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How To Remove Self-Tanner Stains & Streaks

By Amalah

Photo by Photo Mojo
Oh Amy–of infinite wisdom and knower-of-all-things-of-importance, I‚Äôm in need of desperate help.
Right now I look like an oompa loompa. That’s right, I’m orange. Usually I’m WHITE (in all caps), I don’t tan and not strictly because of the whole cancer thingy. I have the fabulous ability to burn, but walking around bright pink isn’t that much better than walking around orange. So I thought, self, you have a bajillion weddings to go to this summer and being the whitest person there is a drag. So I took myself down to Darque Tan where they showed me how to lotion up my hands and feet, stick my arms out in a dorky fashion and let the magical wonder of chemicals stain my white skin. My arms and legs look fine and natural. My feet are a tad darker than I like but not that bad, my hands though! Oh my hands, despite slathering on the non-sticking lotion my hands are orange. Like any girl would do I took a loofa and then a pumice stone to them, now I’m two toned and have no skin on one wrist. Tomorrow I’m going to a wedding; I know it wasn’t the wisest decision to do this so close to the day. I’ve come to grips with hiding my hands and wearing a sweater over my gorgeous black sleeveless dress because my pits are super white (why is that? It’s not like I use industrial strength deodorant, why isn’t there color there?), but I have more weddings to go to.
I don’t want to hear about how I should just embrace my pastiness. I don’t have the pretty pastiness. I just look like I live under a rock. So is there one chain that’s better than another? Is there a way I can keep my hands from looking like I was getting close with a pumpkin? And lastly, how do I get the orange off my hands???
The Walking Traffic Cone

Aaaand THIS is why I self-tan at home, and only at home. Those spray-tan things, man. They’re just too fast, too much, too hard to frantically rub and lotion and mop up all the post-application streaks while you’re standing there naked and can’t even see the backs of your thighs and oh look! The webs in-between my fingers somehow got all orange. That looks…natural. Gah.
If you really want a foolproof professional spray-tan, you’ve got to splurge for the airbrushing kind, where a PERSON actually sprays and shades you instead of a shower head. Being too much of a cheap bastard to ever try that, though, I’ve done the automatic kind a few times at a few different places and have never been 100% satisfied with the results. I’ve always gotten at least a couple annoying streaks or uneven color or just…not a GOOD shade of color. Sometimes I was happy with it after a few days (and after I’ve removed all the mistakes), but right afterward I would look in the mirror objectively and realize that I was not fooling ANYONE, my skin tone was the equivalent of a peroxide blond.
Hands and feet and elbows and knees are usually the big problem areas with the spray tans, no matter where you go. Going in super-extra moisturized helps. Some places use special lotions, others suggest you wear plastic gloves and booties and yank them off at some point during the application or immediately after for a quick rub-down. The first minutes post-spray are the most critical in avoiding streaks and build-up on your hands and feet, and maybe with a lot of practice you can get better at it. I just found it stressful.
So now I use the gradual self-tanning lotions. Yes, they require more time to build up a nice deep glow and maintenance is CRUCIAL, but they are pretty much idiot-proof. Now that you’ve got a base coat from your spray tan, start using a lotion NOW to keep the color. I’ve written about them a couple times before — they’re all pretty similar, so if you have a favorite lotion brand you can probably find a tanning version. (The only one I’ve really disliked was a L’Oreal one, because it seemed to contain glitter as well as self-tanner, and as I am neither 1) 12 years old or 2) Edward Cullen, I’m not into sparkly crap all over my skin.) It takes these lotions about a week to really give you a “tan” — though as you’ve learned, it’s best to avoid the spray tan booth too close to a wedding or beach trip as well.
So. What to do about the orange all over your hands? You had the right idea with exfoliating with the loofah, but a pumice stone is way too harsh for your hands or other non-foot body parts. Gentle exfoliation is best, and some prep work will help out immensely. For large areas of your body (i.e. streaks down your legs or back), rub a thin layer of baby oil and let it sit — the longer the better. A half hour if you can stand the slippery boredom. Then gently wash it off with a scrub, targeting the unwanted color — one of those salt or sugar scrubs are good, but you could use a facial scrub as well. If you don’t have a scrub, use your face wash and a loofah.
For your hands, use the baby oil and then pull on a pair of plastic gloves (like the kind that come with hair dye) before scrubbing it off. For feet, oil and then an old pair of socks. The oil will soften the skin so the exfoliation actually takes off the skin cells you want — the dead dry ones on the surface that suck up the tanner at oompa-like levels — and not the healthy cells underneath.
For smaller mistakes — places like your palms, knuckles, or the lone errant streak — grab a wedge of lemon and rub. You might have to do this a few times, but lemon juice is pretty darn good at bleaching out the orange.
And finally, are there special products you can buy for just this very purpose? OF COURSE THERE ARE. I’ve never used them — the oil and lemon have always worked well enough for me, and now that I use the lotions instead of full-strength tanners, I haven’t had any problems that took more than 24 hours to fade and self-correct. But for the sake of covering this topic from every angle, there’s St. Tropez Self-Tan Remover, which seems to be meant primarily for your palms. MODEL Co also makes one, though from the description it sounds like a grapefruit scrub. Which…you could also just buy a grapefruit scrub, or make your own sugar scrub with grapefruit or lemon juice.
If you decide to try the spray tan again, definitely make sure you’ve got the supplies for fixing mistakes at home, and try to make your appointments at a minimum of three days BEFORE your event. And don’t wear deodorant AT ALL. Even regular-strength deodorant will repel the dye and you’ll end up with the weirdly-white pits. (And some deodorants will stain your pits GREEN when mixed with self-tanner. So go smelly on spray-tan appointment days.)


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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  • Cindy

    June 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Random thought — Would putting deodorant on your palms keep them white???

  • Marcy

    June 25, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I found out the hard way once that Nair does a fantastic job of removing a spray tan in mere minutes!

  • Jess

    June 25, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I’m with you on this one Amy…I only self tan at home…and I’m a big proponent of self tan. I sometimes use the full on regular self tan, but for a consistent summer tan I just use the gradual lotion and I just go ahead and buy the one for “medium or dark” skin tones….the lighter ones just have less pigment and take longer to see results. the gradual is so much more forgiving.
    I’ve also found that a cotton swap with rubbing alcohol on it is effective at removing streaks of self tanner. And applying the gradual self tanner over streaky areas will help even it all out.

  • bessie.viola

    June 25, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I know they’re pricey, but I’m just going to vouch quickly for the airbrushing. I’ve had it done several times (for special occasions, like my sister’s wedding and others in which I’ve had bridesmaidly duties) and every time it’s been flawless. It’s a little ackward, sure, to be half-naked with a person spraying you, but eh, I’ve had a baby, so no longer a big deal. 🙂
    I’m going to pick up one of the lotions you recommended though – seems like a good place to start for the summer.

  • Bonny

    June 25, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Nail polish remover…use only in small areas as it can be irritating to sensitive skin, but it definitely gets all the orange off

  • Jayme

    June 25, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    I totally second the nail polish remover trick. I’ve used it on my palms and once, after a particularly nasty encounter with spray tan, used it on a washcloth on my ankles and knees. Just make sure to wash with a good moisturizing soap and lotion up well after you’re done.

  • Tracy H

    June 25, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    They make “airbrush” tan stuff in an aerosol can. I use the cheap one by Banana Boat, but there are other brands as well. Sure, it’s not as good as the real thing, but this could help with the white pits and help you even things out a bit in a pinch. I use the gradual tan lotions as well and then use the airbrush stuff like once a week for an extra boost of color. Don’t get discouraged, fake tanning takes work and after a while you won’t have any more incidents! And remember to wash your hands afterwards!

  • Melanie

    June 25, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I watched a wedding show where they scrubbed a girl with toothpaste to remove a bad faux tan. I’m not sure if it works, but it’s probably worth a try.

  • Emily

    June 25, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Seriously, I do Mystic for the same reason as you and it is awesome. However!!!! Turn off the bronzer! this is key and not very many people do it. The sprayers spray you with both the tanning chemical and a bronzer… the bronzer is what streaks and looks orange and has to be carefully wiped off. If you turn off the bronzer (should be a knob within the booth), then you just get the chemical and the color develops slowly over a few hours. You don’t get that immediate color, but you also won’t stain your clothes or your sheets. also it will be very even…

  • Kelly

    June 25, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    I’m all about the Clinique self tanning lotion with sunscreen in. If you’re willing to wander around the house with no clothes on for 15 minutes day, you can build noticeable color in just a few days. And even as pale as I am, the color did look natural!

  • Anonymous

    June 25, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Jolen Creme Bleach for facial hair works. Follow the directions on the box as if you were bleaching facial hair.

  • Kirsten

    June 30, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    For all of you folks that do the self tanning lotions, can you tell us your secret for evenly getting your back lotioned? Do I have to enlist a second party for getting my back?

  • Jade

    April 26, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Well today i spilled tanning lotions all over my pale body i got it all over my hands and  arms i need to get it off for my brothers wedding?got any ideas)

  • Natalie

    February 5, 2014 at 1:12 am

    I use the L’Oreal tanning lotion and it works great for me, the glitter is there to help when applying the lotion you look for the glitter to see where you have already applied and where you still need to apply. The glitter comes off after it dries and you eventually shower. 

  • Kelly

    April 22, 2014 at 3:08 am

    After a spray tan bronze is washed off then spilling orange juice on leg causing stripes !!! How do u even it out?

  • Chloe

    June 9, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Ive had some bad trouble with my self spray tan and i found hydrogen peroxide and it almost made them dissapear completely and not make white spots. It may take a few times to do though wash thoroughly after