When Are We Going To Be Done With Tanning?

First things first: I admit that I speak from a bit of a biased perspective on this, as I am a class 1 ginger who has never been able to attain a color between translucent and magenta in my life. I have never known the joy of a nice, even tan, only the unforgiving agony of entire sheets of skin coming off of every extremity as punishment for your brief enjoyment of the sun. That being said, for a while, I tried to go against the undeniable redness of my hair and get at least a bit of color during the summer. I even — three times in my life, maybe — went to a tanning salon. (Which, by the way, resulted in only a mild sunburn.) All through my adolescence and even into the beginning of my twenties, I was still trying to follow the general rule that a bit of bronze during the summer months makes you look less like a cadaver.

But in the past few weeks, I’ve read several skin-cancer related stories about young people whose love for a deep orange glow resulted in serious illness, and even death. Of course, it’s not surprising the stories are coming out now — it’s almost May, time to scare the kids into putting at least 1 SPF on the baby oil they slather over themselves. And though these stories aren’t new, they have been compounded by the photos of a few acquaintances from high school that only reinforce the negative consequences of the sun. A few girls and guys who were extreme sun babies, never seen (even in the depths of winter) without a deep, rotisserie-esque sheen, have aged… like milk. It was pretty shocking seeing the way, at only 22-24, their skin has already taken on a leathery texture, is folding into wrinkles around their eyes and on their forehead, and generally adds about 10 years to their overall appearance.

And of course, some people simply have different skin, and not everyone who tans will see cancer or alligator skin in their twenties, but we know there’s a good chance they will. We know what tanning does, we know how bad it is, and we know that — even for aesthetic purposes — it’s pretty short-lived in terms of benefits. There is a way to exist healthfully in the sun, and we know that slathering yourself with lotion and “laying out” for hours at a time is not it. (By the way, I really think “laying out” is my least favorite expression in the world. I have yet to meet a single person who announces that they are going to “lay out” that isn’t an enormous tool. But I digress.) Why is it that, like every summer before, we’re inundated with images of people the shade of roasted sweet potatoes and the implication that we, too, should be getting out there and getting sun? Why are we continuing to do it?

I know that, evolutionarily speaking or whatever, a nice glow is supposed to represent health, youth, fertility, or other such things that would have made us slightly more attractive than the pallid cave-person next to us at the speed dating event, but we are past that now. We can accept that a dusting of sun is good, but that repeated, heavy amounts of us holds about the same return on investment as smoking. And speaking of which, how are people who get all high and mighty about smoking and eating delicious, crappy food are often totally okay with burning to a crisp come summer time? I don’t care how in touch with nature you are, it does not magically make your skin immune to UV rays. It’s just not an excusable vice if we want to even give the illusion of concern for our health.

And yet, it remains pretty acceptable. And come summer, those of us who remain pale — by choice or by genetics — are going to be the lepers of the pool party. People will mock our pasty thighs and pink shoulders, and we’ll have to take it like adults because society still thinks we would be more beautiful if we sat in the sun until we were nice and golden-brown. I guess I’ll just have to hold out until they invent a self-tanner that doesn’t look like you smeared used motor oil all over yourself. Here’s hoping TC mark

image – Paul W

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


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  • http://twitter.com/guez_what Ellie Dominguez

    just in time for prom season, well done

  • guest

    I don’t get everyone’s sudden issue with having a tan? Like you’re not supposed to. It’s not that bad, man

  • Richie Starr

    One day, us pasty people will rise up and control the earth. The tanned ones will be selected against by nature, and those who survive will be mocked because they look like leather sofas. 

    Unfortunately, it will also be hard to see other people in blizzards.

    • Guest

      I know you didn’t mean it like that, but you might want to back off on the whole white supremacy thing.

    • guest

      LOL that’s a nice thought. I always assumed we were a dying
      breed. With all the interracial mixing, I think “tan” people are and will rule
      the world.       

  • Ginny

    With a ginger mother and a pasty Nordic father, I didn’t stand a chance in the tanning game either.  Although, I think there’s something to be said about the colonies of freckles I gain over the summer…

  • A.

    What if tanning makes a person more confident in their appearance? What about those who go to indoor tanning salons for the vitamin D benefits during the winter? The sun has been here forever why does this MATTER

    • Richie Starr

      the fact that the sun has existed for a long time doesn’t say anything about its benevolence. 

      The cancer risks of tanning salons outweigh any vitamin D benefit.

    • Katie

      Exposure to UV rays from the sun or a tanning bed causes mutations in your DNA which can and do lead to cancer. Are you an idiot? How does this not matter?

    • Yesman

      did you read any of the article? or just the title??

    • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

      There’s the fact that we have less UV protection from the sun as a result of saying bye bye to the ozone layer. And a tanning bed might be “too close for comfort” in terms of skin cancer risks.

    • EAZ

      You can take Vitamin D capsules.

    • Margaret Thatcher

      Belladonna has also been here “forever,” but you don’t see me making tea with it.

    • Guest

      “What if tanning makes a person more confident in their appearance?” That person should reevaluate why being orange is necessary to be happy.

       “What about those who go to indoor tanning salons for the vitamin D benefits during the winter?” That person is making up reasons in his/her head to justify continually looking orange.

    • Mimibimi25

      15 minutes a day, 2-3 times a week with your arms, face, hands exposed in the sun should get you enough sunlight to make adequate vitamin D. You can do this while walking to work/the store/away from the tanning salon. you don’t have to bake almost naked in a tanning bed to make enough Vitamin D.

  • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

    Getting a little bit of sun, I think, is OK. Spending hours under a tanning bed is not. (Again, in my honest opinion).

  • Paula

    “I know that, evolutionarily speaking or whatever, a nice glow is supposed to represent health, youth, fertility, or other such things that would have made us slightly more attractive than the pallid cave-person next to us at the speed dating event, but we are past that now.”
    This makes no sense, sice the tanning culture is actually pretty recent in history. Not long ago, the white non-tan skin was strongly more valued and desired, because it represented that the person was wealthy and, therefore, did not need to be outside working in the sun.
    This all changed only when Coco Chanel, who was pretty fond of changing traditions, went for vacation to the spanish beaches and came back to Paris with a tan that she was proud to exibit.

    • Heather

      Brigitte Bardot was a big advocate of the sun tan too, and look at her now.  She looks like the crypt keeper.

  • mademoiselle

    I’m a hopeless whithey, even when I am able to get a bit of colour it is always very light and fades away quickly. And I live in a country known for its sun and beaches and warm fuzzy temperatures, where that is clearly not the norm. Yet I do love the sun, and the ideia of toasting a bit during warm spring/summer afternoons, getting a healthy [albeit very softy] glow – because it IS healthy, getting some sun, for your physical health and for your mental health too. It has been proven. It also reduces the incidence of allergies during winter I know it from experience.

     I think there is a middle term for everything but in our day and age we tend to speak about every issue from extreme points of view. No, baking in the sun and getting too tanned is not healthy, but like the other guy said the sun has been here forever so it is supposed to be here and we are supposed to be genetically built to endure it in normal amounts. But yes, getting some sunscreen and hats on is essential, and being orange from the solar is just downright ugly – not to mention danger. I will always favor a natural pale complexion – I just happen to prefere it – but a a splash of golden during the summer is beautiful.

  • Guest

    Ugh, I feel you. I am Irish as fuck and grew up in South Jersey. My lack of melanin was a point of absolutely hilarity to those around me. But, now I have excellent skin, and their scaly-leather lizard arms are noticeable even in a FB photo, so IDGAF.


    I think pale is sexy. What is not sexy however, is the orangy glow from a bottle or from a tanning salon cancer machine. Go team pale! 

  • emmahope

    pale english rose represent! I remember the joy of returning to school after summer to be met with ‘oh you obviously didn’t go away anywhere hot this year!’ … I’d actually been to California, Arizona and Nevada for three weeks. Sigh.

    • Seasonofthefork

      I went to school with the most stunning Irish ginger girl with porcelin skin and she was consistently heckled but as she grew up she kind of looked more etheral and stunning than the other sunbed clones.

    • guest

      LOL I know what you mean! Whenever I go to Mexico or any other
      beach destination I don’t get tan at all. Sunscreen is amazing; I can put 4
      coats on and not get any sun damage aka “a tan”. I’m American so not to offend,
      but you lovely English Roses need to be careful. When I was in the Dominican Republic
      on boat hiding in the shade I saw these 2 British girls sunning and they were
      as pink as roses.

  • Guest

    Why is this being discussed like there is nothing between being orange and sheet white?

  • Anonymous

    Fake tan, problem solved.

  • Brandon h

    Dear fellow White Folk:
    IT’S OK TO BE PASTY. It can even be sexy! Everyone is different in some way and ITS OK IF ONE OF YOUR DIFFERENCES IS PORCELAIN SKIN! Don’t fight it.

  • Nina

    A “healthful” way for the genetically pale, (or anyone), to “lay out” in the sun is to apply sunblock with SPF 50 or higher. Just because it’s called ‘sunblock’ does not mean it’s an invisible cave over your body providing no sun exposure whatsoever. It protects your skin against the most harmful rays which cause skin cancer, but you can still get color without burning. Every time I put on SPF 50 or higher before going to the beach, I never burned and instead got a lovely golden tan. If your’re still burning, it’s because you didn’t use enough or you let it wear off. Apply liberally every two hours and don’t forget your feet and scalp!

  • Team Pale

    What makes me laugh is how the huge stars we all consider such epic beauties–Angelina Jolie, Megan Fox, Anne Hathaway, Reece Witherspoon, Liv Tyler, Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Amanda Seyfried, Rachel McAdams…none of them rock a tan, fake or otherwise!  They’re all borderline pale, in fact.

     It’s like there’s this odd dissonance between what we think is objectively beautiful, and what we imagine we look like.  I can’t think of one orange celebrity besides Snooki.  Jennifer Aniston is the only consistently tan A lister I can think of. 

    • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

      You forgot Emma Stone in the first list, which I am adding because… yeah.

  • almonds

    PALE IS BEAUTIFUL. I would never voluntary get a tan in a million years, even if there were no wrinkly-orangy-leather-skin-cancer side effects. I love my pale skin.

  • Guestropod

    I’m a natural pastyface as well, and in 7th grade we watched this video on skin cancer with people who had to have their noses removed and such and afterwards the teacher was like ‘raise your hand if you’ve had three or more severe sunburns in your life’ and then told all of us with raised hands that we would probably get skin cancer.  

    anyway, I’m terrified of the sun… 

  • Jenny

    class 1 ginger here. 

    loved the article. i live in so cal, and always have to deal with people mocking me for my pasty skin. i have no problem with being pale, but it’s never fun to have people mock you for the way you look. i do spend time outside in the sun. i love being outside. i put on sunblock and make sure i’m safe. never get noticeably darker. just how i am. 

    did have people in China love on me and my skin, though. nice change of pace from tan-obsessed fiends shouting at me to get a tan. 

  • Natalie

    Sorry for being naturally tan, I guess………

  • FannieAnnie

    And then there are those of us who put on spf 30, wander around in the sun for a few hours and sport a lovely bronze glow, no where near “orange” and aren’t damaging their skin (see spf 30 above). 

    Suck it pastey. 

    • myname

      Any change in skin color is sun damage. The “bronze glow” means that SPF30 isn’t enough for your skin type. Feel free to continue living in blissful ignorance (until you wake up one day to notice that your face has serious wrinkles and spots of pigmentation, or worse [I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone]). Sorry to break it to you. I’m sure your dermatologist has told you all this before but you clearly didn’t listen.

  • guest

    I’m 50% Mexican and 100% pale. I feel your pain. Recently I watched
    a video from Jenna Marbles and her advice was stand in front of white things to
    look tanner (but it does the opposite for me).  But it’s not too bad. I think contrast is
    pretty and I’m grateful that my face does not blend with my hair (so I don’t have
    to wear makeup to correct that). I’m pretty conservative when it comes to clothes
    so nobody has to bear the pain of seeing my corpse-like legs and I get my 10
    min of sun a day to stay healthy. Plus (like you mentioned) staying out of the
    sun is one of the keys to keeping your youth. Contrary to belief, a tan is a
    sign of skin damage (the more you tan, the more your skin cells are damaged, the
    closer you get to a permanently damaged skin cell, the closer you get to skin
    cancer). Cheers.     

    • Elle

      I’m 50% Mexican too! You’d never be able to tell, though, because it was my brothers who got the naturally dark skin and I got my Scandinavian mom’s pale, ghostlike complexion. But tanning is ridiculous, and I don’t see why people can’t just use that self-tanning lotion stuff.

  • Michaelwg

    I love pale skin. My opening line with a girl at the gym was “So…hypothetically, if you and I had a love child… that kid would be translucent”
    Obviously that went nowhere fast, but still, pale redheads are gorgeous.

  • guest

    Tan and proud. Suck it.

  • Corey Conner

    This article has guilted me into not tanning. I’m normally a nice he-must-live-in-a-basement-24/7 white.  I was planning for this one summer to bake under the sun. Guess not. 

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