How To Hide Even The Worst Tan Lines, According To Makeup Pros

Quick solutions to fix your farmer’s tan, from body makeup to self tanner.
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You’ve been having a wonderful summer in the great outdoors, and now you’ve gotten an invitation to an event that calls for something skimpy and slinky. But when you start getting dressed, you notice vast swaths of previously covered-up skin that stand out in blinding contrast to your more tanned bits. Perhaps, right as you’re strapping on a lovely new pair of sandals, you see a line where your socks end. Or maybe your face has pale sections left that sunglasses and ball caps once shielded. And, oh, how those spaghetti straps show off your white shoulders and tanned forearms, with a short-sleeve DMZ separating them.

What can you do — fast — to fix the situation, and how can you avoid it in the future? Our experts are here to help. And, as it turns out, they’ve felt your pain.

“I live in Australia, so there are lots of very harsh tan lines on people here,” said Michelle Wong, the cosmetic chemist behind the popular blog Lab Muffin. “When I was in school, I always had a sock tan. And I’ve also had some really strong tan lines in summer where I’ve forgotten to reapply sunscreen.”

“I’ve experienced farmer’s tans personally, and I’ve seen prominent tan lines on models that I’ve had to correct during photo shoots,” said celebrity makeup artist Jamie Dorman. “It’s a problem that can be hard to fix in post-production and can be even more glaring in photos.”

Even if you’ve managed to escape a farmer’s tan personally, tan lines can still happen to those you love. “I tell my husband to wear his SPF and reapply, but after a day of sun exposure in the backyard or on the boat, he has a noticeable tan line on his lower neck and arms,” said Joie Tavernise, aesthetician and brand founder of JTAV Clinical Skincare. “It makes me cringe.”

These tans lines aren't necessarily the best accessory for that strappy wedding guest dress.
Joel Carillet via Getty Images
These tans lines aren't necessarily the best accessory for that strappy wedding guest dress.

Emergency fix No. 1: foundation makeup (the best option)

For Dorman, foundation is the most effective and the quickest solution. But before you even get started with foundation, you’ll want to exfoliate. “I recommend beginning by exfoliating the body part you’re going to put makeup on, even the parts that won’t need makeup, to create an even-textured surface and make blending easier,” Dorman said. “You might find that a chemical exfoliant is gentler than a scrub, and lotion is a good choice for dry skin. I like Paula’s Choice Skin Revealing Body Lotion 10% AHA.”

Which foundation to use? “I recommend color-matching foundation to the color of your tan with body makeup. I like Westmore Beauty Body Coverage Perfector,” Dorman said. “It has a natural appearance, and it sets in place for all-day wear. I also recommend their body coverage mitt to make application even and to keep makeup from getting under your nails.”

Emergency fix No. 2: Self-tanner (this one’s a bit tougher to get right)

If you want something more lasting, consider self-tanner, although it does have its critics. “I once tried to even out a farmer’s tan with sunless tanner,” Dorman said. “It ended up looking ridiculous, because the shade of the sunless tanner was different from the shade of my tan.”

If you want to give it a try, your first decision is: All over, or just on the pale spots? “You can try using it all over to try to make the contrast less obvious, but a more effective method is to just apply fake tan to the light areas,” Wong said. “If you don’t go to a professional spray tanner, you can try it yourself with a mitt or a makeup brush, if you’re up for the challenge. But be aware that this can be a bit tricky if the color doesn’t match your natural tan or if the lines are quite complex. Make sure you exfoliate the area first with a gentle scrub so you get an even finish. Keep the skin dry until it has a chance to absorb the tanner.”

Prevention for next time

“Prevention is better than trying to fix it afterward, since tans can take a long time to fade,” Wong said. “Remember to reapply sunscreen regularly when you’re in the sun. You can set an alarm to help remind you, and sun-protective clothing is a good option, too.”

Tavernise shared ideas for products you’ll be more likely to reapply: “In my bag, I always have a powder sunscreen. It’s like a high-performance SPF and absorbs oil on the face without feeling heavy, and it’s great for touch-ups during the day. In my car, I keep a mineral sunscreen mist and spray for reapplication on my décolletage, arms and hands. I love sunscreen sticks and buy them for my dad, who is out all day in the sun, to keep in his pocket.”

Before You Go

Bliss Block Star daily sunscreen (SPF 30)

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