How to Get a Tan With Fair Skin

Updated on October 23, 2017

Tanning 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 tragi-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 as well. 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), and 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.

Protecting Fair Skin

Before we begin looking at what methods may suit you on your quest on how to get a tan with fair skin, here's a brief and concise look at how to make sure our skin also remains healthy in the short and long-term.

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

Is It All Doom And Gloom?

Aside from the risk of skin damage and cancer, many people who use sunbeds claim they offer secondary benefits which make it worth all the hassle. Exposure to sun-mimicking UVB rays can lead to a sense of relax and well-being, as well as be used as an effective cure for some forms of dermatitis and psoriasis.

Sunbeds, Myth Or Option?

Sunbeds are something of a mixed bag with regards to tanning fair skin. On the one hand it can, if done patiently and sensibly, lead to natural, long-lasting results, but on the other it presents many of the same risks that traditional tanning entails. If you are every-bit as fair-skinned as I am, chances are, sunbeds should not be considered a worthwhile option.

Reports published by the World Health Organization and Cancer Research UK make clear the dangers involved. If you have:

  • Freckly skin.
  • Skin that burns easily.
  • A large quantity of moles.
  • Take certain medication that increases your sensitivity to UV sunlight.
  • Are underage.

Then there are important cancer risks to consider. If you decide to go on anyway, limiting your sessions to a few minutes and gradually increasing over the course of weeks, and 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.

Fake Tans (Sprays And Lotions)

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 are fantastic opportunities in that they 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).

There are many ways to avoid looking cheap with a fake tan, here are a few options:

  • 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 a great deal more flexibility.
  • Tan Catalyzers - Claim to speed up tanning by stimulating melanin production (I have not tried these myself).
  • Beauty Salons - Can use high-quality sprays to uniformly achieve a perfect, customized tan. 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. Here are a few examples of popular products for the fair-skinned (I threw together some of Amazon's best-selling offers, though I urge you to do your own research).

The Sun Itself

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 I've already mentioned, as a rule of thumb do not attempt to bravely soak in the sun between 10am and 4pm, you won't be doing yourself any favors. Instead, try the following tips:

  • Refresh your 30 SPF sunscreen every two hours. Make sure it's still on when you come back from a swim.
  • Prevent flaking by keeping your skin moisturized at all times, especially after a day on the beach.
  • Certain kinds of beach foods are claimed to enhance tans (beetroot, carrots, oranges), I have no experience with this personally.
  • 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!

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


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      • profile image


        2 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


        4 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 

        4 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


        4 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 

        4 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 

        4 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 

        4 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


        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


        5 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


        5 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 

        6 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 D. Preston 

        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 D. Preston 

        7 years ago from Rome, Italy

        Thanks for your time ladies! :)

      • sammyfiction profile image


        7 years ago from Australia

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

        Nice hub,


      • 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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