I have never had tan skin a day in my life unless it was sprayed on my whilst I stood naked in a well-ventilated booth. I tried to tan, oh heavens how I tried — but after every attempt to “tan” I only ended up sunburned and sad. I’ve never set toe in a tanning booth and for the last 15 years I have actively attempted to not only preserve my fair skin, but appreciate it as well. The first step to accepting fair skin is realizing that no matter how hard one tries, you will never ever be golden and bronzed no matter what you do.
So stop trying.
The second step is rethinking the way you look at your fair skin. So many people jump to negative adjectives like “pasty, pallid, ghastly, pale and cadaverous.” I say we put an end to that nonsense and begin using words like “alabaster, porcelain, ivory and snowy” to describe fair skin. Lately I’ve come to realize that having fair skin is the equivalent of wearing white pants on your face, all the time. Every little mark, blemish and discoloration shows for the world to see. But when fair skin is well cared for and balanced? Well, there’s nothing quite like it. (Which is really true for any skin tone, but this one is about fair skin so go with me.)
How does one know if their fair skin really is meant to be fair skin forever and ever? I’ve learned the quickest way to tell is to take a look at your nipples. If there isn’t much difference between them and the rest of your body? Congratulations, snowy skin for life. Let’s venture into TMI territory for just a moment and talk about the funny things that happen in pregnancy, the line from bellybutton to pubic bone? I never got one. Pregnancy mask? Nope. Darker nipples during pregnancy and breastfeeding? Nope. My sister on the other hand, who has always tanned quite easily, darkened up in all the typical places, proving that she has far more melanin in her skin than I ever will.
As maddening as it is that I will never have sun kissed skin, I’m well aware that all this time spent slathering on sunscreen and staying away from tan lines will pay off one day. ONE DAY. All it takes is one trip to a beach in Florida to see what a lifetime of sun damage looks like in the retirement years, and it’s not appealing nor is it healthy. Sure I’ll still be transparent when I’m 80, but I’d like to think of it more as a luminous glow, perhaps with some cerulean varicose detailing.
My goal this summer is to be just as alabaster in September as I am right now. I want to be using the same shade of foundation in the middle of summer as I use in the dead of winter (Make Up Forever #115!) I don’t want a single burn, nor do I want anything resembling a tan, farmer or otherwise. Here’s a few ways I plan on preserving my alabaster gleam:
A Big Giant Hat
My friends used to make so much fun of my giant floppy sun hat, until one day they all ended up with the dreaded neck/shoulder burn and realized maybe I wasn’t so crazy after all. A giant floppy hat that can be crushed up and shoved in a bag is one of the best investments you can make, find the right one and it’s like carrying shade with you everywhere. Having a packable one is a bonus, but anything is better than nothing and this is a good basic floppy hat to keep your face safe from the sun.
Sunscreen I’ll Actually Use
It’s cute to think that I’d just apply whatever sunscreen happened to be on sale or available it the largest quantities, but that would be a lie. I hate the way some sunscreens feel and also the way some of them smell. Sure! I’m protecting myself from cancer, but who wants to get out of the shower and layer a sticky thick layer of smelly goop on them? Sunscreen only works if you’re wearing it and if you’re at all particular about how it feels or smells, it’s worth putting in the effort to find one you’ll actually use. (This includes a legit sunscreen for your face, which is maybe the hardest satisfactory product to find.) If you’re worried about the chemical safety of your sunscreen, check the Environmental Working Group’s 2014 guide to sunscreen. I also have to remember to apply it before I get dressed, so I don’t miss any spots or get lazy about putting it on once I’m ready to head out the door.
My two current favorites for scent, ease of application and feeling while on are Coppertone Clearly Sheer Spray SPF 30 or 50 and Austrailian Gold Spray Gel SPF 30. My favorite facial sunscreen is Supergoop! Save Face Serum SPF 30, it goes on light but is super efficient.
Once you find your magical sunscreen formula, you need to keep a bottle of it everywhere. One of the most important places to keep sunscreen is in the car because have you seen how quickly hands age? Next time you drive, notice how much the sun is on your hands, arms and face. Sure, you feel protected behind glass, but UVA rays still penetrate auto glass.
Recently, a study by Butler and Foskoshowed that the majority of skin cancers in the US develop on the left side of people’s bodies and faces. This finding is especially pronounced in men, who more consistently spend time driving cars over a lifetime. While younger women have more left-side than right-side skin cancers. Source
Why not wear sunscreen in your clothes? Sure, I still go out with sunscreen on, but any little bit helps and I have a few UPF dresses that serve as an extra layer of protection when I’ll really be out in the sun. You can read more about sun protective clothing here, including how the clothing is rated, who actually needs it (me, hi) and how effective it can actually be (i.e. home laundering does not affect effectiveness.)
This Wick-It Wader coverup from Athleta is one of my most favorite go to pieces of active clothing in the summer, modest enough to wear to the store, covers enough to keep my skin safe and cute enough to wear on purpose.
While it may feel weird to walk around with an umbrella when it’s not raining outside, you will feel lovely under your portable shade on a hot day. One of my least favorite feelings is the sun hitting my skin directly and an umbrella not only prevents that from happening, the right umbrella will keep out harmful UV rays. If you’ll be outdoors for a long amount of time, consider a sun protective tent or larger sun protective umbrella. What’s more, you’ll have all the shade from your floppy hat, without having to mess up your hair. Again, any umbrella is better than none, but if you’re serious about sun protection, this 42″ UPF 50 travel umbrella from Coolibar will seriously do the job.
Big Sunny Sunglasses
I hit 30 and those little squint lines around my eyes started to stick around. It’s cool, but I don’t need them getting any deeper or bigger for now, thanks. Six years ago I made fun of people who wore big giant sunglasses, then I finally broke down and bought a pair and I’ve never gone back. Sunglasses are another item worth having in mass quantities and in every part of your life like sunscreen. I have a dedicated pair that stays in my purse (polarized, totally makes a difference) but I also have backup pairs by the front door, the garage, and in each of my cars.
This is something that has been a lot harder for me to figure out, because it can be expensive and risky. Finding a good colorist and makeup artist who can help you find the right hair color and makeup colors for your face can make such an enormous difference in either complementing or distracting from any natural skin tone. I thought for the longest time that because I was so fair skinned I must have cool undertones, turns out I have pinkish gold undertones and a grand majority of foundations look downright yellow on me. Head into a Sephora when you have the opportunity and have one of their employees use their Pantone skin tone tool on you (it’s free!) You may be amazed at what your skin tone actually is. If I don’t have warm tones in my hair my skin ends up looking washed out and pallid. Unfortunately this is one area where you need to find what actually works for you, not what you want to work for you. I will never be an icy blonde, wear certain lip colors or be able to pull of certain colors of makeup — and that’s okay. Same goes for clothing, when it comes to swimsuits I’ve found that jewel tones, especially turquoise and aqua look best on my fair skin.
Go forth and be fair my alabaster friends. Embrace it, love and and know one day we’ll look 20 when we’re 80 (more or less…probably less.)
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.More On