Orange Palms and Streaks: How to Fix Your Worst Self-Tanner Mistakes

From Ross Geller’s tanning-booth disaster in Friends to Anne Hathaway’s pre-wedding fake tan gone wrong in Bride Wars, self-tanner disasters are a popular plot line. It’s understandable why they offer rife material for comedic exploitation, considering how terrified people are of messing up self-tanner, and how visibly obvious a screw-up can be.

I think this fear stems in large part from the weird shame people have about using self-tanner in the first place, which Leandra touches on in her epic self-tanner confession. Why is it so taboo?? Perhaps because the tell-tale self-tanner scent also stinks of try-hardness.

I’m certainly not immune to the intimidation factor. Despite receiving and loving three spray tans over the course of my life (if I had unlimited funds I would seriously get them every week during the summer — that’s how great they make me feel), I have never tried applying a fake tan at home. I’m worried I’ll mess it up.

This summer, though, I resolved to conquer The Fear, because I’m a grown-ass woman and I want a fake tan without paying $75, dammit! Two weeks ago, I took the initiative to order a tiny, travel-size bottle of St. Tropez Classic Bronzing Mousse, plus a corresponding application mitt. But once my purchases arrived, The Fear overtook me, and my momentum stopped there. I decided if I was truly going to take the plunge, I needed to arm myself with information about how to prevent self-tanning disasters, and how to mitigate them if any managed to slip through the cracks of my careful preparation.

I reached out to Tamar Vezirian, founder of Gotham Glow (my favorite spray tan salon in NYC — also the only one I’ve ever tried, but that’s because I was so happy with the results and didn’t feel the need to stray) and asked for some advice about how to deal with my biggest fake-tanning fears…


If you were to ask why the prospect of a streaky fake tan instills more terror in me than encountering a serial killer, I would shrug and run away. Apparently I just need to chill out, though: “Sometimes streaks will appear initially and then fade or disappear completely after your first post-tanning rinse,” Tamar assured me. If they don’t, you can remedy the situation with items from your pantry: “Baking soda is great for fading down color” she said. “Mixed with water, the paste acts as a mild abrasive for buffing down or smoothing out unwanted tones.” To prevent streaking from happening in the first place, Tamar recommends exfoliating with a loofah and body wash *before* applying self-tanner. “Don’t use a scrub with sugar and oil though,” she cautioned. “That combination will leave a barrier on your skin and prevent the self-tanner from absorbing.”

Too Tan

After witnessing the traumatic, too-tan fates of Ross Geller and Anne Hathaway (I know I could Google her Bride Wars character’s name, but I’m having a lot of fun just calling her Anne Hathaway), I am terrified of going overboard. I want my tan to look like Gisele Bündchen’s — not an Oompa Loompa’s. Fortunately Tamar is like the Olivia Pope of Oompa Loompa tanning incidents. “If you don’t feel good about how your tan has developed, a steam shower or a long soak is your best friend,” she said. “Steam opens up your pores, which breaks down the pigments in the tan. You can also further fade unwanted color by doubling up with an exfoliating mitt and an oil-based scrub.” I obviously also had to ask her about the efficacy of Anne Hathaway’s post-tanning disaster remedy of choice: taking a bath in lemon slices. “The acidity of lemon juice can help break down a tan,” she confirmed. This was great news to me because I’ve always wanted to take a bath in lemon slices since witnessing that scene, Oompa Loompa or not.

Not Tan Enough

I didn’t want to put all this effort into self-tanning and emerge looking like my same self — a.k.a. not tan enough — so I inquired about how to prevent this outcome. “I would recommend starting out with a gradual self-tanning product,” Tamar said. “That way you have more control over the color and can add another layer if need be.” Easy enough!

Orange Palms

Ah, the dreaded orange palms scenario, or as I like to call it: Accidental Cheeto Thief. “Wearing gloves is the easiest way to avoid orange palms when applying self-tanner,” Tamar said. If you don’t have gloves and end up with Cheeto bandit hands, you can use a mixture of baking soda and water (plus lemon, if you have it) to buff away the surplus color. Who knew fixing self-tanner mistakes was easier than whipping up citrus-y summer cocktail?

After purchasing a box of baking soda and a bag of lemons earlier this week as a precautionary measure, I finally overcame The Fear, basting myself in tanning mousse like a summer turkey. I showered the next morning and was pleased to find myself golden brown and streak-free. There was a little bit of weird orange discoloration on my heels — probably because I didn’t exfoliate my calluses thoroughly enough — but I used the baking soda-paste trick to slough it off and IT WORKED. I felt like a mad scientist. With a great tan.

Photography: Louisiana Mei Gelpi
Creation Direction: Emily Zirimis

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  • Verónica Villarroel

    deal! Taking notes!

    Have a nice day,

    Youtube Channel: NEW VIDEO: LIVE

  • Meg S

    I went to the beach for a week once. When I came back to work, someone asked me if I had even gone outside. My fear of burning (what always happens before I tan), skin damage and skin cancer (because my dad’s had 3 cancerous moles removed) leaves me with no recourse. I haven’t spray tanned because I think it will look weird, but I can’t wear anything off-white because it’s the same color as my skin. I can’t leave the house without blush because I’ll get asked if I’m sick.

    I have self tanner anxiety. Will I ever get over it? Who knows? I’ve been known to stare enviously at my coworkers tans (natural or otherwise). At least my bestie and I can have a pale skin contest.

    • ANY 1301

      Hi Meg! My skin tone is very fair too and i always get asked if i am sick. Also i am getting (unasked) advice to get my iron levels checked (which i am doing every now and then but it’s all fine). I am just pale and am sharing your fear of burning, skin damage and skin cancer (lost one of my closest friend to skin cancer and it was so so horrible seeing her suffering so much). I tried many self tanners and they were mostly “misses”! However i found my holy grail in the Bondi Sands Everyday Tanning Foam. It’s a foam that applies easily with bare hands, it is transparent and does not smell as gross as most self tanners. You don’t even need a mitt for applications and it builds your tan gradually. It looks very natural and it is the only product i would recommend to family and friends. It is not sold in stores in Switzerland however, you can order online with worldwide shipping. Hope this helps! Have a wonderful summer and take care! Hugs from Zurich! =)

      • Meg S

        Thank you! I’ll look into it. I was just in Germany and if I had known about this, I would have looked for it. I bought some things that aren’t sold in the US yet. I should probably get my iron levels checked too, as I haven’t had any lab work done in almost a year. My doctor never mentioned a problem with them before. I think I’m just naturally pale. It runs in the family.

        I hope you have a wonderful summer too. I definitely miss the European weather already!

  • Thanks for all these tips! Being the type of Irish that glows in the sun, and gives off vibes of having been dipped in a giant bucket of white paint, I’ve always dreamt of a real tan… or a fake one. I’ll give it another try!

    *off to buy lemons and baking soda*

    Meg @