How To Remove Self-Tanner Without The Streaky Mess

For when fake tans go wrong.

How to remove self-tanner, according to the pros.
efenzi/E+/Getty Images
Originally Published: 

Fake tans are a fantastic way to achieve a sun-kissed glow without running the risk of overheating, getting a sunburn, or damaging your skin with UV rays. But there are still downsides to sunshine in a bottle: When applied incorrectly, or proper after-care instructions aren’t followed to a tee (aka you accidentally shower right after application), uneven streaks and patches can form on the skin, resulting in more of a multicolored look than that bronze glow you were going for. And this bad self-tan might remain longer than most people are willing to wait.

“A standard fake tan begins to fade anywhere between four to seven days,” Liz Agresta, founder and director of Australian Glow, tells Bustle. This fading happens as the skin you’ve temporarily tinted begins to shed, she explains. “Our skin has a natural process of shedding dead skin cells, and this is what the self-tan stains.” Translation? Fake tans don’t technically fade. So, then... how do you remove self-tanner? It’s simply a matter of speeding up the skin’s natural shedding process.

If you find yourself stuck with a less-than-ideal fake tan, don’t fret: There are dozens of products and beauty hacks that will help buff it off. Read on for experts’ tips and tricks for how to remove self-tanner so your complexion is back to its normal state.

We at Bustle only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

1. Try Tan Remover With Urea

Before reaching for something like rubbing alcohol (which Agresta says is a “big no-no;” more on that below), try a product specifically formulated for self-tanner removal. “There are different self-tanner removers on the market,” Natalia Radosz, tanning expert and CEO of Glow 2 Go NYC, tells Bustle, adding that she personally loves Bondi Sands’ Self Tan Eraser. “It actually works, even though it smells intense.” Agresta also suggests Australian Glow’s Tan Removal Mousse. “It helps to speed up the natural process whilst still leaving the skin hydrated and ready for your next application,” she says.

These products work to remove tans without harming the skin because they contain urea, a keratolytic agent that moisturizes the skin while also breaking bonds between dead skin cells (it also helps treat calluses, psoriasis, keratosis pilaris, and eczema, FYI). Translation? While it acts as a chemical exfoliant and helps cells shed faster, it does so without drying out the skin.

2. Use An Exfoliating Body Scrub

If your tan still isn’t budging, experts suggest opting for a body scrub that contains a manual or physical exfoliant. “Manual exfoliation is the use of a gentle scrubbing agent that sloughs off the top layer of skin,” Dr. Tahl Humes, M.D., founder and medical director of Vitahl Medical Aesthetics, previously told Bustle. “These treatments gently ‘sand’ the skin and [can improve] skin tone and texture issues.” In this case, they can help polish off the remnants of a fake tan, too.

Exfoliating tools and products are the keys to removing fake tan,” Agresta concurs, explaining that buffing the tinted skin will indeed accelerate the process of shedding the dyed skin cells. Just be sure to exfoliate in a warm shower — not hot — to ensure that you’re gentle enough on your skin, as the heat can dry out your skin. “This is essential in preparing the skin and lifting those dead skill cells,” Agresta says.

3. Buff With An Exfoliating Mitt

On the other hand, Radosz suggests using an exfoliating mitt over a standard body scrub, as scrubbing tools often help boost the benefits of a standalone skin care product.

Radosz is especially fond of the Glow 2 Go Tan Eraser and Exfoliator, but whichever one you go with, the protocol is the same. “Get into a nice steamy shower and lather the body in body wash,” she says, then use the exfoliating mitt on wet skin. “This works very well, and your tan will come off much faster than with a [traditional] scrub.”

What Not To Do

While you may have heard that rubbing alcohol or oil can help fade fake tans, Agresta and Radosz note they not only don’t work, but can have negative impacts on the skin. “Rubbing alcohol will strip your skin of its natural oils, leaving it feeling extremely dehydrated,” Agresta explains, adding that this will also result in a bad self-tan application afterwards. “Hydration is key and you want to be gentle with your skin,” she reiterates.

As for oil? This will create a film between your skin and the exfoliating mitt you’re using, Agresta says. “This makes the process much more difficult than it needs to be.” Stick with your three expert-backed options and you’ll have a much smoother time removing that bad self-tan.

Studies referenced:

Farage, M. (2013). Characteristics of the Aging Skin. Adv Wound Care.

Celleno L. (2018). Topical urea in skincare: A review. Dermatologic therapy, 31(6), e12690.

Verzì, A. E., Musumeci, M. L., Lacarrubba, F., & Micali, G. (2020). History of urea as a dermatological agent in clinical practice. International journal of clinical practice, 74 Suppl 187, e13621.

Rodan, K.Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plastic and reconstructive surgery. Global open vol. 4,12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp e1152. 14 Dec. 2016, doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001152


Liz Agresta, founder and director of Australian Glow

Natalia Radosz, tanning expert and CEO of Glow 2 Go NYC

Dr. Tahl Humes, M.D., founder and medical director of Vitahl Medical Aesthetics

This article was originally published on