The expert tips for fake tanning your face

We guarantee you haven’t heard of a few of these before!

Beauty Crew Editor / May 22 2019

When it comes to fake tanning, there are a few golden rules for achieving a natural, flawless finish: always exfoliate and shave a day before; layer the colour slowly for an even finish; and blend, blend, blend and blend some more. (If you’re looking for more tips on achieve a flawless application, you can read our beginner’s guide to fake tanning.) 

But the waters seem a little murkier when it comes to self-tanning anywhere north of your neck. Fake tanning your face is a little scarier, mainly because there are crevices around ears, eyes, a nose, and a mouth to contend with, and nowhere to hide any mistakes. It feels like SO much could go wrong. 

So we spoke to fake tan pro James Read, the man behind his popular namesake tanning range, to get his top tips on how to get your face tan right every single time (AKA the golden glow of someone who looks like they just got back from a beach vacay) .

#1 / Close your pores

For a seamless face tan that doesn’t look ‘spotty’, Read suggests heading to your freezer. “A good trick is always rubbing an ice cube over the face first to seal the pores,” says Read. “Or alternatively, soak your face in cold water [in the sink] and it will close your pores.” This little trick will also help prevent any tanning formulations from clogging your pores and leading to breakouts. Just make sure you dry your face completely before applying your self-tanner.

#2 / Protect your brows

Before applying your face tan, gently wipe some moisturiser along your brows to prevent product from being applied here to protect their natural colour. 

#3 / Start lightly

If you’re nervous about applying fake tan to your face, Read recommends diluting the formula. “If you don’t want to go too dark, mix a bit of self-tanning product with some moisturiser so that you dilute it slightly so that it gives a bit of a flush to the skin.” 

While you can mix your regular tanning lotion with your moisturiser, you might want to turn to self-tan drops - a booster-like product that you add to your moisturiser to give a natural glow to your skin. Yes, such a wonder exists and you have quite a few options. Isle of Paradise Self-Tan Drops come in three different shades to customise your application and help colour correct your complexion, while nourishing ingredients like vitamin E will ensure your skin doesn't get that dry feeling. Plus, FYI: it's vegan and cruelty-free Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster is another goodie - simply add as many (or few) tanning drops of it to your regular moisture and apply as normal for a streak-free finish. And if you're looking for a little illumination with your golden glow, try Tan Luxe The Face Illuminating Self Tan Drops. The award-winning formula will add luminosity and hydration (thank you vitamin E, aloe vera and raspberry seed oil) while working with your current skin care routine. Too easy.

Isle of Paradise Self-Tan Drops

Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster

Tan Luxe The Face Illuminating Self Tan Drops

Alternatively, a gradual tanner formulated for your face can also work wonders in this situation. By slowly building the colour over a few days, your skin tone will gradually deepen to a point where you feel comfortable. Haven't found your go-to gradual tan? We like Bondi Sands Everyday Face Gradual Tanning Milk to help slowly build up  your colour while ensuring your skin feels silky soft and smooth.

BONDI SANDS Gradual Tanning Milk for the Face

#4 / Use leftover product on your ears

Instead of applying a whole heap of your face tan directly onto your ears, smooth any leftover product over them. This will help give them colour, without applying too much. Just make sure to smooth the product over your ear lobes and around the back of your ears. 

#5 / Prevent the dreaded tan hair line

If you’ve ever fake tanned your face and discovered you’ve got a very noticeable line around your hairline, follow Read’s advice: “Once you put a tan on, if it’s a lotion rather than spray, always rub it into the hairline with a little bit of toner to stop the tan line.” 

#6 / Use a straw when drinking

Drinking directly from a glass or bottle straight after tanning can leave you with lines or streaks around your mouth, so Read suggests drinking with a straw until your formula is completely set. And an absolute no-no is cupping your hand and drinking water from it – that’ll leave you with a “white lip.” 

#7 / Wipe your neck

If you fake tan your face regularly, be sure to give your neck a good clean with a cleansing wipe before you begin the tanning process. Your face always fades quickly because you cleanse it twice a day, but the tan on your neck always seems to stay longer. So when you tan, you basically always have an over-tanned neck and a tanned face.” Read recommends a face wipe that has some alcohol in it, as this is what will help get rid of the old tan on your neck so you start the tanning process with an even tone across your face and neck.

Feeling good about the whole self-tanning face situation? If you're ready to get into it and want a few more options, these are some of our favourite face tanning innovations:

Eco Tan Face Tan Water™: Think of this like a toner, but with tanning agents. Formulated for all skin tones for the face, neck and décolletage, this organic self-tanning water gradually builds a beautiful glow.

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pad Intense Glow Self Tanner For Face: Where do we start with this one? There's just so much to love. For your convenience, this pre-soaked towelette not only contains the right combo of ingredients to deliver a streak-free sun-kissed glow, but it's also packed with alpha AND beta hdyroxy acids and vitamin d to exfoliate, tighten pores, eliminate blackheads for smoother, fresh and glowing skin.

Vita Liberata Self Tan Anti-Age Serum: If this isn't a genius combo of skin benefits, we don't know what is. Combining the best bits of gradual self-tanning formulas, skin-loving ingredients, and anti-ageing benefits of a wrinkle-fighting serum, this organic tanner works to give a subtle bronzed glow to all skin types (even sensitive skin!)

James Read Sleep Mask Tan Face: What's a girl to do when she has dry skin in need of a colour boost? Pretty much slather this one before bed time. Packing the nourishing punch of both aloe vera and hyaluronic acid, it's guaranteed to leave you waking up to smooth, soft skin that has a beautiful hint of colour.

St. Tropez Self Tan Express Sheet Mask: No one said your facial tanner had to be in a bottle. Featuring 100 per cent natural tanning agents and a speedy setting time, you'll have a summer-worthy glow in 15 minutes or less.

Clinique Face Bronzing Gel Tint: Still not quite confident to dip your toes into facial fake tanning? That's cool, Clinique has you covered with this radiance-enhancing tint. Offering a subtle hint of colour that doesn't scream "I fake tanned my face", it's a pretty safe bet.

There are SO many face tanners out there, so if you want to know more these are our picks of the top face tanners.

Image credit: @rosiehw

Carli was BEAUTYcrew’s Editor from launch in 2016 until May 2020. You can find her words right here on BEAUTYcrew, and previously on beautyheaven.