Put Down the Lemon Juice—This Is What Really Removes Sunless Tanner

tan legs on the beach

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Hands up: Who's ever applied a sunless tanner after a (boozy) night out, only to discover the next morning that they've transformed into a tiger? While you want to remove it immediately, grabbing the lemon juice and a flannel doesn't work as an emergency solution. (I've tried it—don't do it). So how do you remove the stuff without reaching for the wire wool and causing damage to your skin? We spoke to expert Jules Von Hep, global tanning director for Tan-Luxe, and the go-to tanner for many an A-lister when they want to look golden and sun-kissed. 

Von Hep says that he spots bad tans everywhere he goes. And he's not shy about telling people either. While he'll let colleagues know if they need to sort out their tell-tale streaky hands, he's been tempted to tell people he spies on the commute (you've been warned). He even has a word for it: the tan-over. Like a true expert, however, he does say that prevention is better than cure, and the true trick to not having any streaks is being prepared beforehand (moisturizing a lot is key, says Von Hep). But if you're really in an unsightly orange pickle, there are a few hacks to save you.

Keep scrolling for your guide on how to remove sunless tanner.

When It's All Over Your Body

Sometimes, it's not just a streak or two—it's all over your body (aka the most nightmarish situation to find yourself in). From your elbows to your legs, you've ended up with not quite the color or shade you were hoping for. You have officially become the thing you feared the most: The One With Ross's Tan. For this emergency, Von Hep recommends that you get a body clay mask (he likes the ones from The Body Shop). While he says he knows this is "all dependent on time, a body clay mask will draw out impurities and suck the color out of the tan."

The Body Shop Himalayan Charcoal Mask
The Body Shop Himalayan Charcoal Purifying Mask $28
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There are also products specifically made for removing sunless tanner, including the Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser. This product promises to remove the self-tanner in just five minutes without a lot of scrubbing.

Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser
Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser $24
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For the time-pressed, he also gave me another tip that I didn't know about: If you go to the gym, go into the steam room, or go swimming—any chlorinated water will help reduce the tan.

When It's on Your Hands, Ankles, Elbows, and Fingers

There are so many tell-tale signs for a bad tan, but the biggest has to be when someone hasn't properly blended between the fingers, ankles, elbows, knuckles, and nails. To avoid this, Von Hep recommends ensuring you moisturize all those areas before applying, and you can even apply lip balm on your nails to prevent staining. "Those places are like sponges," he says. 

You can also apply Norvell Pro-Blending DHA Barrier Cream to those hot spots before you use your self-tanner to prevent over-staining and streaks.

Norvell DHA Barrier Cream
Norvell Pro Blending DHA Barrier Cream $22
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However, we all slip up sometimes, so to rectify any self-tan mishaps on all those small places, Von Hep has a great homemade concoction that will lift the color—and it does actually require a squeeze of lemon juice. Mix bicarbonate of soda (two teaspoons), body oil (a couple of drops), and lemon juice (half a squeezed lemon), and rub where you want to remove the tan. The bicarb will "bubble up and remove the color."

When It's on Your Face

Happily, the face isn't usually a problem. Our expert says: "The tan fades so quickly because we smile and move our faces a lot." But to get rid of it quickly, mix an exfoliator with cleansing oil. Want to ensure your face looks more natural next time? "I would always apply two coats on the body but only do one on the face," Von Hep tells us. He loves Tan-Luxe's The Water spray tan, which he holds at arm's length for a natural-looking tan.

How to remove fake tan: Tan-Luxe The Water
Tan-Luxe The Water $47
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When It's on Your Legs

If you have a massive streak on your leg, there's an incredible trick that you'll think is a lifesaver. "Put tanner on a small makeup sponge and apply around the streak," Von Hep says. "Then take a dry towel and blend in the two areas, and wait for it to develop." If you would rather remove the tan completely and start over, try Isle of Paradise Over It Magic Self-Tan Eraser. You simply spray it on your legs, wait five minutes and then wash it off.

Isle Of Paradise Self Tan Eraser
Isle of Paradise Over It Magic Self-TanEraser $27
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Again, to avoid this happening in the first place, you want to apply the tan correctly, which Von Hep says is best done with a mitt. "Whether you're using a mousse, spray, oil, or whatever, you should always blend with a mitt," he says. One great option is the St. Tropez Double-Sided Luxe Tan Applicator Mitt.

St. Tropez Tanning Mitt
St. Tropez Double-Sided Luxe Tan Applicator Mitt $8
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Finally, if you're still struggling with your application, try a gradual tan. "Tanning is one of those things that's so about confidence that practice makes perfect. If you're nervous start with, ease yourself in with easier products," Von Hep says. Try Tan-Luxe The Gradual Illuminating Gradual Tan Lotion for a subtle glow.

Tan-Luxe The Gradual
Tan-Luxe The Gradual Illuminating Gradual Tan Lotion $33
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With the right amount of preparation, including moisturizing those streak-prone areas like feet and hands, along with the right application technique, you can have a golden glow that looks sun-kissed instead of streaky. Remember, practice makes perfect. In the meantime, we have you covered for all your self-tanning mishaps.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Verdier-Sévrain S, Bonté F. Skin hydration: a review on its molecular mechanisms. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007;6(2):75-82.

  2. Gomes C de SF. Healing and edible clays: a review of basic concepts, benefits and risks. Environ Geochem Health. 2018;40(5):1739-1765.

  3. Milstone LM. Scaly skin and bath pH: Rediscovering baking soda. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2010;62(5):885-886.

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