Testing Fake Tan Remover: How Does It Work?

Testing Fake Tan Remover: How Does It Work?

If you’ve ever used fake tan, you’ll know that after a few days it can start to flake off, and if you’ve applied it unevenly you’ll want to buff out the stain ASAP.

I was pretty excited when I saw Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser ($19.99 AUD for 200 mL). It’s a product that claims to remove fake tan – as someone who has had a lot of fake tan mishaps, I had to know whether it worked or not!

Testing Fake Tan Remover: How Does It Work?

A quick refresher on how fake tan works, from my previous post on the topic (The Science of How Fake Tan Works): fake tan contains ingredients (usually dihydroxyacetone or DHA) which reacts with amino acids in the top layers of your skin to form a variety of brown compounds via a Maillard reaction over the next 1-3 days. This stains the top layers, and the tan slowly fades as your skin sheds (or desquamates, if you want to be fancy).

There are generally three types of tan removing product:

  • Immediate removal: These are generally just cleanser, which washes away the fake tan before it has a chance to sink into the skin and react.
  • Scrubs (physical exfoliants): This mechanically buffs away the dead skin cells faster than they would normally drop off. Unfortunately, this usually requires you to scrub your skin raw to really get rid of the tan.
  • Chemical exfoliants: These loosen your dead skin cells and helps them come off faster than they normally would.

Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser is in the third category. The (not so) secret ingredient in it, and most other similar chemical exfoliant fake tan removers, is urea. Urea is naturally present in your skin as part of the hydrating natural moisturising factor, and acts as a humectant moisturiser as well as a chemical exfoliant that helps loosen the top dead layers of your skin. Urea’s an ingredient that doesn’t get a lot of love, and it tends to be (in my opinion) massively underused in skincare products. It’s a bit more popular in Europe for some reason, and it’s in a few hardcore heel and hand creams like Du’it Tough Hands, PurSources Foot Cream and Eucerin Intensive Lotion.

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Bondi Sands Gradual Tan Comparison and Review

Bondi Sands Gradual Tan Comparison and Review

Bondi Sands make some of my favourite fake tan products. Here in Australia they’re pretty affordable and easy to find. Since I’m pretty slapdash at applying fake tan, I much prefer gradual tan products – that way all my uneven applications can average out over a few days, and no one has to see me as a splotchy oompa loompa (although that tends to happen regardless). Bondi Sands has a huge range, including 6 different gradual tan products at the moment, all of which contain both dihydroxyacetone for rapidly developing colour, and erythrulose for a longer-lasting tan. Here’s my review of 4 of them: Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk, Everyday Gradual Tanning Foam, Everyday Gradual Tanning Foam for Men, and Everyday Liquid Gold Gradual Tanning Oil.

Bondi Sands Gradual Tan Comparison and Review

Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk

Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk (375 mL, $17.99 AUD at Priceline, $29.99 at Amazon) was my first Bondi Sands product. As I’ve reviewed before, has a light cocoa butter scent that effectively masks fake tan smell. It dries quite quickly, and is reasonably moisturising, which is important because well-moisturised skin makes the tan apply more evenly and fade more slowly.

Since I last reviewed the Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk, Bondi Sands seems to have changed the bottle from round to flat. It still has the convenient pump lid that’s a winner when you’re trying to juggle mitts and sticky skin. It also applies nicely with your hands as well, if you don’t have a mitt handy.

Ingredients: Water, Dihydroxyacetone, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Cocoglycerides, Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Laureth-7, Isopropyl Palmitate, Glyceryl Stearate, Phenoxyethanol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Isobutylparaben, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Fragrance, Polyacrylamide, Ethylparaben, Cetyl Phosphate, Triethanolamine, Erythrulose, Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben.

Everyday Gradual Tanning Foam

Everyday Gradual Tanning Foam (270 mL, $19.99 AUD at Priceline, $29.99 at Amazon) has the same cocoa butter scent as the Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk, but in a watery foam format. It’s a clear liquid that comes in a bottle with a foaming pump on top. It works a lot better with a mitt than bare hands, since the foam dies down into flat liquid pretty quickly. I found it easier to spread than the milk but it didn’t give quite as intense a tan, probably because it was very easy to apply a lot less. Applying two layers made a big difference, and didn’t take any more time because it dried so quickly.

This performed surprisingly well moisturisation-wise, even though I wasn’t expecting too much from such a light textured product. Price-wise it works out to be dearer than the Milk, but the convenience factor makes up for that in my opinion.

Ingredients: Aqua, Propylene Glycol, Trideceth-9, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Polysorbate 20, Dihydroxyacetone, Ethoxydiglycol, PEG-5 Ethylhexanoate, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Erythrulose, PEG-12 Dimethicone, Sodium Metabisulfite, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Parfum, Benzyl Alcohol, Disodium EDTA.

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Facial Tan Product Review: Hylamide, St Tropez, Tan-Luxe, Hand Chemistry

Facial Tan Product Review: Hylamide, St Tropez, Tan-Luxe, Hand Chemistry

My face is naturally darker than my body despite me using a ton of sunscreen, so I’ve been fake tanning in an effort to stop me from looking like a mime artist. But now I’ve gone too far and my body is usually a shade darker. While I could just use fake tan on my face, it feels wrong to use a body product there, like I’m just asking for a breakout, plus fake tan works best right on the skin and gradual tans are usually quite thick in texture. So I’ve been testing out some lighter products purposely designed for the face instead: Tan-Luxe The Face Raspberry & Rose Self-Tan Drops, Hylamide Glow Balance Booster and St Tropez Luxe Facial Tanning Oil. For comparison, I’ve also included Hand Chemistry which I’ve reviewed before, since I mostly used it on my face.

Facial Tan Product Review: Hylamide, St Tropez, Tan-Luxe, Hand Chemistry

General notes

  • The main ingredients in self-tanners are dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and erythrulose (often referred to as fruit ketone). They work much like the browning reaction that happens when cooking food. This reaction works best at low, skin-friendly pH values.
    • Dihydroxyacetone has a bad reputation because of older versions where impure DHA caused the reaction to go more of an unnatural orange than yellow.
    • Erythrulose is a newer fake tan ingredient that’s a bit larger than DHA, so it works slower but penetrates deeper and you end up with a more gradual tan that lasts longer. (Erythrulose was developed by someone who reads Lab Muffin – hello Roland if you’re reading this!)
  • None of these are really “oils”, even when labelled as such – dihydroxyacetone and erythrulose are both water-soluble, so they’ll be in a mixture that’s mostly water.
  • Most of these contain lots of humectants to counteract the drying effect that dihydroxyacetone and erythrulose.
  • Make sure you wash your hands with soap after application! Fake tanner ingredients stick harder to dead skin, so you fingertips are really prone to staining.
  • By the same token, make sure you don’t apply these products on dry patches of skin. Either avoid those spots, or apply a moisturiser on them to prevent patchy staining.

Tan-Luxe The Face Raspberry & Rose Self-Tan Drops

Tan-Luxe The Face Raspberry & Rose Self-Tan Drops (available from TVSN if you’re from Australia) is a product that’s designed to mix in with your regular cream or serum. You can add as many drops to adjust to the shade you want.

It’s $74.95 for a 30 mL bottle on TVSN which is on the pricey side, but you also end up using less product since you’ll only be using a few (2-3) drops each time. I only ever use 2 drops max, since I don’t want to wake up like an oompa loompa (yes, it will turn you orange if you don’t proceed with caution!). It’s mixed well with all the water-based serums and moisturisers I’ve used so far, but I expect that it doesn’t work that well with oilier products.

I found that it was quite easy to stuff up while applying this and end up streaky. Make sure you mix the tan drops evenly into your cream on your hand, and make sure you also apply it very evenly.

Scent-wise, it stands up to the claim that it doesn’t smell too strongly like DHA, but it’s still detectable. The product alone has a strong raspberry scent that I found a little offputting, but once diluted into a cream it was quite nice. It contains a few nourishing ingredients – glycerin, raspberry seed oil, rose geranium oil, vitamin E and aloe vera – but the fact you only use a few drops means they aren’t as effective. Just make sure you use a good moisturiser with it.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Dihydroxyacetone, Alcohol Denat. (Alcohol), Glycerin, Erythrulose, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Seed Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens (Rose Geranium) Oil, Tocopheryl Acetate, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice, Hydrolyzed Silk, Caramel, Polysorbate 80, Xanthan Gum, Parfum (Fragrance), Limonene, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Sodium Hydroxide, Benzoic Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Dehydroacetic Acid.

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Gradual Tanner Review: St Tropez, Jergens, Cocoa Brown, Miss M by Minx

Gradual Tanner Review: Miss M, St Tropez, Jergens, Cocoa Brown

Gradual tanners are my favourite type of fake tan – it’s pretty foolproof, you don’t have to moisturise separately, and any mistakes tend to get blurred out after a couple of applications. I’ve tried out another 4 gradual tanners since my last gradual tanner review: St Tropez Gradual Tan Tinted Body Lotion, Jergens Natural Glow, Cocoa Brown Gentle Bronze and Miss M by Minx Bronzing Bliss. All of them give pretty much the same natural colour.

Gradual Tanner Review: Miss M, St Tropez, Jergens, Cocoa Brown

St Tropez Gradual Tan Tinted Body Lotion

St Tropez Gradual Tan Tinted Body Lotion is a thick, sticky cream that requires a bit of effort to spread and rub in, especially if you use a tanning mitt. I think it’s on purpose, to help the tanner spread evenly when you apply it with your hands, and it does indeed give a nicely even, natural-looking tan. It’s tinted, but it’s not very noticeable unless you have pale skin. There’s no strong DHA scent detectable under the standard St Tropez odour-neutralising floral fragrance. It’s on the pricier end at $33.99 for 200 mL.

Aqua (Water), C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Dimethicone, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Glycerin, Dihydroxyacetone, Lauryl PEG-10 Tris(Trimethylsiloxy)silylethyl Dimethicone, Propylene Glycol, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Sodium Chloride, Trimethylpentanediol/Adipic Acid Copolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Silica, Parfum (Fragrance), Sodium Metabisulfite, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-di-t-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Tocopherol, Linalool, Caprylyl Glycol, Decylene Glycol, Isoceteth-10, Hexyl Cinnamal, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citronellol, Limonene, Geraniol, Hydroxycitronellal, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Anise Alcohol, Coumarin, CI 14700 (Red 4), CI 19140 (Yellow 5), CI 42090 (Blue 1).

Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturiser

I tried Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturiser in Medium to Dark. It also comes in Fair to Medium, which gives a lighter tan. It’s an untinted cream with a slightly floral vanilla fragrance that applies smoothly. As the tan develops, there’s a slight DHA scent if you sniff deeply and purposely look for it, but otherwise it mostly avoids the distinctive fake tan scent. In terms of firming and cellulite-hiding, I didn’t notice much difference apart from the deeper tan, which makes everything look a bit better. It’s a budget-friendly $14.99 for 221 mL, so even without the firming effect I think it’s a great value buy.

Water, Glycerin, Zea Mays (Corn) Starch, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dihydroxyacetone, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Ceteareth-20, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Steareth-2, Dimethicone, Octyldodecyl Myristate, Stearic Acid, Fragrance, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodiumacryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Isohexadecane, DMDM Hydantoin, Methylparaben, BHT, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Polysorbate 60, Citric Acid, Butylene Glycol, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Water, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Polyimide-1, Withania Somnifera Root Extract, Hydrolyzed Elastin, Centella Asiatica Extract, Fucus Vesiculosus Extract, Caramel, Erythrulose.

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Fake Tan reviews: St Tropez In-Shower Tan and Hand Chemistry Glow Oil

Fake Tan reviews: St Tropez In-Shower Lotion and Hand Chemistry Glow Oil

Since I’ve given up tanning in favour of not being wrinkly, I’ve been working my way through the brand new world of fake tan. Here are two of the more interesting new gradual tanners I’ve tried.

Fake Tan reviews: St Tropez In-Shower Lotion and Hand Chemistry Glow Oil

St Tropez Gradual Tan In-Shower Lotion (Golden Glow Medium)

St Tropez Gradual Tan In-Shower Lotion is an innovative tan that’s rinse-off – it incorporates a bunch of penetration enhancers that get enough of the tanning agents to sink into your skin in 3 minutes that you’ll see the effects hours later, when the deposited ingredients have had time to react. You apply it to your clean damp skin at the end of a shower. After 3 minutes (during which you should wash your hands if you don’t want orange hand syndrome), you rinse it off and pat dry and you’re done.

Fake Tan reviews: St Tropez In-Shower Tan and Hand Chemistry Glow Oil


Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Dihydroxyacetone, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Diethylhexyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Decyl Glucoside, Ethoxydiglycol, Sodium Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Parfum (Fragrance), Propylene Glycol, Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, Coco-Glucoside, Glyceryl Oleate, Isohexadecane, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-t-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Glyceryl Laurate, PEG-18 Glyceryl Oleate/Cocoate, Polysorbate 80, Caramel, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Melanin, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Decylene Glycol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide, Geraniol, Linalool, Limonene, Alpha-isomethyl Ionone, Coumarin. 

The In-Shower Lotion contains the usual dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as the main tanning agent (check out this post for the chemistry behind how DHA causes tanning), as well as erythrulose, which can undergo a similar reaction (but less intensely) to give a more natural overall look. The featured ingredients for pushing the DHA into your skin are hydrolysed jojoba esters. Sweet almond oil also makes an appearance as a moisturising agent, since well-hydrated skin tans better and fades more evenly too. There’s also a special fragrance incorporated into this product from the huge fragrance house Givaudan. St Tropez claims “the notes that work well with the DHA… the DHA is brought into the fragrance and concealed, making it undetectable”. It acts as a mood enhancer as well. I found that I could still smell a distinctive smell while the tan was developing, but it wasn’t exactly DHA smell – it was very similar, but more pleasant.

This product is really made with lazy people in mind (hello!). Combined with water remaining on my skin from the shower, it has the texture of a runny, slightly bubbly conditioner and is very easy to spread with my hands, especially since you don’t really need an even layer. It’s also awesome that you can put your clothes on immediately afterwards without feeling sticky or waiting around, and the lotion is hydrating enough to double up as moisturiser. However, a word of warning: make sure you rinse it all off – run your hands over all your skin. Don’t do what I did and forget to rinse off your feet, you’ll end up with an accidental tattoo.

I tried this out in Thailand where it’s been around 30 °C, and standing around waiting was completely fine (I did a hair mask during this time too), but I’m hesitant to try this now that I’m back in winter mode, since freezing naked and slippery in the shower is not how I envisioned my death.

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Fake Tan Review: Cocoa Brown and Fake Bake


Having had some success with gradual tanners, I decided to go further and try out some actual fake tan: Cocoa Brown 1 Hour Tan and Fake Bake Mousse Instant Self-Tan.


The key difference between fake tan and gradual tanner is that fake tan also contains a colour guide, which is brown pigment that gives your skin instant colour in addition to staining your skin brown with dihydroxyacetone. The instant tan colour also means you can see where you’ve applied product, which means it’s less likely that you’ll wake up with unexpected streaks and white patches like with gradual tanner.

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Gradual Tanners: Bondi Sands, Dove, Fake Bake & St Tropez review


You can’t tan without exposing yourself to wrinkles and melanoma, so fake tan is the way to go if you want to go brown. I’ve recently tried 4 gradual tanners widely available in Australia:


  • Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk
  • Dove Summer Glow Gradual Self Tan Body Lotion (Fair to Medium)
  • St Tropez Gradual Tan Everyday Body Mousse
  • Fake Bake Sport Daily Tan

If you’re not confident in your ability to apply fake tan smoothly, or you’re scared of people asking you why you became a super dark tanned glamazon goddess overnight, then gradual tanners might be for you! These contain a lower percentage of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the staining ingredient in fake tan, so the tan builds slowly over a few applications. (You can read all about how the dihydroxyacetone in fake tan works in this post.) Here’s how they fared:


Criteria: Not too orange is pretty much my only criteria. Getting a decent amount of colour after 2 applications is good too.

Results: All 4 were surprisingly comparable. I used a different tanner on each limb, and at the end they all looked pretty much the same. Fake Bake was a touch darker than the rest, and Dove was a touch lighter (Dove also has a Medium to Dark version which I haven’t tried). Dove and Fake Bake were a bit more yellow, while St Tropez and Bondi Sands are a bit more pink/brown, so they’ll look a bit more natural if you don’t have a yellow undertone.

Winner: Bondi Sands and St Tropez for a more natural colour for people without a yellow undertone, Fake Bake if you want a faster result and your skin works well with yellow.

Ease of application

I like my fake tan to be easy to apply in awkward places (middle of the back, especially!). I want it to spread evenly with minimal effort.

Results: Bondi Sands and Fake Bake are runny lotions, Dove is a thicker lotion, and St Tropez is a foam. The foam was by far the easiest to apply, though the runny lotions weren’t that difficult, especially when I started using a mitt. Dove was the hardest to rub in, but again it wasn’t too bad with a mitt.

Winner: St Tropez, though a mitt makes anything possible.

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The Science of How Fake Tan Works


These days we’re all aware that suntans give you both cancer and wrinkles, so fake tan is the colour du jour. This miracle-in-a-can stains the skin brown through an interesting chemical reaction. The outer layer of your skin, made up of dead skin cells, is permanently coloured. The tan wears away as the skin cells come off. Here’s how it works, and whether it’s safe!

The Chemistry of Fake Tan

Fake tan products you find in stores contain 2-5% dihydroxyacetone, which looks like this:


It starts off colourless, but it reacts with amino acids (particularly arginine, lysine and histidine) in the skin to form a variety of brown compounds called melanoidins.


It’s actually the same chemical reaction as the one responsible for making food like bread and meat turn brown and delicious when cooked. It’s called the Maillard reaction. For the really intense chem nerds, it proceeds like this with DHA (I got a bit lazy, sorry for the shortcuts):


This forms covalent bonds, which means the skin is permanently stained – water, soap and moisturiser won’t wash it off. The skin starts devloping the tanned colour after 2-3 hours, and the reaction continues for the next 1-3 days. The reaction occurs best at moderately low acidic pHs (3-6), so fake tans tend to come in this skin-friendly range. The extent of the reaction is also influenced by the amount of water around.

Application and Aftercare

DHA only penetrates the very top layer of skin (the stratum corneum), which you may know is dead skin cells. This is why fake tans can’t last longer than about a week – that’s about how long it takes for the stained skin to wear off (that’s why if you look up fake tans that claim to last longer than a week or two, you’ll find tons of grumpy reviews – the skin sheds at a similar rate no matter what product you use!).

This explains all the advice given for making your tan look good and wear off evenly:

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