How to Achieve the Perfect Fake Tan

Orange you glad we asked an expert?

My mother’s the Asian woman who carries a sizable umbrella, open and unapologetic, in the middle of the summer when it’s sunny, 92 degrees, and blistering hot out. Go ahead, chuckle. Laugh even. God knows that for 20 years, I did the same.

Of course, everything changed when I realized my ugly band of freckles, the same one that oh-so-prominently lines the bridge of my nose, is permanent. Whether it the mark of a defiantly stubborn daughter or the walking proof of ultraviolet light-exposed skin, I never quite appreciated outdoor tanning as much as I did in my teenage years.

Enter sunless tanning. My savoir! Asian I might be, but absolutely not a pale one at that!

For those of you scared equally senseless by the thought of unnecessary hyperpigmentation, I sought out the tanning industry’s leading expert for his exact how-tos on at-home tanning.

Keep reading and thank me later!

Hi, James! Can you tell the LoDown family a little bit more about yourself? I heard that you were drawn to self-tanning at a young age!

James Read 2016 Head Shot for web

I started using tanning wipes when I was 12 or 13 years old and loved the results.

I always burn in the sun but loved being tan so self-tanning was the best option.

I spent more than 15 years in the tanning industry building my name, creating both trends and seasonal tans.

Since starting my own brand, I’ve introduced products that combine skincare and tanning with a specific concentration on facial tanners.

I think we all know the dangers of actual tanning. Sun damage is no joke. Are the chemicals we’re applying to our skin via self-tanners that much better?

DHA only reacts to the top layer of your dead skin cells. The tan doesn’t actually penetrate your skin. That’s why it fades after six or seven days when you exfoliate away the dead skin cells.

My products incorporate skincare and tanning. Because DHA can sometimes be drying, my products simultaneously hydrate the skin.

[Editor’s Note: DHA or dihydroxyacetone is an active ingredient derived from sugar beets and sugar canes through the fermentation of glycerin. It’s a colorless chemical that interacts with the amino acids in our dead skin cells to make them turn brown in color.]

What are some general tips and tricks at-home tanners should know?

For the most natural bronzed look, you should:

  • Shave and exfoliate a day before applying your tan.
  • Moisturize all dry areas to prevent them from absorbing too much tan and drying patchy.
  • Always, always, always use a tanning mitt when applying your self-tan. This makes for an easier application process. It also prevents your hands from ending up a shade or two darker than the rest of your body!
  • On that note, remember to look out for the opposite problem. Wait for as long as you can, six to seven hours after applying your self-tan, before washing your hands. This way, you won’t end up with extra pale palms.
  • Remember to apply your self-tan in sweeping motions starting from the top of your body and ending with your hands and feet.
  • Apply talcum powder around your chest and armpit area to maintain your color if you exercise frequently or sweat easily. This will stop your tan from breaking down and streaking.

Say, for some reason, I mess up. We’re talking the fake-sick-and-hide kind of mess up. Do I really have to wait for my color to fade or can I do something to fix my problem?

The easiest way to fix a dark tan is to find yourself a steam room and sit in it for 20 minutes. This will help take your tan down a couple shades. Otherwise, you can rub Nivea wipes over your skin to reduce the color and blend out patchy areas.

Soaking a wash cloth in a mixture of lemon and lime juice, microwaving it for a minute or so until it’s warm, and rubbing it along your skin can also help break down the tan.

How about Oompa Loompas? How can some people end up with such orange tans?

They over-apply their self-tans!

The easiest way to avoid this is to apply your tan in layers. Once you’ve reached your desired color, stop! If you aren’t sure whether or not you need an extra layer, check by taking a selfie with the flash on.

Sometimes people can end up with unnatural colors if they forget to remove a pre-existing tan before applying a new one. It’s important to exfoliate at least once a week to remove both dead skin cells and old color. If that’s too much of a hassle, however, let current your tan fade evenly before re-applying a new one!

Why do self-tanners have a distinct smell? Is there a way to avoid it?

The smell you’re describing is simply your skin reacting to the tanner. You can minimize the smell by washing and moisturizing your body with fragrance free products.

My H20 Tan Mist, for example, has a 96% natural formulation. Its scent is rosy and refreshing!

It actually is! Can you tell me a little bit more about the magic behind your mist?

The James Read Gradual Tan H20 Tan Mist

My H20 Tan Mist is a 3-in-1 mist that combines skincare with cooling technology and a touch of self-tan. It’s created with 96% rose water, minerals and vitamins, and a small percentage of organic DHA which will give you that subtle bronzed glow.

The formula doesn’t highlight pigmentation or age spots and doesn’t transfer onto clothing so feel free to spritz generously over your face up to three times a day. Because the mist is so fine, you won’t ever make a mistake.

Speaking of mistakes, isn’t your Gradual Tan collection super beginner-friendly?

Yes! I designed the product to be fool proof and to suit all skin tones, not too dark and not too light. When you apply it, it isn’t too strong on the skin. If you make a mistake, it’s not highlighted as much.

Okay, last question! How do I go about self-tanning my face? There are all these YouTube tutorials on how to self-tan your body, but your face? Not so much.


  1. Rub an ice cube along your face to close your pores and prevent dark, uneven patches of color from forming before applying your self-tan.
  2. Dab coconut oil to your eyebrows to prevent self-tan buildup on your brow hairs.
  3. Apply the self-tan to your face with your hands! It’s best to use a gradual tanner so that you can feel its texture as you apply it onto your skin. Remember to wash your hands immediately after the application!
  4. Dab cotton balls with your self-tan and lightly pat them over your neck and jawline to blend your new face color in with the rest of your body.
  5. Rub a cotton bud dipped in toner along your hairline to complete the natural look.
  6. Use a hydrating face mask a few days after applying your self-tan to make it last longer.
  7. You can even use my Tantour Sculpting Duo to highlight your cheek bones and create that subtle contoured look.
  8. If you’re new to self-tanning, the H2O Tan Mist works just fine. Spray it a few times across your face and you’ll see results in about 3 to 4 hours!


Do you have any beauty questions that need answering? Myths that require some investigating? Ask away in the comments below!