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.
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
- Can sunburn turn into a tan?
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 to 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 that fade over 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.
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:
- 8 bags of organic black tea
- 16 oz filtered water
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 spray bottle
- Boil 16 oz of filtered water and the vanilla extract.
- Pour the boiling water over the tea bags. Let steep for 8 minutes and remove the tea bags.
- Let the mixture cool for 30 minutes minimum, then transfer it to a spray bottle.
- 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 help protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation and skin damage. 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.
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, making 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 anyway, 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.
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, 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:
Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation Classification
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.
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 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 if you are pale or fair-skinned.
Can Sunburn Turn Into a Tan?
If you're out in the sun all day, even if you do take the necessary precautions, there's always a chance that the golden glow you're seeking manifests as a painful angry rash instead.
Burns happen. But will that freshly irradiated skin start to bronze once the sunburn fades?
If you're pale like me, don't count on it!
Given that a tan is essentially a defense mechanism, tanning can occur in the wake of a burn, assuming your skin is capable of tanning. But If you are pale or fair-skinned, there's a chance that once the redness fades, no tan is left in its wake, just the damage.
Find Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type
The Fitzpatrick skin scale is a skin color scale that will help us understand how our skin will react to UV exposure and what the associated risk factors are.
If you're reading this article you're likely either a Type I, or Type II like me, which means that the risks associated with overexposure are high, and the chances of post-burn tanning are low, if any.
While there is no such thing as a good burn, we are particularly at risk.
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!
- Homemade Self Tanner - A Natural DIY Self Tanner
Finally, a homemade self tanner that works! After much trial and error we've settled on a natural DIY self tanner recipe that works exactly as it should.
- Can You Really Increase Melanin in Your Skin?
Melanin gives your skin its color and helps protect you from the sun. Read on to learn how to increase melanin in your skin. Increasing antioxidants and taking vitamins A, C, and E may help increase melanin and improve your skin.
- Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation
Overview of ultraviolet radiation types and classification.
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.
What are your tanning secrets?
Peg on April 01, 2013:
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!
Melanie-Lynee' on February 05, 2013:
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!
Lucille Rinnan on March 15, 2012:
this seems like it will help, so i guess i'll give it a try!
Evita Andrianni from New Zealand on October 07, 2011:
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 on September 25, 2011:
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.
James Nelmondo (author) from Rome, Italy on September 08, 2011:
So true Simone :)
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 07, 2011:
A very fair assessment, thooghun! Let's just say I'm glad I want to be pale. Less hassle, less pain!
James Nelmondo (author) from Rome, Italy on September 06, 2011:
Thanks for your time ladies! :)
Sammy from Australia on September 06, 2011:
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 :)
Phoebe Pike on September 06, 2011:
Great hub! I'm so pale that I make milk look tan, so hopefully this will help. :)
Brianna W from East Coast on September 06, 2011:
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.