How to achieve a perfect fake tan (without a streak in sight)

Here comes the most authentic faux glow of your life.

Fake tanning has been in Vogue for a while now. Blame Coco Chanel, who is widely credited with popularising tanned skin in the 1920s. If she hadn’t sashayed around Biarritz with her bronzed limbs, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this predicament. Though, it’s much safer to fake it than using the actual sun. And while many of us have been scarred by streaky, orange results, there have been huge improvements in fake tan formulation. Even a novice can build colour slowly, and those with skills to get natural-looking results within the hour.

Before you start fake tanning, it’s important to find the perfect shade. But how? “Always choose your shade based on your skin tone, not on the desired result,” says Marc Elrick, Tan-Luxe founder and self-tan guru. “This means you’ll always get a radiant finish that enhances your natural tone and doesn’t mask it with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ colour.”

If you’re a first time self-tanner and anxious of the end result, you can always start with a gradual tanner to ease you into the process. “These formulas work with a lower percentage of DHA,” explains Marc. ‘So you can apply it regularly for a hydrated glow that builds over time, as opposed to just one application. These double as a great replacement for your existing face or body moisturiser.”

Glamorous woman with perfect legs relaxing on a sunlit beach

How to fake tan 

Don’t forget to prep! A little effort before you slather on self tanner pays dividends. 

  1. Scrub: The trick to a natural looking tan is freshly exfoliated skin. Buff dry skin from hands, elbows, knees and feet to prevent dry patches absorbing excess colour. Try: Jojoba Company, Jojoba Bean Natural Exfoliant for Face & Body, $19.95
  2. Erase: Follow with a tan eraser to lift existing tan and finish with a light moisturiser. Wax, shave, laser and manicure or pedicure beforehand. If you do it after, it will remove the new colour and make you look patchy. Try: Bondi Sands Self Tanner Eraser Gel, $17.
  3. Hydrate: Smoothing on a lightweight moisturiser before you apply tanner, and then head-to-toe every day afterwards, will help your tan go on evenly and last longer. Try: Saba Organics Hydrating Moisturiser, $20.
  4. Tan: Grab your tanning mitt and spread the product evenly along the skin, using a circular motion as you move from head to toe. You might also consider a dense, kabuki brush “that buffs and blends the product into your skin,” says Alexandra Peek from Bondi Sands. “It’s particularly helpful for applying product to hands and feet, and avoiding product building up in drier areas.” Try: Bondi Sands Tanning Foam, $19.

The biggest self tanning mistakes

There are a couple of things to avoid when fake tanning.

  • Streaks: “One of the main reasons people get streaks as the self-tan develops is because they haven’t applied enough product,” says Marc. “To ensure that doesn’t happen, make sure you completely saturate the skin. This means you avoid missing areas and get an even finish.”
  • Fading too quickly:  Steer clear of exfoliating AHAs and body washes with synthetic fragrances, which will remove your tan.

Gradual self tanning concept. Exfoliating Skin Brush, self tan lotion and  tanning mitt on blue background with orchid flower .

What’s the best way to fake tan the face?

You can, of course, apply self tan to your face as you would the rest of your body. For even colour, prepare your face like your body and avoid oil-based skincare which can create a barrier and stop your tan working. Some prefer to leave their face alone and use foundation to match the rest of their tanned skin. For foundation-free days, tanning facial formulas suspend DHA (the sugar molecule that tans the outermost layer of skin) in hyaluronic acid to plump, hydrate and enhance your skin tone while you sleep.

Here are some formulas to try:

Ready to start (or perfect) your tanning journey? Try these:

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