbows to remove any overtanned jobs.) Just don’t try this one on your face, because the acids are too irritating for most people. 

7. Hair Removal Cream

Best for removing buildup

Many of us rely on hair removal cream to, well, remove any hair. But did you know it can also help dissolve any build-up or dark areas from tanning? Let a thin layer correct your mistake and reduce the color. Make sure to use a q-tip and let it sit for ½ of the recommended time on the product’s box. It can help lose color pretty quickly, but sensitive skin should skip this hack.

Shop the hair removal cream: Nair Hair Removal Glides Away Hair Removal Cream ($6); Veet Aloe Vera Hair Removal Gel Cream ($8); GleeBee Hair Removal Cream ($17)

8. Toothpaste

Best for fading uneven patches

Toothpaste is somewhat of an all-purpose beauty hack, and here’s one more benefit to add to the list. Whitening toothpaste can help fade those uneven patches, especially in the difficult corners of your fingers and toes. Apply a thin layer and let it sit for 10 minutes before rinsing.

9. Baby Oil

Best for major mistakes

Don’t worry newbies, we’ve got a perfect recco for big mistakes. If you end up looking unnarturally tan or super orange, try some baby oil to help reduce your color. Leave it on the specific area for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing with water. The oil will help lift the excess product and fade the uneven tan away while keeping skin looking and feeling soft.

Shop the baby oils: Up&Up Baby Oil ($2); Solimo Baby Oil ($3); Johnson’s Baby Oil ($4); Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Mama Bee Nourishing Body Oil ($5); Pipette Baby Oil ($10)

10. Swimming

Best for all the above

Who knew a dip in the pool could be refreshing for you and your botched tan? The chlorine will help clear streaks, splotches or any mistakes over time.

Self-Tanning Tips and Tricks Only an Expert Celebrity Tanner Would Know

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Beauty & Cultures Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, NY Native

Chelsea Candelario is a Beauty & Cultures Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the...