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How to Camouflage a Farmer’s Tan

By Amalah

Dear all-knowing Amalah,
I promise that this is not another SPF question. It just requires some SPF talk.
For several years, I lived up north. The summers were short, hot, humid, and hazy. I used Neutrogena’s Dry-Touch Sunblock (SPF 55) every morning and found it to be plenty to protect my skin all day long.
This summer is my first further south where the summers are long, equally hot, dry, and exceedingly sunny. I’m outside a little bit more, waiting for public transit to get my son to daycare then walking a bit in the mornings and more public transit in the afternoons. I started out the summer by using the Neutrogena again (this time, SPF 70), but have had two particular issues. The first is that I actually managed to burn (not too badly, but definitely a burn), even with the super-high SPF. The other is that the Neutrogena is too dry; I actually broke out from using it. So now I’m experimenting with new sunscreens, trying to find the right brand for my sensitive skin, and reapplying before I head out in the afternoon.
My problem: I’m tanning, even when I wear sunscreen. It took getting that burn to realize this. So now I have a lovely farmer’s tan. It’s the worst on my arms, though there’s also a noticeable change in color at my sock-line.
I am going to a friend’s wedding in about a month. Both of the dresses I’m considering wearing are sleeveless. How can I even up the color on my arms while still respecting the sun’s damaging rays?
I don’t live in the dell, I just look like I do

The best — nay, the only — way to safely even out a farmer’s tan is obviously with a self-tanner, and the best — again, honestly, the only — self-tanners I will use and recommend are the gradual moisturizing kind.
If you were to go with a zero-to-baked full-on self-tanner on your upper arms and ankles, I can guarantee you an orange-y, mismatched patchwork effect (with bonus streaks on your ankles and feet — two of the toughest areas to self-tan.). But these moisturizing self-tanners are much easier to control and fine-tune, and just about every drugstore moisturizer brand offers one in a variety of skin tones.
You say you have a month. The only drawback to the gradual tanners is that they are just that. Gradual. It takes about a week of regular once-daily use to achieve the full color potential — don’t apply more than once a day until you’re sure you’re using the correct shade for your skin, since it takes about 24 hours to see results from the previous day’s application.
300-2.jpgPersonally, I use (deep breath) Aveeno’s Active Naturals Continuous Radiance Moisturizing Lotion for Medium Skin Tones. (Short and catchy, that’s how I like MY product names.) I’m actually pale as all get out, but I’ve found you need to go up a shade or two in some of these to get any noticeable color. (I also used Dove’s Energy Glow, but as I think I mentioned in a previous Smackdown, I only got results with the “dark” version and saw next to no color with the “fair to medium.”) Neutrogena, Jergens, L’Oreal — you have a ton of other choices and they all work pretty much the same. (Although I believe Neutrogena is the only brand that combines the gradual tanner concept with SPF right now. ) If you’ve got a strong brand loyalty to one or the other, go with it. In the end, it’s all just fingerpainting lotion on as needed to attempt an even tan. Just READ LABELS CAREFULLY to make sure you are buying the gradual, moisturizing kind and NOT just a self-tanner, since most of these brands do offer both.
For places where you aren’t tan at all, just smear it on generously according to the package directions. For the “line” where this skin meets your farmer’s tan and rough areas like your ankles, mix in some additional (regular) moisturizer to dilute the tanning ingredients and prevent streaks and help with blending. I would start NOW just to get a sense of how many days you’ll need to apply and to make sure you’ve found the proper shade. Once you’ve got the color you want, maintenance varies from person to person. I drop down to every other day for a few days, then go back to applying it every day for a couple days after that.
Continue to wear your sunscreen religiously in the meantime, since the only thing that would look worse than a not-quite-perfect sunless-tan-meets-farmer’s-tan would be a shoulder-burn-meets-farmer’s-tan.
If, on the day of the wedding, you’re unhappy with the color and need to darken up in a hurry, apply a matte bronzer over your chest and neck and shoulders with a large loose powder brush. (MATTE is an important feature here, since any glittery bits in the bronzer will look like tweenybopper body glitter in photos. CARGO makes a good one.) Use the bronzer for your face as well. I’ve never used any of the gradual tanners there and would honestly rather not, since I worry they’d be too much (and it’s not like you can just wash them off if you screw up and leave a big streak across your chin) and/or make me break out. I have been tempted by the Neutrogena just-for-faces version I linked to earlier, but honestly, bronzer is soooo much easier. Keep the self-tanner on your body and take a shortcut for your face.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • matter

    June 30, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Derma Blend can also be used to even out your skin tone on the day of the wedding, if the tanner doesn’t work out. It’s commonly used to cover tattoos and scars. I have used it on my arms to cover blothcy redness, and it worked really well. You have to let it set for a few minutes, but after that, there is minimal wearing or rubbing off. They sell it at some deparment stores, Amazon, and possibly Ulta.

  • Leah

    June 30, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve used the Neutrogena just-for-faces tanning moisturizer and it works pretty darn well. It’s not “gradual,” it tans instantly, but it’s a really natural, non-orange color, and it gives me–normally pale and sickly–a nice sun-kissed look. I think it also has some mild SPF action, which is great.

  • Aimee

    June 30, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I would recommend using Sally Henson’s liquid pantyhose in a bottle (or whatever it’s called). It’s near the makeup and sunscreens/self tanners in drugstores, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve used it to even out the skin on my legs for special events like weddings– and you don’t have to start now (like with the self-tanners) or worry about streaks– it’s instant gratification. My skin is super pale, and rather than maintain the self-tanned look (it takes precious time that I don’t have!), I just use the Sally Hanson stuff when I’m getting ready for the event. The good thing about it is that you can control the color as it comes out, and since it’s the color it’s going to be, you can blend it much easier. And the best part of it is that if you mess up during application, you can just wipe it off with a washcloth. I like that it washes off in the shower, so I can go back to being my pale self again. I’ve never used it on my arms before, but I’m sure that would be no problem. Not sure I’d want to put it on my face, though. Amy’s suggestion of a bronzer would be best for the face.

  • sasha

    June 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I’ve used the Neutrogena version on my blue-white legs, and I found it covered pretty well, not especially splotchy or streaky, but it smells AWFUL, and I could smell it all day, which drove me distracted at work.
    So I would definitely advise a discreet and non-invasive sniff-test in the store before purchase.

  • TeeBee

    June 30, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    I would just go get a spray on tan a couple days before the wedding.

  • Nothing But Bonfires

    June 30, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Ooooh, I MUST just put in a good word for the Jergens “just for faces” gradually tanning moisturizer thing. (Um, I know it does have an official name, but I can’t remember what.) I was REALLY wary of using that stuff on my face, but this is brilliant: it doesn’t make me break out, the color is really subtle and natural, AND I buy the one with the extra SPF (only 20, but I live in San Francisco). Conversely, for body, I prefer the Dove. Definitely agree with Amy, though: I’m pale as a (British) ghost, but I see best results with the medium/dark formulas.

  • Suzy Q

    July 1, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I second what Aimee said about the Sally Hansen Airbrush Pantyhose (or whatever they call it). I HAVE used it on my arms, too, and it worked really well. Get the color that closest to your skin tone or the one you want to match. I got the Fair one and it just made my skin look smoother and somehow better on both arms and legs. Plus, I didn’t have to use it on my entire arms, just the upper arms, and it still blended nicely into my “real” skin.

  • Catherine

    July 4, 2008 at 12:29 am

    I’ve had the same problem; I’ve covered the dreaded farmer’s tan successfully with the Jergen’s gradual self-tanner plus Make Up Forever’s Body makeup.

  • Kelly

    July 4, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Ask your doctor about prescribing Spironolactone in combination with Vaniqa.

  • Jenn

    July 7, 2008 at 9:55 am

    I love love love the Aveeno stuff you recommend here (and I think you recommended it before, too, which is how I found it). I moved from the Pacific Northwest to Florida a year before my wedding and acquired a serious farmer’s tan that would’ve looked awful with my dress. That stuff totally saved the day. (Well, okay, it’s not like it would’ve ruined anything if I’d had a farmer’s tan, but I felt better.)

  • Logan

    June 12, 2015 at 12:13 am

    I am a redhead and have a pretty good farmers tan. So obviously I have color but not on my body. I have used self tanners before but give an orange look which doesn’t look good on me. What are some gradual self tanners that work for pale skin!? Without orange-y look !?