When fake tan goes wrong

When Fake Tan Goes Wrong

When fake tan goes wrong…

Every time I decide to take a vacation, or do something else fun, there’s a little part of my brain (probably the same part that makes my eyebrows itchy when I haven’t tweezed them for a day, and convinces me I’m dying every time I get a headache) that pipes up and says, “You know, I bet I could ruin this exciting/important event, purely by making myself look like a total freaking idiot. I think I will use fake tan to do it.”

So it is that I’ve gone through almost all of the important days in my life with bright orange feet and a bit of a strange smell about me – you know, like the kind of smell you get from FAKE TAN.

Now, before I go any further down this road (this road that you can already see the end of, dear reader, can’t you?), I just want to pre-empt some of the comments I always get when I write about my fake tanning exploits, by saying that yes, I KNOW. I know fake tan makes you look orange. I know it often goes streaky. I know it has that strange, slightly mouldy smell, and leaves a Turin Shroud style outline of your body on the bedsheets. And yes, I know there’s nothing wrong with pale skin. I actually like pale skin. It is very lovely. I know all of these things.


The thing is, my skin isn’t so much “white” as it’s “mottled grey”. Seriously, if you ever happened to be lost on a dark night, you could use my bare legs to light your way home, no problem. Think Renee Zellweger, only with a greyish tinge. That’s me. So, while I’m happy to embrace my paleness for fifty weeks of the year (and let’s face it, with the weather we get here, the only parts of my skin that are exposed most of the time are my face and hands, and sometimes not even them. See ‘Scotland, and how it sucks’ from earlier this week for reference), on the very rare occasions when my legs are revealed by shorts or bikinis, I do like them to have a bit of colour to them. Just a bit, mind. I use self-tan moisturiser and aim for the “sun-kissed glow” promised on the bottle rather than the full-on “Footballer’s Wife Orange” that so many seem to favour. I just want to take the edge of the greyness, ya know? IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

Apparently so. As the years have passed, I’ve tried just about every brand of fake tan on the market. Some have worked out, some… haven’t. Actually, let’s be honest: most haven’t. And yet, still I persist with this fool’s mission. You could call this the triumph of hope over reason, but let’s face it, you could also call it, “complete and utter stupidity”, because that’s basically what it is.

You can see where I’m going with this story, can’t you?

Well, on Tuesday I decided to kick off the annual fake tan fiasco, so that I’d be all orange and streaky in time for my holiday. I picked Tuesday so that when the first application went horribly patchy, as I knew it would, I would still have time to apply further layers to even things out. No, that really DOESN’T sound like it would work, does it? Yeah, that’s because it doesn’t. Don’t try it at home, kids.

Obviously, the first application didn’t work out so good. In fact, I woke up on Wednesday looking like a jigsaw puzzle. So, naturally, I slapped some more of the stuff on. And now I kinda wish I’d just slapped myself instead, because that second layer of fake tan? Yeah, not so good.

This left me in an awkward position. (No, really: I had to stand around naked with my arms in the air for ages waiting for it to dry.) With only a few short days to go before I need to expose my mottled grey flesh to the world, I had somehow managed to acquire the Worst Tan in the History of the World Ever.

Well, I tried everything to get that tan off. I tried lemon juice. I tried hydrogen peroxide. I tried good old soap and water. (I didn’t try baking soda or the special fake tan remover you can get because we don’t OWN any baking soda, and the fake tan remover didn’t work the last time, so I wouldn’t really expect it to work this time, either). I tried getting down on my knees and praying. Finally, I tried the one thing I know works to at least some extent (and which I totally don’t recommend you ever try yourself because I don’t want you suing me when it all goes horribly wrong): nail polish remover. Yes, nail polish remover. It will generally take off the worst bits of a fake tan disaster, but like I said, I don’t recommend it, and it can only do so much – as it did in this case.

Then I said “Screw this,” got out the fake tan bottle and slapped on some more.

No, I don’t know how it is I got to be this clever either. All I can say is that the early signs seem to be positive. If it doesn’t work out this time, I’m going to give up and hope it fades before Monday. And I would like to say that I’ve learned my lesson from this experience, but that would be a lie, so instead I will say, “Tune in next year for the next thrilling installement of ‘When Will Amber Learn That Fake Tan & Utter Stupidity Don’t Mix?'”

Um, anyone got any other fake tan removal tips? You know, just in case….


The best fake tan for pale skin

Best self tanner

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books by Amber Eve
  • Amy


    From another ghostly white woman to another: rubbing alcohol (isopropyl or whatever it's called)! But I've only used this on my ankles/feet elbows to lighten those areas. Another method I've tried is to slather on the moisturizer, get in the bathtub for an hour, and scrub! Good luck!

    May 29, 2008
  • I do the SAME EXACT THING every summer. I usually do just my legs, because I feel like somehow the streaky, fake tan tricks the eye into thinking that my legs are thin and shapely. But I generally give up by June when I just can't stand the orange stain on my clothes and terrible scent that no amount of perfume can mask.

    May 29, 2008
  • I feel your pain. I am less of a mottled grey, more of a sort of blue-tinged translucent. A few years back I can clearly remember the summer I spent studying in Stirling, having a perfect fake tan that I did ALL BY MYSELF. I exfoliated, I moisturised, I used one of those application mitts… and I have never ONCE been able to replicate my success! All I can think is that having no TV, no internet and limited lectures/seminars to attend left me an enormous amount of spare time for buffing and toning. I don't remember it that way, but it's the only explanation.

    Well, that or aliens!

    May 30, 2008
  • Whitey White


    Tips for getting it off….well, I don't really have any….exfoliate and wear long sleeved shirts.

    However, being incredibly white myself, and unable to "fake and bake" for health reasons, I have found 2 ways to self tan and look semi-natural.

    The first, a gradual approach is Tan Towels….they're like little towelettes that you use to wipe your hands after you eat saucy chicken wings and they give a reasonably even tan that gets slightly darker with ever application.

    The second, a Spray Tan booth will give you a very nice all-over tan instantly, leaving you looking like miss Hawaiian Tropic in a few short hours.

    Maintain both of those with a "natural glow" moisturizer and you're all set.

    May 30, 2008
  • Terry


    To anyone that is interested, Amber looks like a tiger right now.

    And if you don't believe me, check out this picture I took of her while she wasn't looking!


    May 30, 2008
  • Thanks for the tips folks, will be bookmarking this page for future reference. Luckily the third layer of fake tan seems to have worked, so I am now looking less like Terry's illustration and more like an actual human being, albeit a slightly streaky one.

    All that could change though, for I have just returned from the supermnarket, where I purchased FAKE TAN FOR THE FACE! Ah well, in for a penny…

    May 30, 2008
  • bri lee


    I always find the spray tan booth to be the best bet, but having very dry skin sometimes i get patchy even if i use lotion far ahead of the appointment. A cheaper option, and I'm not sure if they have it in Scotland, would be Jergens natural glow. It's a gradual lotion/tanner and even if you mess up its hardly noticed and comes off the next day if you want it to.

    May 30, 2008
  • Danielle


    It's my goal this year to actually get pale. I brown just THINKING about the sun, so I'm trying to avoid skin cancer this year.

    May 30, 2008
  • See, the only and only time I ever plucked up the courage to book a spray tan, I turned up at the appointed time (the day before a trip to Greece) only for the owner of the salon to take one look at me and basically hound me out of the place. She said that the stuff dries so fast that unless you rub it in REALLY quickly and carefully, it will make a mess, and she said that on my super-pale skin (See, I really wasn't joking about that) any mistakes would be really, really obvious.

    I think she maybe read my blog, realised how accident prone I am, and didn't want want me to sue her or something.

    Anyway, she suggested I just buy a bottle of St Tropez and do it myself, but the only place open at that time of night was the supermarket, which didn't have St Tropez I(and actually, I've managed to make an almighty mess with it too, so there's no saying it would've worked any better) so I bought a random tanning gel, slapped it on when I got home… and woke up for our early flight the next morning looking like a tiger.

    Maybe I should give the tanning booth another chance?

    May 30, 2008
  • oh dear sounds like a right palavva…

    some ideas i have read are leaving lemon juice on overnight, has to be a cut lemon, or bathing in it…whitening toothpaste, but test first, tanning removal wipes…

    I would suggest a sugar and olive oil scrub or salt scrub and gently rubbing in shower…

    I would try another salon next time..i dont think i go through with self tanning for the reasons you have said lol, would try every professional till someone did see me…how about trying well before holidays so you have a good idea what to expect and can make a decision for when you really need it…also the college have a reasonably priced salon with supervised students, how about a visit there…have had a few treatments done there..

    May 30, 2008
  • Very funny, Terry 🙂 I actually thought it'd be a picture of an actual tiger, but that's even better…

    As for getting it off, there's only one answer I've found. Cif. The cream stuff is best. I once tried Viakal but it didn't work, so stick to the Cif. Yes, it hurts, but it gets rid of the stuff!

    May 30, 2008
  • Melissa


    I heard witch hazel works to remove it. Also, exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate! That could at least lessen it so it's not so noticeable.

    May 31, 2008
  • Kristen


    I also recommend Jergens natural glow, though ONLY the lightest formula, as I found it too easy to get overly confident. Being as I'm (according to my first, charming boyfriend) "butt white", when I noticed success that didn't seem to be orange, I promoted myself to the next formula up and -of course – ended up looking like an Oompa Loompa from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I gave up, and have accepted my inevitable life as one who will look sickly forever.

    To feel better about your trip to Florida, maybe you could go back to the place with the air tunnel and get a picture and just tell people it was your lifelong dream to recreate that moment as an Oompa Loompa flying in the tunnel as if you were in the actual movie?? If you can't fix it, fake it, I say!

    May 31, 2008
  • OK, so Jergens Natural Glow has been added to my (extremely long) list of "Things I must buy in America". Don't THINK we have it over here, but will try it out next week, anwyay.

    Thanks again for all the removal suggestions, folks – lots here I hadn't heard of. The current crisis has now passed (I just kept layering on more tan until you couldn't see the streaks any more. Because I am stupid. I look a bit like Victoria Beckham now, but meh…)

    Toni – Cif, as in the household cleaner?!

    May 31, 2008
  • This is why I go to the salon and do the spray tan. It isn't as orangey and it goes on even because it sprays it on you. For the most part. I always eff up my hands and leave huge white spots.

    June 4, 2008
  • Katy Dyer


    Right girls! this may sound brutal but have you tried ciff/jiff cream. It works really well, it lightens the tan and makes any streaks and mistakes practically disappear. Theres no need for harsh scrubbing with it either. Obviously remember to moisturize straight after! For me, my sisters and friends this seems to work a treat.
    Just in case it helps – im a deathly super white , lightly freckled, green eyed girl 🙂

    April 21, 2011
  • I’m not extremely pale, but my legs seem to be two shades paler than the rest of me and show every vein, small mark and tiny spot and manages to make them look VERY obvious. I do trampolining so when I’m about to be parading around in a leotard with my legs out you bet I’m cracking the fake tan open.

    I love St. Moritz – I get mine from BodyCare and it’s super cheap at £4 – but works amazingly at getting just a nice hint of colour on my legs – I would recommend using a tanning mitt with it though. I use the medium one, it comes out as a mousse and it’s quite quick drying (max 5 mins). No-one has ever noticed that I have fake tan on, which is a massive bonus!

    I’ve never tried them myself but my mum swears on Primark fake tan wipes – the colour definitely looks tanned and not orange. I also think Superdrug do ‘Fake Tan Corrector Wipes’ which might be a shout if your looking to fade the tiger ASAP.

    August 11, 2015