EXPLAINER: How to incorporate face fake tan into your skincare routine.

Love the idea of faux sun-kissed and glowing face year ‘round, but want to use active skincare too? You’re not alone.

But it’s not quite as easy as slapping it all on and expecting results. You’re going to need a clever routine, because face fake tan is not friends with retinol or alpha hydroxy acids (two of the main players.)

So, just like those two groups of your mates who don’t get along, you’ll need to catch up with them on separate nights. Here’s how to make it work.

But first, a recap.

What is retinol and how do you use it?

Retinol is a form of Vitamin A and is well-known for promoting skin cell renewal which in turn helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Basically, an anti-ageing powerhouse. It is pretty potent though, and needs to be introduced into your routine slowly.

“As a general rule for a healthy skin, introducing a .5% retinol 2-3 times per week of an evening, either neat or mixed with a hydrating moisturiser is a good way to start, as your skin becomes conditioned to the active ingredient,” says Nicole Stubbs, skin therapist and owner of Tribe Natural Beauty.

“Remember to be very mindful to use SPF after using active ingredients on your skin as sun sensitivity is increased,” she says.

When to start?

“I wouldn’t recommend starting any earlier than your late twenties as skin is often too sensitive for retinol,” says Meredith Langley, owner of The Beauty Room Cosmetic Clinic. “But I tell my clients it’s never too late to start using it and it can make a big difference. I personally like to apply my retinol in a serum on a clean dry face at night before I go to bed followed by moisturiser.”



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by ROB POVEY // MAKEUP ARTIST (@robpoveymua) on

What are AHAs and how do you use them?

Alpha Hydroxy Acids are naturally occurring and found in fruit (citric acid), dairy (lactic acid) and sugar cane (glycolic acid). They’re particularly good at exfoliating the skin, by breaking down the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together and thus, sloughing them off your skin without you having to scrub. But that’s not all they’re good at!

“AHAs promote collagen, blood flow, can correct discolouration from aged spots and also work to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, prevent acne breakouts and brighten our skin,” says Langley. “AHAs and Retinol should only be used on a healthy, hydrated skin,” cautions Stubbs. “I personally find it a little too much to use both of these ingredients of an evening, so tend to use an AHA on alternate nights or in the morning.”


How to fit face fake tan into your skincare regime.

So, retinol and AHAs can promote cell renewal and exfoliate the skin. Can you sense the red flag here?

If you’ve applied a face fake tan, those clever actives are going to dissolve your faux glow. Fast.

The solution? To alternate your applications. Use your acid or retinol based skincare every few nights and on the others, use your fake tan. This will give you a couple of days of glow, then a few nights to exfoliate and treat skin before the process begins again.

“I notice that using tanning products consistently tends to make skin prone to congestion,” says Stubbs, “meaning you may need AHA’s more often – a bit of a cycle there!”

Breaking up the use of both your actives and fake tan should help minimise congestion and the need to constantly correct it.

Another option is to add specific face fake tan your skincare.



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Clarins Official (@clarinsofficial) on


Tan drops are added to your regular moisturiser. 

“The old way of tanning has changed, especially for the face. In the past, we would self-tan or professionally spray ourselves weekly then try to scrub it off when it would get uneven” says Langley.

“These are exciting times in the tanning world, at our clinic we have Tuscan Tan tanning drops which transforms your favourite face and body moisturiser, serum or oil into a bespoke self-tanner – still maintaining the quality of your skin care.”

Whichever product you use, keep your routine consistent to avoid freaking your skin out. And remember to always start slow when using active ingredients, or visit a skin therapist if you’re unsure.

Best tips for applying your face fake tan?

  • If you’re a beginner, use a product designed for the face. Sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s tempting just to use your ‘ol body mousse. Don’t do it. Your mug deserves the best and you want to avoid congestion and drying out your skin.
  • Start slowly. If you’re a beginner, less is more! You can always add another coat tomorrow.
  • “Apply your tan down your neck and behind your ears too, but avoid eyelids,” says Langley.
  • The formulas you use depends on when you pop it on. A tan water goes on first on dry skin, followed by moisturiser once it’s dry. A cream takes the place of your moisturiser altogether, and drops are added to your normal night cream.
  • “Avoid your eyebrows especially if they are blonde. You can apply some Vaseline over them if using a spray fake tan so they don’t turn orange,” says Langley. “If your skin is dry or sensitised from active ingredients avoid tan as this will cling to any dry patches and look uneven,” says Stubbs.
  • “Brush your teeth first if tanning in the evening as the toothpaste and water can wash off the colour around your mouth,” says Langley.

Want some product recommendations? You bet! Check out the below chemical exfoliators and face fake tans.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%, $12.40
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum, $42.99
ALPHA H Liquid Gold, $59.95
Ultraceuticals Eventone Skintone Serum Concentrate, $124
Priori Q+SOD fx220 Brightening Serum, $165
Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair, $116.60

Eco Tan Face Tan Water, $34.95
Tan Luxe The Face Tan Drops, $68
Ella Bache Great Facetan Without Sun, $38