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How to get a streak free, long lasting tan

Feature: Long Read
Words by Anna Lao-Kaim

Self tan: for an “I woke up like this” glow, there’s no greater beauty invention. While many of us let our make-up palettes and hair tools gather dust during various lockdowns, self tan sales in the UK soared during 2020, with Market and Research analysts noting that self tanning has become a key element of our self-care routines. Given that the best fake tans can instantly lift your complexion, save you valuable time in the morning and create the impression that you’ve sailed away somewhere exotic (even if you’ve been deskbound), it’s no surprise that a streak free tan is increasingly considered a mood-booster.  

For every happy tanner, however, there’s someone desperately seeking a streak free tan. Google searches for ‘how to remove fake tan fast' have increased by 40 per cent in the past year, indicating that many of us are seeking a solution for patchy tans. At the other end of the spectrum, when your tan does go to plan, you want to make natural fake tans last longer. Enter, the tanning experts. Skin finishing specialist and brand founder Amanda Harrington is responsible for making the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Poppy Delevingne glow on global red carpets. Michaella Bolder is both a facialist to the stars and St Tropez’s resident tanning expert, while founder of Tan Luxe, Mark Elrick, spent five years perfecting his ‘skincare first’ tanning formulas before launching his award-winning brand. Read on for their streak free tanning tips, then discover the best fake tans for face and body that get glowing reviews from the pros.   

How to apply and prolong your tan

1. Exfoliate

The golden rule of getting a streak free tan? It’s all in the prep according to Amanda. “We prep our face with skincare and primers before applying make-up and use hair products before styling our hair, and tanning is no different. Preparing your face and body for self tan always delivers the best streak free tan results."

“First, remove any unwanted body hair 24 hours before applying fake tan. This will prevent self tan from clogging pores. Next, exfoliate skin to remove dead skin cells. This is so important as it’ll help self tan to blend and be absorbed into skin more evenly. Focus on rough spots such as elbows, knees, ankles and heels – fake tan notoriously collects around these areas.”

Sol de Janeiro Bum Bum Scrub will bring holiday vibes straight to your bathroom, or buff skin smooth using the dual-sided Face Halo Body. “Applying a barrier cream (try Amanda Harrington Ultra Balm Cream) to dry areas after exfoliation can help to prevent streaks and patchiness”, says Amanda.

2. Hydrate

For a streak free tan, Amanda explains that “when your skin is perfectly hydrated, your tan will last longer, look more radiant and fade more evenly.” She advises looking out for specific tan primers “to extend your tan and make it glow even more. Apply a thin layer all over your body before tanning as you would a moisturiser.” Just steer clear of heavy lotions, moisturisers and body oils as these can prevent tan from absorbing evenly into your skin.

3. Choose a separate fake tan for face

Now you’re ready for the main event: perfecting your streak free tan. But before you begin, ensure that you’re working with the right tanning formula (you’ll find a breakdown of different tanning textures below). Pay particular attention when it comes to fake tan for your face. Amanda underlines that “it’s best to use different products when tanning the face as our faces are exposed to the elements. UV damage, pollution and the fact that our face is the first body part to show signs of ageing means that we need a tailored fake tan formula.”

What to choose? “A fine, lightweight texture works best on delicate facial skin, as it won’t gather in fine lines”. A mist or facial tanning serum with hydrating benefits will work wonders for a streak free tan.

4. Use a tan applicator

Tanning is not the time for finger painting. The right tools can make applying fake tan quicker and far less messy, plus the results will be seamless (and yep, you guessed it, streak free). Supermodel Ashley Graham favours applying St Tropez Purity Face Mist with a make-up brush to work it evenly into skin and Amanda loves tanning brushes so much that she designed her own range of face and body brushes for tan application. “Tanning brushes change your application game. By buffing fake tan into your skin, you reach deeper levels of the epidermis, resulting in a longer lasting streak free tan.”

Wear gloves when using tanning brushes to prevent stained palms and pick up any product excess. A tanning mitt is also a great way to apply fake tan to your body and avoid streaks – just be sure to clean it regularly.

5. Opt for tan-friendly skincare

Keeping skin soft, smooth and hydrated will prolong your streak free tan – Amanda recommends looking out for serums and moisturisers containing hyaluronic acid. As for what to skip, Amanda warns to steer clear of active ingredients that can accelerate the fading process of fake tan. “Avoid retinol, chemical exfoliants and oils to prevent your tan from breaking down.”

How to remove fake tan

Ended up with a streaky tan despite your best efforts? Amanda urges you not to panic. “Glycolic acid can lift away unwanted tan easily and effectively from the face and body”. Try Amanda Harrington New Skin Advanced Glycolic Facial Pads for a quick fix. “You can also sit in a hot, oily bath to soak the tan away. When you get out of the bath, brush skin in an upwards direction with an old towel to lift the top layer of tan off. Repeat again the next day if necessary”. Starting afresh and looking for our best tan buys? Scroll down!

Our favourite fake tan products

Tanning Drops and Serums

Morphe Faux Show Sunless Tanning Face & Body Drops

Tanning drops and serums allow you to tailor your tan to suit your skin tone and desired streak free finish. Tanning drops can be added to an existing serum or moisturiser – try Morphe Faux Show Sunless Tanning Face & Body Drops for a bespoke all over glow. Tanning serums, meanwhile, contain nourishing skincare ingredients and replace the serum step in your skincare routine. Marc explains that “skincare-enriched formulas mean that you can choose your self tanner not only based on your preferred texture, but also according to function – whether hydration is your focus or you’re looking for specific ingredients to address premature ageing.” Tan Luxe Super Glow Hyaluronic Self Tan Serum is a particular powerhouse if hydration is your priority. It was the most Googled self tan of 2020, and for good reason.

Tanning Lotion

St Tropez Classic Bronzing Lotion

Tanning milks and tanning lotions are traditional self tanning formulas that are especially suited to dry skin. Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) – the active ingredient in fake tan that reacts with your skin to create a bronzed look – can have a drying effect on the skin, so if you're prone to dry patches, a tanning milk or lotion will help to offset this. St Tropez Classic Bronzing Lotion is a fail-safe streak free tan choice, or replace your everyday body lotion or moisturiser with a gradual tan. “I’d always recommend a gradual tanner for beginners”, says Mark. “The formula works with a lower percentage DHA, so you can apply regularly for a hydrated glow that builds over time, as opposed to just one application.” 

Tanning Mousse

Light as air and quick to both dry and blend, tanning mousse is perfect if you need to glow in a hurry. You’ll achieve a smooth, streak free tan if you apply mousse directly to a tanning mitt and smooth it over skin. As always, you may need to recruit a helping hand or attach your mitt to a handle in order to apply on your back.  

  • St Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse

    The best express mousse

    St Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse works its bronzing magic in just one hour, compared to the usual six to eight hours that it normally takes for fake tan to develop. If you have darker skin, leave it on for three hours for a deeper colour.

  • Tan Luxe Hydra Mousse

    The best moisturising mousse

    Tan Luxe Hydra Mousse (at H beauty and coming soon to Harrods.com) brings vitamins C, E and B5 into the mix to protect and condition skin. The clear formula won’t transfer onto clothing and it delivers “a deep, full-body glow that lasts up to a week and fades like a natural tan would,” according to Marc.

Tanning Mist

Tanning mists are Amanda’s preferred streak free tan option for the face, thanks to the even distribution of product and weightless texture. Try Amanda Harrington The Jet Set Duo for a ‘mist and go’ bronzing kit. Michaella Bolder loves the fact that tanning mists are quick and simple to apply. “As we wash our face and hands so often, we need to top up our tan more on these areas. A daily spritz of St Tropez Purity Vitamins Bronzing Water Body Mist is perfect for hands – just make a claw shape and apply the fine mist. There’s no need to wash it off.”

Amanda Harrington The Jet Set Duo

Tanning Gel

Cooling and soothing, tanning gels absorb quickly to prevent streaking. Michaella especially loves to use tanning gel “to contour cheekbones”. Just dab it over the high points of your face and blend. Sensai Silky Bronze Self Tanner for Face is an especially refreshing streak free tan option – it contains 70 per cent water and Koishimaru silk extract for a smooth finish. Sisley Mat Phyto-Touche Gel, meanwhile, contains light-reflecting pigments for a luminous yet low key finish (think glowy, not glittery).

Tanning Oil

Not the baby oil that was a 70s sunlounger staple (whether you’re wearing fake tan or not, SPF is essential), but rather nourishing oils infused with self tanning technology. Tan Luxe Sleep Oil (at H beauty and coming soon to Harrods.com) is one such innovation. An overnight tan that delivers a sunlit glow in eight hours, it’s packed with six antioxidant-rich plant oils to strengthen and brighten skin, with red microalgae extract to drip-feed skin with moisture over 24 hours. The oil texture itself also helps to create welcome radiance for dry and dehydrated skin, meaning you’re much more likely to nail that streak free tan.

Instant Tan

French Girl Lumière Bronze Shimmer Oil

For a temporary streak free tan in a flash, instant tan (as the name implies) provides immediate colour with zero development time. Instant tan doesn’t contain the active tanning agent DHA, so it’ll wash off at the end of the day – but on the plus side, there’s no hanging out in the bathroom waiting for your fake tan to dry. It’s also easy to correct if you apply a little too much or do end up with a few streaks, and it’s the ideal tan for sensitive skin that can’t tolerate DHA. Shimmering formulas help to light up the body – try French Girl Lumière Bronze Shimmer Oil over limbs and even smoothed over hair for a top-to-toe beachy feel. Matte instant tans such as Morphe Glamabronze Face & Body Bronzer create a velvety effect and are perfect for oily skin.

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