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The Beauty Edit

How To Fake Tan Flawlessly Before Your Next Holiday

In the hunt for a body-boosting (and sun-safe) glow, fake tan really can be your shortcut to a quick and easy colour boost. But many of us have far too many horror memories of emerging from the process with patchy orange skin. Here’s how to do it properly.

To help you avoid fake tan mishaps before your next escape, we spoke to leading tanning experts to get their tips and tricks.

From how to prep your body to avoid uneven colour – especially around your hands, knees, and elbows – to the formulas we’ve tried, tested and loved, this is how to fake tan flawlessly before your next holiday.

The scenario

You look in the mirror pre-holiday and realise you’d like just a little more colour to complement your summer outfits. Or, perhaps you want to feel a little more confident before a big meeting or a first date. With time being of the essence, you turn to your old bottle of fake tan in a panic.

However, after applying your chosen formula, you resemble something close to an Oompa Loompa – with visible streaks and tangoed hands. Maybe you’ve ended up with brown-stained towels too. Cue the frantic rush to scrub every inch of your body to rid yourself of the evidence – leaving your skin feeling sore, and you swearing to never try it again…until the next time.

We’ve all been there. However, there is a way to stop the vicious cycle. Read on to discover our expert tips and tricks for a flawless fake tan at home.

How to fake tan like a pro 

Step One: Exfoliate

The number one cause of patchy fake tan? Dry, rough skin. So, 48 hours before tanning, you need to exfoliate. This is important – especially if your skin tends to lean towards the drier side. Make the process less of a chore by choosing an indulgent physical scrub that’s actually enjoyable to use. The CF team recommends Beauty Pie’s Soul Providers Re-Energizing Dry Oil Body Scrub (to keep your skin hydrated too) and Sol de Janeiro’s Bum Bum Body Scrub. Use circular motions to buff it into your skin, and don’t forget to pay particular attention to the stubborn areas of dry skin on the knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists.

Step Two: Moisturise

As well as exfoliating, you want to keep your skin moisturised too. Treat yourself to a head-to-toe application of a buttery body lotion, such as Kiehl’s Creme de Corps or Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Body Cream, the day before you tan. This will help the fake tan glide on seamlessly. However, don’t rush the process and end up applying body moisturiser right before your self-tanner. In this scenario, the moisturiser could cause a barrier that affects how your tan absorbs, leaving it patchy or invisible (although there are exceptions as described below).

Step Three: Cleanse

Right before tanning, cleanse your skin gently to ensure there’s a smooth base for your fake tan to adhere to. The trick is to avoid anything too oily (that may act as a barrier to your tan) while making sure the formula doesn’t strip your skin of moisture. Stick to lightweight moisturising washes such as Aesop’s Geranium Leaf Body Cleanser and Naturium’s The Multi-Vitamin Daily Nutrients Body Wash.

Step Four: Moisturise Again

You don’t want to moisturise again all over but there are some key areas to bear in mind. In particular, add a small amount of lotion to your elbows, knees, wrists and feet to stop excess product gathering in those areas.

Step Five: Apply Your Tan

Now you are ready to apply your tan. Do so with a large mitt, such as St Tropez’s Dual Sided Tanning Applicator to keep your hands clean and, most importantly, don’t just start applying without reading the how-to-use instructions. This allows you to use your chosen formula in the best way possible.

How to choose your tan

1. Make sure you have the right shade 

There tend to be two schools of thought when it comes to tan: go big and go home – aka apply the darkest shade so you can get super-fast results, or incredibly meek and mild. In fact, a middle ground is probably best if you want a natural-looking colour. Don’t go straight for the darkest shade possible as it’s much more likely to look fake, but do choose one that will lift and define your skin tone enough with one application; if you have to keep applying new layers of very light tan to get the finish you want, you increase the likelihood of it going patchy.

2. Choose a tan that suits your skin type

Another thing to consider, aside from the colour you want to go, is what other ingredients are inside a fake tan that can help you get a flawless finish. For dry skin in particular, brands that market moisturising formulas that nourish your skin can help ensure your colour doesn’t go patchy, and there are now warming pigments in some tans to lift and enhance naturally darker skin tones too.

What to do when fake tan goes wrong

How to get rid of dark patches 

If your tan doesn’t look even, or if it has been absorbed by certain areas of the skin more than others, firstly “don’t panic,” says the tanning expert and co-founder of Isle of Paradise, Jules Von Hep. “The key here is gentle exfoliation. Use a scrub or exfoliating mitt to buff away the patchy areas, focusing on the uneven spots, such as darkened elbows and knees. Then, mix a small amount of your self-tanner with a moisturiser before applying. This will dilute the tanner’s intensity and give you a more natural look. Remember to blend well and use sparingly.”

How to get rid of tan lines

Whether you’ve naturally been caught in the sun while wearing a T-shirt, or want to blend away other tell-tale lines, “you’ll need to gradually blend the lines by applying a self-tanner one shade lighter than your current tan,” says Von Hep. “This will help soften the contrast between your tan lines and untanned skin. Make sure to blend thoroughly and feather the edges for a seamless transition.” 

How to make full tan removal stress-free

If you want to remove your tan completely, it’s time to pause before you just start scrubbing away with reckless abandon. “I recommend using a glycolic tan remover,” says Von Hep, which is a type of chemical, not physical, exfoliant, which more gently sloughs away surface skin cells. “For stubborn tan, try adding a cleansing balm on top of the glycolic tan remover and work it off the skin using a face cloth,” Von Hep continues. We recommend gently using Isle of Paradise’s Over It Magic Self-Tan Eraser or a quick-fire formula like Rose & Caramel’s 60 Second Tan Remover, paying particular attention to drier areas such as your elbows and knees.

Our tried and tested recommendations: 


The fake tan that convinced our previously tanning-averse beauty editor to actually give it a try, Isle of Paradise's mousse feels more like applying a hydrating body foam than simply a fake tanner. Plus, as well as giving you a natural-looking glow-boost, the formula contains colour-correcting actives to make the finish even more flattering for your skin tone.


The top pick of our fashion editor Gemma, this clear water delivers no mess from the get-on and its spray pump means easy application is guaranteed. It's also really user friendly for someone who is naturally quite pale, giving a really flattering sun-kissed finish.


An iconic fake tan brand, you can trust Bondi Sands' classic formula to deliver flawless results even if it’s your first time using a tanning foam. With a coconut aroma that ensures your skin smells like summer not biscuits, you can leave this stress-free formula on for just an hour to subtly lift and contour your limbs ready for your holidays.


If you like a deep bronzy glow, including to tan away ashiness in Black skin, this formula should be your go-to. Delivering a rich colour in just two hours, the foam is lightweight and easy to spread across your skin for a smooth and even finish. It's also packed with hydrating ingredients to ensure your skin looks and feels soft ready for your holiday. 





Our top recommendation for tanning your face without the mishaps, our partnerships director loves this non-permament solution that gives you an instant glow, perfect for days when your skin is looking a little grey. It's especially good if you want to use a more conventional fake tan on your body, but your face is a little too sensitive for such formulas.



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Lead image: YAITTE

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