7 common fake tan problem solved by the experts: From patchy hands to stained sheets

I have a love-hate relationship with self-tan. Love the undeniable pick-me-up it gives to skin, hate the time, effort, prep work, drying time, inevitable stained palms…the list goes on. When I CAN be bothered, despite the sizable amount of time in the bathroom slathering, rubbing and buffing, still very rarely do I get the flawlessly bronzed finish I’m looking for.

Turns out I’m not the only one. I’m always hearing grumbles, groans and gripes from friends, even from the seasoned self-tanners of the group. So in the hope of making it an entirely easier experience for all, I relayed my collection of common tanning troubles to the experts – and they’ve come back with some pretty neat tips and tricks.

All your tanning problems solved

We’ve got the answers to all your self-tan questions

“I can’t reach my back!”

Sure, we’re probably not all wearing bum-skimming backless dresses regularly, but it’s nice to have all parts matching, right? And unless you’re especially flexible or have an obliging partner, there’s usually always that one spot on your back that’s forever out of reach. Michaela Boulder, St. Tropez tanning and skincare expert, has a clever trick if you’re using a mist formula: “Spray it over your shoulder then step backwards into the mist.” I’m also rather taken by Coco & Eve’s new Back Tan Applicator, £14.90 herea strip of velvety material that you shimmy back and forth over hard to reach areas.

Coco & Eve's new Back Tan Applicator
Perfect for those hard-to-reach areas

“My tan takes too long to dry!”

There are usually a good few infuriatingly long minutes waiting while the tan dries – cue having to waft around in various states of undress until your skin stops feeling sticky. “The tan you choose will affect the drying time,” says Michaela. “A mousse will dry quicker than a lotion or gel due to its higher alcohol content.” The pros also suggest speeding up drying time by using a hairdryer on its cool setting over your body. Alternatively, try Skinny Tan Dry Misting Finishing Spray, £9.74 herea non-drying powder spray, similar to a dry shampoo, that instantly sets your tan.

Skinny Tan Dry Misting Finishing Spray
Set your tan in place with this handy finishing spray

“I’m always left with patches of tan!”

A frequent frustration – for me it’s small stains below my elbows, on the center of my knees and under my boobs. Is there a way to spot-clean these pesky patches without scrubbing away all the “good” tan around them? Jules Von Hep, founder of tan brand Isle of Paradise and the man famed for creating Strictly contestants’ golden glow, keeps a couple of skincare products to hand for when he needs results fast: “Dab an AHA like Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment to the problem area, then rub carefully with an exfoliating make-up wipe [Simple and Kiko Milano both sell these].” Meanwhile under-boob blotches, which are caused by sweating, can be avoided by dusting a little baby powder on the area.

“I hate the smell of fake tan!”

Truth be told, my lazy nose can barely even identify that “telltale fake tan smell”, let alone feel much strong aversion to it. But I know from others that it’s one thing that puts them (and their partners) right off bottled tan. A bestseller last year, St Tropez’s Self Tan Luxe Cream Mousse, £22 herehas recently relaunched to include a ‘smell block technology’ that encapsulates the DHA (the active ingredient in tans that gives skin the colour) as it develops, keeping its giveaway smell locked away.

St Tropez Self Tan Luxe Cream Mousse
This creamy fake tan mousse has ‘smell block technology’

“Tan always transfers onto my bedsheets!”

In an unlucky piece of routine scheduling, my tanning day almost always happens to also fall on bed-changing day – and nothing takes the joy out of a fresh, clean white bedding than seeing it covered in orange streaks. Instagram laughed when social media sensation Mrs Hinch slept inside an old single duvet cover after applying a fresh applied tan, but she may well be onto something. Next sells a Self Tan Bed Sheet Protector, £20 hereto slip into, safeguarding your sheets.

“Or else try an express formula that only takes 1-3 hours to develop, leaving you time to wash it off before bed,” says Michaela.

“Fake tan makes my skin look dry!”

DHA can sap moisture from the skin, gradually making skin look dry and scale as it develops and wears off. Counter this with proper before and aftercare (see below/right for how the pros do it), and choose a hydrating formula packed with skincare ingredients like Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Oil Mist, £14.95 herea bi-phase formula containing glycerin, squalane and hyaluronic acid and available in three shades, which promises to lock in moisture for 24 hours.

Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Oil Mist
A great choice if you’ve got dry skin

“My tan fades too quickly!”

Ever feel like your lovely glow quickly seems to quickly disappear down the plughole? Again, diligent aftercare will help, but I love Vita Liberata Tanning Elixir for its staying power. Formulated using a slow-release DHA system, in a clever bit of tan mathematics the rate of development seems about equal to the rate of fade, ensuring that the initial color remains for a good 5-7 days. The original has a guide color (which I actually would be happy to go out wearing), but it has also just launched in This untinted version, £34.

Vita Liberata Heavenly Elixir Untinted Tan
For a long-lasting tan

How to apply fake tan like the experts


Shave or wax 24 hours prior to application, and exfoliate skin with a dry brush or scrub. “Remove any make-up and deodorant prior to application but don’t use a cleansing oil, as this will act as a barrier to the tan’s penetration,” Jules adds. Apply moisturiser to your hands, elbows, knees and feet, and if you are fair-haired, apply some to your hairline and eyebrows too.


Apply your tan with a mitt and use circular motions
Apply your tan with a mitt and use circular motions

Rub in tan with a mitt using circular motions, starting from the legs and working your way up. “Do the hands and feet last, gliding over them with any residual tan on the mitt,” Michaella says. “Then use a clean mitt or a dark sock to buff over these areas.”


Keeping moisturised skin will ensure the skin cells don’t shed as quickly, and therefore your color will stick for longer. Jules advises against using bath and body oils and harsh scrubs, which can all cause the tan to break down more quickly, but suggests doing a “tickle” around day four: using a gently exfoliating body wash to “tickle” the tan off evenly .

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