How to Get a Glowing Tan With Fair or Pale Skin

Updated on April 17, 2019
thooghun profile image

James is fair-skinned and lives in Italy. These are his tips on how to maintain a sun-kissed look while staying protected from harmful rays.

Tanning tips for people with fair skin.
Tanning tips for people with fair skin. | Source

How to Tan With Fair Skin

My skin is naturally very pale, and while I'm very much at ease with my genetic predicament, there are moments when I would like to don a more sun-kissed look. I spent years half-dreading my Italian summers as I would irrevocably draw a little tragic-comic attention on the beaches and piazzas. Beyond my insecurity, a little research made the objective of having healthy, tanned skin not only achievable, but quite easy to attain.

This article is a summary of methods and solutions that truly work for any type of skin (if it works for me, it'll work for you, trust me), whatever the weather. Some methods will involve a great deal of patience and will need to be fit into a routine, others are near-instant but will have their own set of pros and cons. Here we will talk about:

  • Tips for tanning if you burn easily
  • Fake tans and techniques for a golden glow
  • Foods that help boost melanin production
  • Indoor tanning bed tips for pale people
  • How to make a tan last
  • Tanning safety for fair-skinned people
  • Whether or not sunlight is good for you
  • UVA, UVB, UVC rays and the UV index

Tips for Tanning If You Burn Easily

Before we begin looking at what methods may suit you on your quest to get a tan with fair skin, here's a brief and concise look at how protect yourself from the risks of skin cancer and overexposure. Sun protection is absolutely necessary for fair-skinned and dark-skinned people alike.

How to Protect Your Skin

  • Ideally, pale skin should be constantly protected with sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating of at least 30. Make sure your sunblock is capable of blocking both UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Even under a newly refreshed layer of sunscreen, limit sun exposure to before 10 am and after 4 pm to avoid burning and damaging the skin.
  • If you burn in the sun, you'll burn in a tanning bed. Allow some time to pass between tanning sessions.
  • Skin that is covered more often will be more likely to burn.
  • Know that spray-on DIY tans do not increase your skin's ability to withstand the sun and tan more easily.

Video: A Dermatologist on Tanning Naturally

Fake Tans (Sprays and Lotions) for a Golden Glow

The idea that naturally tanned skin is healthier is a common myth and easily dispelled with a little research. For many of us, contemporary fake tanning agents allow us to shake up our look without damaging our skin. Many people are now catching on and employing them as part of their everyday cosmetic routine (roughly 9% of people in the U.S. use self-tanners).

Best Tanning Products for Pale Skin

There are many ways to avoid looking cheap with a fake tan. You can further research tips on streak-free application and recommended sunless tanning products for pale skin. Here are a few different types of products and services to consider:

  • Dyes: These are natural vegetable dyes that stain the skin in authentic-looking tones which fade over the course of a few days.
  • Bronzers: Unlike dyes, these wash off with soap and water, giving you more flexibility.
  • Tan Catalyzers: These products claim to speed up tanning by stimulating melanin production (I have not tried these myself).
  • Beauty Salons: They use high-quality sprays to uniformly achieve a perfect, customized tan. They can be expensive!

Bear in mind that while you may marvel and strut around proudly in the sun with your new tan, artificial tans offer no additional protection from the sun! You will need to continue to use high-protecting SPF sunscreen.

Exfoliation Is Key

The key to successful tanning is exfoliation. Be sure to exfoliate before your tanning session. Not shaving and not waxing and having dry skin is more likely to make a tan fade fast.

DIY natural tanning spray can be made with black tea or coffee beans.
DIY natural tanning spray can be made with black tea or coffee beans. | Source

DIY Natural Tanning Spray Recipe

Natural tanners are fun and easy to make and contain natural ingredients. Here's a fun recipe from DIYNatural.com that utilizes organic black tea bags and vanilla extract. Here's what you will need:

Supplies

  • 8 bags of organic black tea
  • 16 oz filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 spray bottle

Instructions

  1. Boil 16 oz of filtered water and the vanilla extract.
  2. Pour the boiling water over the tea bags. Let steep for 8 minutes and remove the tea bags.
  3. Let the mixture cool for 30 minutes minimum, then transfer it to a spray bottle.
  4. Exfoliate and apply 4-5 layers of tanner to the desired area; let each application dry in between. Rub the spray in with your hands and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

This DIY tanning spray will give you a nice, natural glow and is great for people with fair skin. Be sure to check out other fun DIY self-tanners and lotions made with natural ingredients.

Foods That Help Boost Melanin Production

Melanin can actually help protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation and skin damage and its production is thought to be supported by antioxidant-rich foods like dark, leafy greens, dark berries, dark chocolate, and colorful vegetables. Scientific data continues to emerge on the possible melanin-boosting properties of these superfoods:

  • Flavonoids or polyphenols: Found in green tea and turmeric.
  • Vitamin A (retinol): Found in beta carotene containing foods (carrots, spinach, peas) and orange vegetables (squash, sweet potatoes), fish, and meat.
  • Vitamin C: Found in citrus, berries (strawberries), and leafy greens.
  • Vitamin E: Found in vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts.

Tanning beds should be avoided by pale or fair-skinned individuals.
Tanning beds should be avoided by pale or fair-skinned individuals. | Source

Indoor Tanning Bed Tips for Pale People

Aside from the risk of skin damage and cancer, many people who use sunbeds or tanning beds claim they offer secondary benefits which make it worth all the hassle. It's thought that exposure to sun-mimicking UVB rays can lead to a sense of relaxation and well-being and is an effective cure for some forms of dermatitis and psoriasis which we will cover further down.

Are Tanning Beds Safe?

Tanning beds are something of a mixed bag with regards to tanning fair skin. On one hand they can, if used patiently and sensibly, lead to natural, long-lasting results, but on the other, they present many of the same risks that traditional tanning entails. If you are every bit as fair-skinned as I am, tanning beds should not be considered. If you do happen to opt for tanning bed use, there are natural products you can use to accelerate your tan. Use them carefully.

Reports published by the World Health Organization and Cancer Research UK make clear the dangers involved, especially if you:

  • Have freckly skin or natural red hair
  • Have skin that burns easily
  • Have a large number of moles
  • Take certain medications that increase your sensitivity to UV light
  • Are underage

Tips for Safe Tanning Sessions

If you satisfy any of the above, then there are important cancer risks to consider. If you decide to go for a tanning session any way, limit your sessions to a few minutes and gradually increase over the course of a few weeks. Taking 24 to 48-hour intervals between tans can lead to a decent, healthy-looking tan. But remember that it is only healthy-looking—any sign of redness indicates damage to the skin.

How to Make a Tan Last

Our skin cells shed regularly, so before any tanning procedure for any skin type or tone, be sure to exfoliate. It is a good idea to get your shaving or waxing done ahead of time whether you are going out in the sunlight for a natural glow, using a tanning bed, or using a DIY-indoor tanning spray or moisturizer.

Also, be sure to keep your skin moisturized. After exfoliating (consider making a DIY exfoliating scrub), give your skin some time to rest. Always apply sunscreen before exposing your skin to sunlight even if you have a good base tan or dark skin, and be sure to moisturize post-exposure with creams or lotions with natural ingredients—jojoba, coconut oil, etc.

Classic indications of sun damage.
Classic indications of sun damage. | Source

Tanning Safety for Fair-Skinned Individuals

All radiation or ultraviolet (UV light) is classified on the electromagnetic spectrum by range. Electromagnetic radiation (EM) refers to photons (energy particles) that travel at different speeds. The sun produces UV radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC rays.

Which UV Rays Are Harmful?

Both UVA and UVB rays cause damage. Skin cancer and premature aging result from long-term overexposure to these rays, whereas a sunburn signifies immediate overexposure.

But Isn't Sunlight Good for You?

You do need some exposure to UVB to help your body to produce vitamin D (D3) which couples with calcium to maintain healthy bones in the body. The amounts we are required to get on a daily basis will vary based on skin tone, clothing, geographic location, the time of year, and diet.

There are some cases where ultraviolet light exposure or phototherapy has helped to resolve the following conditions, but this is done in a controlled environment by a professional:

  • Rickets
  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Vitiligo
  • Lupus

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation Classification

Type
Wavelength
Penetration
Risks
UVA
Long
We come into contact with these rays the most. They reach the outer layer of our skin or epidermis and can penetrate untreated glass.
Sun damage; aging, wrinkling, skin cancer, and eye damage.
UVB
Medium
These rays can penetrate the dermis or middle layer of our skin. UVB rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm in warmer months.
Sun damage; responsible for sunburns, skin cancer, aging, and eye damage.
UVC
Short
UVC rays only reach us via artificial sources (lamps, lasers).
The most dangerous form of radiation but exposure is rare (welding, torches, etc.)

Pay Attention to the UV Index

If you are considering tanning or outdoor activities and have fair or freckled skin, you should pay attention to the UV index (UVI) in your region, which rates the number of UV rays that are reaching the Earth’s surface. The higher the number, the more precautions you should take, especially of you are pale or fair-skinned.

The higher the UVI rating, the more dangerous it is to go outside and expose yourself to the sun's rays.
The higher the UVI rating, the more dangerous it is to go outside and expose yourself to the sun's rays. | Source

Remember: No Tan Is Worth a Burn

Achieving a solid tan on fair skin involves taking it easy. Getting a mild burn is absolutely not required to get some color, in fact, it is counter-productive. If you're getting red, you're going too fast. As a rule of thumb, do not attempt to bravely soak in the sun between 10 am and 4 pm—you won't be doing yourself any favors. Instead, abide by the following safety tips:

  • Refresh your 30 SPF sunscreen every two hours. Make sure it's still on when you come back from a swim. Also, make sure that it is waterproof or water-resistant if you go in the water.
  • Prevent flaking by keeping your skin moisturized at all times, especially after a day on the beach.
  • Eat foods that are thought to enhance tans (beetroot, carrots, oranges).
  • If in doubt, remember that you can tan in the shade!

I hope this article has been of help and was not an overly depressing read (it certainly wasn't my intention)!. If you have any personal tips to share, please do so in the comment section, thanks!

Make sun protection a top priority.
Make sun protection a top priority. | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    What are your tanning secrets?

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      • profile image

        Survivor1979 

        3 years ago

        As a pale person that practiced "safe sun" techniques and still got stage 3 Melanoma, I can't tell you how irresponsible I feel this article is. There is no amount of tanning that is "safe." I was 32 when I was diagnosed. Really young!!!!! Please research skin cancer! It is a top 3 killer of young people in the world; fair skin and red hair especially!

      • Molly Madley profile image

        Molly Madley 

        4 years ago from San Francisco,Ca

        Good tips. I usually burn like crazy no matter what I do.

      • DChance2 profile image

        DChance 

        5 years ago

        I once went to a wait for my friend while she tanned. There was a chair there next to the bed. So, I sat down. I would advice anyone with fair skin not to sit next to anyone in a tanning bed.

      • Sonja Larsen profile image

        Sonja Larsen 

        5 years ago from Orange County, California

        Great article, I'm so glad that you have mentioned the benefits of tanning. Many people are scared of the sun these days, and that's a shame. The sun and/or artificial sun is necessary for the body to create Vitamin D. Best way is in moderation, as you have mentioned in your hub.

      • kerlund74 profile image

        kerlund74 

        5 years ago from Sweden

        Yes really interesting and filled with useful information. Of course a tan is nice and look "healthier" than white skin. I have never tried spry tan or any other fake tan. But maybe it is a good way to get tanned:)

      • bwhite062007 profile image

        Brianna W 

        5 years ago from East Coast

        Awesome and interesting hub! I will definitely be sharing with some of my fair skinned friends who are always looking for a safe way to get some color. Now they will have all the safe information they will need.

      • jgwhite66 profile image

        John Goodwin White 

        5 years ago from Scotland

        Being from Scotland I'm naturally pale skinned and usually burn quite easily if I stay out in strong sunlight too long. We don't really get a lot of strong sunshine here except for maybe 5 months around high summer so people tend to overdo sunbathing and end up with a very painful and red sunburn.

      • carrie Lee Night profile image

        Carrie Lee Night 

        5 years ago from Northeast United States

        Thooghun: Interesting hub. Professional air brush tans are an option, something I did a few times, but as with most methods there are down sides. Thank you for taking the time to write a great hub :) Have a great week.

      • profile image

        skinconscious 

        5 years ago

        You should absolutely not encourage anyone to tan, at all, ever. It's not safe regardless of how you do it. No matter the skin color of a person, the sun and fake sun are terrible. Looking pretty now shouldn't be confused with dealing with dangerous cancers and hideous sun damage later. It's not worth it. And love the skin you're in. If you're a pale sister, embrace it. If you're dark? Embrace that! Quit trying to change yourself and who you are. It's pathetic

      • profile image

        Peg 

        6 years ago

        Orange foods rich in vitamin A such as pumpkin, squash, carrots and sweet potatoes will give your skin a warm glow pigment that enhances tan appearance. But be mindful, excessive vitamin A can make your skin turn orange!

      • profile image

        Melanie-Lynee' 

        6 years ago

        I have went tanning for a couple years now, and i go maybe.... 3 to 4 times a week. I was very pale and had freckles also, but after getting tanning lotion and starting low heat and a couple of minutes I started getting darker after 2 time I went. I would bump my minute up every time i got till I reached 30 minutes and Was at the heat of extreme hot. I never once burned my self, and I always paid attention of how many minutes and how hot i was going!

      • profile image

        Lucille Rinnan 

        7 years ago

        this seems like it will help, so i guess i'll give it a try!

      • Evita's Fashion profile image

        Evita Andrianni 

        7 years ago from New Zealand

        Summer knocking on the door here soon it is good to be reminded of the down sides of the sunbathing. Vitamin D - here we come, but this time spending a bit more time - in the shade.

      • lyndapringle profile image

        Lynda Pringle 

        7 years ago from Austin, Texas

        Thanks for the tips. As a fellow pale skinner, I've looked for magic all my life for the perfect tan. The closest I've achieved to that is the tanning bed but used very carefully and in increasing dose of minutes laying on the bed and using lots of moisturizer. However, even then, one has to beware of "raccoon eyes" - the phenomena which is produced when the eye covers produce white contrasting eye lids and brows compared to the bronzed rest of the skin. Also, tanned beds also do increase the rate of dry skin and again just as much as natural tanning, regardless of the artificial nature of the tanning. Once I noticed that my skin was becoming a tad leathery despite the copious amount of lotion I put on it, I decided to embrace my pale self.

        Good tip about tanning prior to 10:00am and after 4:00pm when the sun is not at its most dangerous and the ability to develop a healthy tan is at its best. I also have another excellent tip - no matter how tempting - do NOT use Johnson's Baby Oil to enhance a tan. That will cause second degree burns on pale skin and entail a hospital stay. I've been victim to this.

        Overall, I've avoided the sun for the most part all my life and, as a result, have been rewarded with beautiful skin at the age of 47, albeit pale. I regretted not having the Farrah Fawcett tanned look as a teen but am grateful for having avoided the sun now at my age. But for those who insist on a tan, your advice is the best to follow for a healthy tan.

      • thooghun profile imageAUTHOR

        James Nelmondo 

        7 years ago from Rome, Italy

        So true Simone :)

      • Simone Smith profile image

        Simone Haruko Smith 

        7 years ago from San Francisco

        A very fair assessment, thooghun! Let's just say I'm glad I want to be pale. Less hassle, less pain!

      • thooghun profile imageAUTHOR

        James Nelmondo 

        7 years ago from Rome, Italy

        Thanks for your time ladies! :)

      • sammyfiction profile image

        Sammy 

        7 years ago from Australia

        My tan involves a lobster...as in I end up looking like one :/ So I avoid this topic altogether. But, some of your tips are good :)

        Nice hub,

        Sammyfiction

      • profile image

        Phoebe Pike 

        7 years ago

        Great hub! I'm so pale that I make milk look tan, so hopefully this will help. :)

      • bwhite062007 profile image

        Brianna W 

        7 years ago from East Coast

        Awesome hub! Had some great information in there about getting a nice tan while being safe as well. I was lucky to have the genetics of a dark skin tone because of a lot of native american in me. But UV's can be just as unsafe for dark skin tones as well as pale skin tones and need just as much protection. I too often slip on that fact and just recentley started wearing more sunscreen with a good proof.

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