10 Clever Ways To Fix A Fake Tan Emergency (Because We’ve All Been There)

Streaks, stains and patchiness: sorted.
This is how to remove fake tan.Getty

How do you remove fake tan? A golden faux glow is a summer essential – but nothing can ruin the sun-kissed vibe than looking less ‘tanned chick’ and more tandoori chicken.

Whether you’ve been a little haphazard in your application and ended up with unsightly streaks, forgotten to scrub your hands and nails clean after tanning at home, or you’re just trying to delay that tell-tale patchy pattern that appears as a spray tan wears off, there are plenty of different ways to deal with a stubborn streaky tan.

People have been faking a summer tan since bronzed skin (courtesy of the sun) became popular as far back as the 1920s, and by WWII, women were bringing the bronzed look by applying teabags to their skin. By the late 1950s, the first self-tan product containing DHA – dubbed ‘Man Tan’ – hit shelves. Rather than simply staining skin brown, DHA (or dihydroxyacetone) reacts with skin’s amino acids to cause the browning effect, and is still used in most tanning products today.

The popularity of tan in a bottle only ramped up over the following decades, as the dangers of sun tanning became more evident. As a result, formulas become more natural-looking, faster to apply, less smelly (let’s be honest, it’s a thing), and required less time to take hold.

Removing fake tan can be harder than applying it.
(Credit: Getty)

Why would I want to get rid of fake tan?

We can all agree that fake tan’s a good thing when you want that golden look, and a revolutionary invention that’s saving our skin from everything from premature ageing to melanoma.

But with all that said, mistakes do happen – and no matter how high-tech your tan may be, there’s still every chance you’ll find yourself in need of fast emergency tan removal. Some of the most common reasons include:

Uneven application
Even with the most careful application, it can be easy to end up with a streaky finish after a DIY tan job, particularly if the product you’re using doesn’t have a tint to show you where you’ve already applied the tan – particularly when trying to reach tricky areas like your back.

Blotchy hands, elbows, knees & ankles
Self-tan clings to dry areas and dead skin, which is often found on your elbows, hands, knees and ankles. While most self-tan instructions will suggest you exfoliate before tanning, paying particular attention to these areas, this doesn’t always guarantee you won’t end up with product build-up that needs to be removed before you hit the beach.

The colour’s just not right
Not all fake tans are created equal, and shades can differ greatly. What might’ve sounded like a perfect colour match on the bottle could end up looking muddy, dirty, too dark or even orange once it’s had time to develop, leaving you in need of a fast fix.

It’s just plain old wearing off
Even a perfectly applied professional spray tan can leave you with patchy areas as it naturally wears off. Most outer skin cells shed every five to 10 days, and they don’t shed evenly (sorry!), so even the best faux glow can leave you with tell-tale flaky spots. If that happens, knowing how to get spray tan off (or any fake tan) is a game-changer.

So how do you get rid of unwanted fake tan?

1. Steam

Does your gym have a steam room? A sweat session can help dislodge tan stains, so after your workout, hit the steam for half an hour and let the heat and humidity soften the tan further. Step out and rub your skin gently with a wet towel in circular motions to loosen the tan and deeply exfoliate.

Using a steam room can help remove fake tan.
(Credit: Getty)

2. Oil

Soak your skin in oil before exfoliating – and we mean really soak it! Slather your over-tanned skin in baby oil, coconut oil or olive oil, leave it for at least half an hour to absorb, then gently exfoliate in the shower. The oil helps loosen the dead skin cells that have taken on too much colour, making it easier to remove some or all of the fake tan.

Oil can remove fake tan.
(Credit: Getty)

3. Exfoliate

Whether you use a mitt or a body polish, experts agree a good physical exfoliation is key to removing tan build-up – just be careful not to scrub too hard, as it can irritate your skin. Exfoliation is also the ideal follow-up once you’ve soaked in oil, as it breaks down the tan, meaning you don’t need to scrub as hard.

4. Chux magic eraser

No, we’re not kidding. This is a hack that beauty guru Zoe Foster-Blake recommends, and we feel pretty good about taking her advice. “Next time you’ve messed up and have orange splodges, gently rub/dab a damp Chux Magic Eraser on the spot,” she suggests. Note: do not panic and scrub vigorously. A gentle rub is all that’s needed.

5. Toothpaste

Yes, this actually works! Scrub between fingers and toes with some whitening toothpaste on an old toothbrush and leave it to penetrate for 15 to 30 minutes to erase fake tan stains.

Toothpaste can help remove fake tan.
(Credit: Getty)

6. Baking soda

This is a great option to deal with larger patches of tan that need quick removal. Mix around 2 tablespoons of baking soda with a little water or coconut oil to form a paste, rub over the area you want to clean up, leave for a few minutes and then wash it off.

According to one Reddit user, adding dishwashing liquid will super-charge the mixture for cleaning nails and hands. “Mix 1:1 ratio of baking soda + dish soap and stir into a paste. Scrub the paste into the skin with a loofah/nail brush. The really stubborn streaks took a little extra scrubbing.” (PS: Dishwashing liquid will likely dry your skin, so be sure to slather on the hand cream after you’ve de-stained.)

Baking soda can help remove fake tan.
(Credit: Getty)

7. Lemon juice

There are a few different ways to use lemon juice to remove fake tan – whichever you choose, test that the juice doesn’t irritate your skin first.

Tanning expert James Read suggests squeezing lemon juice onto a clean fake tan mitt (or a hand towel), adding a little water, then microwaving for about 2 minutes. “Leave to cool slightly, then rub over the affected area. The warmth activates the alpha hydroxy acids in the tan causing it to fade.”

For all-over reduction of a muddy finish or the wrong colour, pour some fresh lemon juice into a hot bath and take a soak. The lemon juice acts as a natural bleach, and the hot water will help your skin shed more quickly. Exfoliate afterwards to make sure it stays even.

Lemon juice can help remove spray tan and other fake tans.
(Credit: Getty)

8. Vinegar

Whether you use apple cider vinegar or just plain old white vinegar, the acidity will help dissolve patches of fake tan. To lighten dark patches, use a cotton ball to dab vinegar onto the offending areas, leave for a minute or two then rinse off.

Vinegar can help remove fake tan.
(Credit: Getty)

9. Swim

The chlorine in swimming pools can have both a bleaching and abrasive effect on skin, helping to slough off fake tan. Shower afterwards and lightly exfoliate so that it wears off evenly or you risk patchiness.

10. Specialised fake tan remover

Sure, there are plenty of DIY ways to remove fake tan at home, but the beauty world also has a plethora of products on offer.

The internet is pretty much unanimous in its opinion on the best product on the market to get rid of fake tan: everybody loves Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser ($19.95) to shift unsightly streaks and patches fast.

Key features:

  • Australian made
  • Cruelty free
  • Vegan

“The tan comes off so easily even the built-up tan areas that were so hard to originally get off,” says one fan.

“This product has become one of my holy grail tanning products,” says another. “I usually leave it on for around 10-15 minutes, get in a warm shower and then wash it away with a washcloth. The tan instantly comes off, and gives you a nice base for the next time you choose to use tanner.”

It’s not your only option, though – there are plenty of other spritzes, sprays, scrubs and soaps designed to fade your fake tan faux pas fast.

The best fake tan removers to buy in Australia 2024 

Fake tan remover


Isle of Paradise Over It Magic Self Tan Eraser 

$30.00 at Amazon

This exfoliating tan remover is formulated with brightening Oxy-Glow complex, plus grapefruit, chia seed & avocado oils, for brighter, more hydrated skin.

Key features:

  • Paraben Free
  • Sensitive skin friendly
  • Cruelty Free
St Tropez fake tan remover.


St Tropez Prep and Maintain Tan Remover Mousse

$25.99 at Chemist Warehouse

This St. Tropez fake tan remover is suitable for even the most sensitive skin with its detoxifying cotton extract and rebalancing probiotics.

Key features:

  • Includes probiotics
  • Detoxifying cotton extract
  • Sensitive skin friendly
St. Tropez tan build up remover mitt


St. Tropez Tan Build Up Remover Mitt

$22.82 at Amazon

This specially designed mitt effectively removes any tan buildup and buffs away dry skin.

Key features:

  • Suitable for all skin types
  • Cruelty free
  • Good for daily use

What about fake tan on clothes, carpets or the couch?

If you got your fake tan on anything over than yourself, treat it ASAP – even if the colour hasn’t shown up yet. 

For clothes, rinse the fabric with cold water first. Hold the reverse side directly under the tap and let the water run through, forcing the formula out of the fabric, rather than rubbing – which could smear the stain.

Mix a little dishwashing liquid with warm water and dab the area, working from the outside of the stain inwards. Rinse, then throw it into the washing machine on a cold cycle. (And cross your fingers.)

For carpets and upholstery, it’s a similar story: don’t rub, or you’ll force the colour deeper into the fibres. Mix one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid with two cups of warm water; then, again working from the outside of the stain in, use a soft bristle brush to work the solution into the centre of the stain, blotting with paper towels as you go.

If these methods don’t get the fake tan off, you could also contact a dry cleaner or upholstery specialist to get a realistic assessment and quote.

And if you’re still longing for a summer glow, you could consider a natural fake tanner, other easy ways to fake tan at home or choose a professional spray tanning service that offers consultations and advice before and after you’ve had it done.


Related stories