5 Secrets to a Perfect Fake Tan

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5 Secrets to a Perfect Fake Tan

Most people are now aware that both the sun’s rays and tanning beds contribute to skin problems, primarily premature ageing and skin cancer. Still, many people want to have a golden glow when they wear skin-baring fashions in the summer, on special occasions, or for resort holidays. Despite the occasional activist who speaks out in favour of natural skin tones, tanning is big business. Because dermatologists have effectively spread the message that the only safe tan is a fake tan from a bottle, the proliferation of these products on the market has become overwhelming. However, an ill-applied fake tan often looks worse than no tan at all. In order to learn how to use fake tan products expertly for a smooth, even, glowing colour, consumers should understand how these products work and learn the secrets of using them well. A bit of education, attention, and practice can help anyone achieve the perfect fake tan.

The Evolution of Fake Tanning

Fake tanning developed as a treatment for hypopigmentation of the skin and a safe alternative to sun exposure. Coppertone was one of the first companies to market a sunless tanning product in the 1960s, although these first attempts resulted in a somewhat orangey colour. The primary ingredient in all sunless tanning formulas is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). It is the only chemical currently approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation. Advancements in formulations have led to more natural colour results. With a high-quality product and expert application, it is often difficult to discern a fake tan from a real one.

How Fake Tans Work

The ingredient DHA is a sugar that reacts with the dead cells that form the top layer of skin to turn them brown. This process takes several hours, usually at least three. At that point, users may reapply the product in order to deepen the colour. The tan colour only lasts a few days until these uppermost cells are shed. Therefore, in order to maintain a tan, fake tan products must be reapplied every two to three days.

Because fake tan preparations react with dead skin, they can cause excessive darkening on areas of the body where the skin is thickest, usually over the knee and elbow joints and on the tops of the feet. Moreover, fake tans start to react quickly, even if the reaction is invisible at first; by the time a user has completely and carefully covered his or her entire body, washing the hands may be too late to prevent the palms from bronzing. Fake tan chemicals can also react with clothing fibres, so it is important to wait 15 to 30 minutes before getting dressed. If this is not possible, wear old, loose clothing.

Perfect Fake Tanning Secrets

The following five secrets can help even first-time users achieve a perfect fake tan. Natural-looking results take time and patience. Quickly slapping on an application before running out of the door is never a good idea. The secrets of a beautiful fake tan are exfoliation, moisturisation, expert application, individualised attention to specific body parts, and knowing how to prevent and correct streaking.

Secret 1: Exfoliation Dedication

The number-one tip for achieving a perfect fake tan is to exfoliate the skin regularly. This means removing the uppermost layer of dead skin cells as thoroughly as possible without causing irritation. Exfoliation can be achieved through any number of means, but the methods are generally categorised as physical or chemical.

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation is achieved by applying special chemicals that dissolve dead skin. While the word "chemical" evokes images of laboratory concoctions, chemical exfoliation applies to natural products as well; for example, pineapple juice is known to contain enzymes that digest dead skin. Facial peels often contain a combination of acids derived from foods to slough off the top layer of skin. Natural ingredients may be combined with synthetic ones in a chemical exfoliant.

Chemical exfoliation is usually reserved for the facial skin. Applying chemical exfoliants to the entire body is time-consuming, costly, and generally unnecessary, as body skin can withstand vigorous scrubbing much more than the tender face. However, some cleansing and moisturising products do contain chemical exfoliants to supplement active exfoliation.

Physical Exfoliation

Physical exfoliation is achieved by force from a textured device or object that physically removes the dead skin cell layer. The following chart gives examples of both chemical and physical exfoliants.




Alpha hydroxy acids: citric, glycolic, lactic, and malic acid; beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid); enzymes; retinol (vitamin A)


Dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, washcloths, loofahs, mesh poufs, body brushes, Baiden mitten, Salux cloth, pumice stones, cream and gel scrubs

Note that while facial and body scrubs are technically chemical products, the manner in which they exfoliate the skin is physical in nature. Scrubs usually contain tiny natural particles or synthetic beads that remove dead cells when they are rubbed over the skin. Examples of natural particles include cornmeal, oatmeal, apricot kernels, and azuki beans. Still, these natural exfoliants can scratch the skin and should be used with caution on the face; they are better used on tougher body skin.

The key to exfoliation is to do it just enough but not too much; those who apply fake tan regularly should be careful to exfoliate just before reapplication, about every two to three days. Excessive exfoliation causes the tan to fade more rapidly, as cells are being removed more frequently. Keep in mind that shaving and waxing also remove the top layer of skin. It is best to wait at least one day after hair removal to fake tan in order to avoid irritation.

Secret 2: Frequent Moisturisation

Exfoliation is a must, but on the other side of the coin is moisturisation. After removing the dead cells, one must keep the newly revealed cells moist and soft. This prevents them from sloughing off too quickly and prolongs a fake tan. Moisturisers also enhance the look of a tan by adding a sheen to the skin. Applying a rich body lotion or cream after bathing or showering and hair removal processes is ideal.

Secret 3: Masterful Application

Smooth, even application is one of the keys to a perfect fake tan. Streaks are a telltale sign of a fake tanning novice. Slapping on body lotion haphazardly may work, but a more careful approach is required with fake tanners. The user must diligently massage the product into the skin so that the chemicals are distributed evenly over the entire skin surface.


Wearing gloves is the best way to prevent tanned or orange palms, a telltale sign of a fake tan. Disposable latex gloves are ideal and can actually be washed and reused several times to avoid waste. People who are allergic to latex can find vinyl and nitrile substitutes. Gloves allow the user to take time and rub the preparation thoroughly over the skin to avoid missed spots.

Working from the bottom up is best because bending over to reach the lower legs can cause tanner applied to the abdomen and other areas to settle into creases. After applying, it is important to stand, unclothed, until the product dries. Sitting down or reclining can cause the fake tan preparation to settle into creases and create an uneven colour. Be sure to avoid sweating or any moist environments that can cause the tanning lotion to run.

Secret 4: Body Part Attention

Different body parts require special attention when using fake tan products.


The back is notoriously difficult to reach, even for everyday washing and moisturising. Many people rely on a friend to apply sunscreen or suntan lotion to their back. Users can accept help from friends for fake tanning as well. An alternative is to find a tool to use, such as a foam paintbrush or a back brush covered with a glove. Try to reach all spots, and use two mirrors to view the back if necessary. A spray formulation is also a good option.

Elbows, Knees, and Feet

Because the skin on the elbows, knees, and feet is thicker and drier, there is a deeper layer of dead cells, which take on a dark colour more quickly than other skin on the body. The best plan of attack is to exfoliate these areas daily for several days before applying fake tan. Using moisturiser on these areas just before using the fake tan solution prevents the skin from absorbing too much of the chemical. Then, apply just the smallest amount of fake tan lotion; often, what is left on one’s hands after applying to another area is enough for the elbows and knees. Just the tiniest dab of lotion is sufficient for the tops of the feet. Continue to exfoliate these parts with each shower or bath in order to help lighten the colour.

Palms and Underarms

These areas of the body do not normally tan, so if they are evenly bronzed along with the rest of the skin, this is a dead giveaway of a fake tan. Gloves will help with the palms. Avoid the underarms when applying tanner and wipe them with a baby wipe or wet washcloth after finishing the application.

Secret 5: Streak Correction

If, after the fake tan develops, streaks have occurred, there are a few things a user can do. First, try exfoliating on a daily basis. Also, soaking in a milk bath (1 cup of milk in the tub) may help to fade the colour somewhat. Some experts recommend spot-applying white vinegar or lemon juice to the dark streaks with a cotton ball. Certain shops carry special tan-correcting preparations to help lighten a fake tan. Finally, use makeup and bronzers to even out the lighter areas. Most of all, do not give up. In a few days, exfoliate well and try again. The only way to perfect a fake tan is to keep practising.

Where to Find Fake Tanning Products

Fake tanning products, both lotions and sprays, are available at a variety of retailers. Options include chemists, grocers, department stores, and beauty supply shops. Alternatives such as direct sales representatives for specific cosmetics companies and mail-order catalogues are some other options. One can also order fake tan lotions and sprays online through retail stores and online auctions.

How to Buy Fake Tanning Products on eBay

You can find all of your fake tanning needs on eBay, from exfoliants and moisturisers to actual fake tan products. To shop, start at the home page and jump to all categories via the link. Next, browse through the available categories and find the one most likely to contain the product that you wish to look at. Continue to click on narrower categories until you arrive at the specific items you are interested in. This process only takes a few seconds. However, you can also try shopping by keywords. To do this, return to the home page and type a word or phrase into the Search box. You might try simply "fake tan" or get very specific by entering something like "Clarins Self Tanning Milk". Whether you choose the category search or the keyword search, once you get to the landing page, you can use further category filters to refine the search results. For example, you may indicate the desired brands, product condition (new or used), or price range.


For people who cannot bear the look of a pale complexion, a fake tan (aside from using make-up and temporary bronzers) is the healthiest way to tan. However, it takes skill to apply fake tan correctly. Exfoliating the skin before tanning and every few days thereafter is the best way to ensure an even, long-lasting colour. Regular moisturising gives the tan a youthful sheen and reduces the rate at which skin cells die and shed; this extends the life of the tan. Several application tips can make a difference, such as being careful with body parts that tend to darken too much or should not darken at all: the elbows, knees, tops of feet, underarms, and palms of the hands. Getting fake tan lotion onto the back can be done with a spray, by asking a friend to help, or by rigging up a tool to reach the back on one’s own. Most of all, just practise. Fake tan users can start by tanning just the legs. By the time they get to a full-body application, they are sure to have mastered the art of the perfect fake tan.

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