4 easy steps to remove self-tanner—and skip the blotchy stage
Avoid the blotchy, streaky phase of your faux tan.
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You don’t always have to remove your self-tanner—you can let it fade away until you reach your natural skin tone or want to reapply it. Unfortunately, the tint often wears off unevenly, leaving skin looking blotchy or streaky. Not to worry: We’ve got you covered. While there are products designed for taking off self-tanner and weird internet hacks like using glass cleaner (yes, actual Windex, which we don’t recommend for obvious reasons), we have a foolproof solution that won’t cost much, if anything at all.
Step 1: Understand how self-tanner works
Self-tanner is only staining your surface skin cells, so all you need to do is remove those skin cells to effectively rid yourself of the body bronzer. To do that, you need some kind of face or body scrub, which you can buy or make at home by adding a gritty ingredient like coffee or sugar to a creamy one like oil or avocado, or a washcloth. If you’d prefer to buy a scrub that you can keep on hand, try the Tree Hut Shea Sugar Scrub for the body, which moisturizes your skin with a blend of fruit and plant oils and exfoliates with sugar. For the face, try the gentle Fresh Sugar Face Polish, which uses brown sugar to buff away dead skin, strawberries with vitamin C to brighten the complexion, and plum seed and grapeseed oil to moisturize.
Alternatively, you can use baking soda on the body, which, when mixed with water, forms a paste that strips the self-tanner “dye” from the skin cells.
Step 2: Implement your removal plan
The best time and place to remove your self-tanner is in your next shower. Whether you’re equipped with a homemade or store-bought scrub, a washcloth, or a baking soda paste, apply the product to wet skin wherever you have a tan. From there, gently scrub in circular motions to break up streaks, blotches, and concentrated areas of pigment sitting on the surface skin cells. When using the baking soda method, let the paste sit on the skin for a few minutes after scrubbing it in and before you rinse it off.
The same suggestions of applying your exfoliant to wet skin and using small circular motions go for removing face self-tanner, but we suggest using a scrub designed for the face, like the Fresh one.
With any physical exfoliant that may be rough on the skin, use a light hand and don’t overdo it in any one area. If your skin feels irritated, you’re likely applying too much pressure or staying in the same spot for too long. The goal is for the friction to break up some of the self-tanner, but you don’t want to harm your skin in the process, so it’s worth going slow and even having a couple of self-tan removal sessions.
Step 3: Know when to stop
There are a few indicators to help you decide when it’s time to put the exfoliator down and step out of the shower. The first, of course, is if your skin burns, stings, or gets red or irritated. It’s normal for your skin to flush when you’re stimulating it or if your shower water is hot, but if the color intensifies or won’t go away after you’ve moved on to a new area of skin, it’s a safe bet that you should discontinue use of that product or take a break from removing your tan.
Another clear indicator that you’re ready to dry off is when you can’t find any other patches of concentrated tanner or streaks. Depending on the lighting in your shower, it may be difficult to tell what’s actually left of your tan, but check areas like the knees, ankles, and elbows where self-tanner is more likely to settle or stain darker and see if they look even. This doesn’t mean all of your tanner is completely off—you may still have a hint of color but without the patchiness—but that’s not a bad thing!
Lastly, your previous showers after you applied the self-tanner probably took off some of the tint, provided you didn’t reapply in between. If you normally notice that the water has a slight tint of orange or tan but is now running clear as you rinse your skin, you probably got it all or most of it.
Step 4: Care for your skin post-scrubbing
To make sure you’re happy with your results, towel off and step in front of a mirror for a quick examination. If there are still wonky spots, consider hopping back in the shower or saving that for another day to give your skin a break.
After exfoliating, you want to replenish the skin barrier, the outermost layer of the skin that consists of cells and lipids and acts as a protective shield against harmful bacteria, fungus, viruses, and other microorganisms. This is easily accomplished by applying a moisturizer or body oil.
The mega-popular CeraVe Moisturizing Cream is great for the face or body. It uses ceramides (lipids found in the outermost layer of the skin) to support the skin barrier and hyaluronic acid to maintain moisture. For a body oil, thousands of reviewers recommend the Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil, which claims to improve the appearance of stretch marks, scars, and an uneven skin tone with vitamins A and E and a blend of plant extracts and oils, including rosemary, lavender, calendula, chamomile, and purcellin oils.
There! Your skin should now be back to its original tone and cared for … and ready for whenever you decide you’d like to apply self-tanner again.
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