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Self-tanning lotions and sprays give your skin a quick hit of semipermanent tint without the skin cancer risks that come from prolonged sun exposure. But “fake” tanning products can be tricky to apply, especially for the beginner.

Dark, streaky patches can appear on your skin and ruin the effect of self-tanning products. What’s worse, these streaks can be difficult to remove and leave your body looking stained until the pigment wears off.

If you’re looking to remove streaks and patches from self-tanning products, this article will walk you through the easy ways to do it without hurting your skin.

If you’ve gotten spray tan or tanning lotions streaks on your hands, you certainly aren’t the first — and you won’t be the last. If you don’t wear rubber gloves while the product is applied, you’re almost guaranteed to have an orange or brown reminder of your tanning product on your hand.

Almost all self-tanning products use the same active ingredient: dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is the only FDA-approved ingredient for sunless tanning on the market.

The ingredient works quickly to “stain” the top layer of your skin, but you can’t always see the effects right away. Even if you wash your hands after applying self-tanner, you might still notice streaks that appear 4 to 6 hours later.

To get DHA staining off of your hands, you can exfoliate the skin with a sponge, towel, or exfoliating cream. You may try soaking your hands in warm water, taking a swim in a chlorinated pool, or applying lemon juice to your hands to penetrate and lighten the skin layer.

If your feet have streaks from DHA, you’ll follow a similar process. A pumice stone can help exfoliate streaky patches, and time in the bathtub, sauna, or chlorinated pool can give you a head start on clearing up streaks.

Similar to removing a henna tattoo, an Epsom salt soak or a coconut oil raw sugar scrub might speed up the process of getting the tanner off your feet.

Streaks on your face might seem the most noticeable, and not just because of their prime placement. DHA absorbs quickest into thin skin. So, your joints, the tops of your hands, and the area under your eyes are quite vulnerable to an uneven sunless tan.

If you have tan lines on your face, you’ll need to be patient. Toner and makeup-removing wipes can actually make the look of streaks worse, as it will unevenly “erase” the color you’ve just applied to your skin.

If you have creams or lotions that contain alpha-hydroxy acids, use them to try to slough off excess skin cells that could be making your tan look more uneven.

Start with an exfoliating face cream, but don’t scrub your face too hard. A steam room or sauna could help open your pores to release the pigment from your skin.

DIY paste

Anecdotally, using a DIY paste with baking soda has helped some people to remove tanner that’s gone awry.

  1. Mix 2–3 tbsp. baking soda with about 1/4 cup coconut oil.
  2. Apply this mixture to your face.
  3. Let it absorb, then use a wet washcloth to remove it.
  4. Repeat this twice per day until your skin reaches its typical color.

Be aware: You might be drying out your skin by doing this.

The same rules described above apply to streaky self-tan on any other body part. There’s no quick way to erase DHA from your skin. There are currently no clinical trials that demonstrate a way to get rid of DHA once you’ve applied it.

The best ways to jump-start the process of getting rid of a self-tan involve:

  • taking a long, steamy shower
  • going for a swim in the ocean or a chlorinated pool
  • gently exfoliating the affected body part several times per day

There are a lot of things worse than having some tanning streaks on your skin, and damaging your skin is one of them.

Don’t panic

If you don’t like the way your spray tan or self-tanner looks, you might just need to give it some time. The full effect of DHA isn’t usually visible until several hours after application.

Before you go hard on the exfoliation, wait at least 6 hours to see if the tan evens out. The most effective way to get rid of the streaks might actually be to apply more tanning product to try to even out the appearance of your complexion.

Don’t bleach your skin

Don’t apply harmful products such as bleach or hydrogen peroxide to your skin in an attempt to get the pigment out. Using toners, astringents, and witch hazel might also make the streaks appear more noticeable.

Lemon juice may work to help streaks on your hands, but don’t try scrubbing the rest of your body with it.

Don’t overexfoliate

Exfoliating will help fade the look of streaks, but you don’t want to harm your skin in the process. Limit exfoliating sessions to twice per day to give your skin time to recover and generate new cells.

If your skin appears red or irritated when you exfoliate it, give it a rest and try again a few hours later. Overexfoliated skin is more prone to cuts and wounds, which can lead to complications like an infection.

Avoiding streaks in your self-tanning adventures may take practice. Here are a few tips:

  • Shower before your product application. You won’t want to get your skin sweaty or immerse it in water for at least 6 hours after you apply self-tanner.
  • Always exfoliate your skin before application. Use a wet washcloth on your arms, legs, and other parts of your body where the skin is thicker. Use an exfoliating cream on your face prior to self-tanning, and make sure to remove all product before you start the process.
  • Use latex gloves when applying self-tanner. If you don’t have them, wash your hands every 2 to 3 minutes during the application process.
  • Don’t try to do your whole body at once. Apply the product slowly, intentionally, doing one section at a time.
  • Make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area. DHA can smell powerful, and you may want to rush just to get away from the scent of the product.
  • Blend the tanner into your wrists and ankles so the line where you stopped application isn’t as obvious.
  • Wait at least 10 minutes before getting dressed after you’ve applied tanning lotion or spray. This protects your clothes and your tan.
  • Don’t forget that applying self-tanner won’t protect your skin from sun damage. Make sure to wear an appropriate SPF every time you step outside. This helps you avoid sunburn, which will not only ruin your self-tan but will put your skin at risk of other complications.

The active ingredient in self-tanning products, DHA, is fast and effective. Unfortunately, that means if you make a mistake during application, it’s hard to undo it.

Be patient as you buff out self-tanner using a gentle exfoliator. You can also take frequent showers and soaks in the tub to speed up the process of fading those streaks. Self-tanner can be tricky to put on, and it may take some practice to perfect your process.