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Looking Fabulous: What I've Learned about TANNING

Something weird is happening to my skin.

White spots, dark spots, red bumps. I’m afraid to admit that perhaps the years of abuse are beginning to show.

I was a child in the time before sunscreen. Back then, if your kid was susceptible to sunburn, you made them wear a t-shirt over their swimsuit. Never mind that a wet t-shirt has a sun protection factor of three. THREE. The only thing that parents had at their disposable was that zinc oxide like the lifeguards wore on their noses. It’s a wonder we didn’t all sizzle and fry up into tiny little crispy people.

I was lucky though. I tanned easily, mostly due to good genes, I think. My mother laid out her whole life and her skin was perfectly fine. Young-looking, even. Two weeks on the beach during summer vacation and I looked like a little Indian child.

All you can see is my teeth. (1976)

As a teen, I worshipped the sun. I lived on the Gulf Coast and we scoffed at sunscreen. Sunscreen?? We don’t need no stinkin’ sunscreen. We used baby oil or Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil (which was the same thing, really, only it smelled like coconut). Some of the really bold among us mixed iodine in their baby oil, or slathered themselves in butter. No one talked too much about sun damage back in the 80s. We had bigger things to worry about. Like AIDS. Pools and beaches were our lives. We baked ourselves and looked all the better for it.

Linda Dano was my fashion idol. (1985)

By the college years, I’d moved to Memphis where tanning beds were gaining in popularity. I avoided them for years because I adored laying out in the sun, and had no desire to squeeze four hours of shakin’ and bakin’ into 15 minutes under a florescent light.

We vacationed in the Florida panhandle and occasionally I would hit the tanning bed to get a “base tan” before I headed to the beach. Tanning beds were a means to an end; sun was still god. And the Florida sun was brutal. If you planned to spend a week there, you were gonna need some sunscreen in the early days. Otherwise, you’d burn too severely and not be able to enjoy any more days in the sun. I started out with SPF 10, then 8, 4 and, on the last day, none at all, in order to snatch up as much sunshine as possible before heading home.

But tanning beds are like solar crack. The addiction will sneak up on you and before you know it you’re begging the girl behind the counter for just seven more minutes. Tanorexics look at their orange skin in the mirror and see paleness. They swear they can stop tanning any time they want.

Jessica’s monochromatic look is a fashion Don’t: Hair, skin and dress should not all be the same color.

Last summer while in Florida, I developed a horrible rash up and down my arms. Thousands of raised, red bumps that itched like crazy and looked absolutely horrible. The pharmacist thought it was an allergic reaction to the sun and recommended a hydrocortisone cream. What? Allergic?? I can’t be allergic to the sun! I’ve been in it my whole life! I began to suspect that maybe the time in the tanning bed may have made my skin more sensitive to the sun’s effects. I swore off the fake tan even though I still had several minutes left on my plan.

A lot of people swear by sunless tanning creams, but I just can’t. When I was in high school, there was this girl named Laura Mark who used sunless tanning lotion and her skin was totally orange. When she touched notebook paper, it left a big orange smudge on the page. I realize that sunless tans have been perfected since 1984, but I still can’t even think about using them without picturing Laura Mark’s trail of smears.

This year, I have a friend with a pool. Her son and mine are close in age, and they are kind enough to open up Club Backyard every Saturday to anyone who wants to come over and swim. I’m using sunscreens to develop a slow, consistent natural tan and I’ve decided this is definitely the way to go. Kind of like in Florida, I started with SPF 10, moved down to 8 and am now sporting the 4 every week. The benefit to this is:
1) By tanning slowly, the tan lasts longer. Hypertanning contributes to tanorexia because it fades so quickly and makes you crave more.
2) My tan is a gorgeous golden color that I receive compliments on from everyone. Especially my bikini waxer.
3) My friend is 10 years older than me and has these little white dots on her legs where years and years of sun exposure has killed off the pigment in her skin. This is not a goal I have for myself.

I’ve also decided that the sun is not a friend to my face. I faithfully apply sunblock (SPF 15) to my face and obtain that sun-kissed look with tinted moisturizer and a good bronzer applied with a big fluffy powder brush.

I still think my mother’s good skin genes will protect me in my old age. I’m lucky enough to be 40 (nearly) and wrinkle-free (so far). Still, I find an awful lot of imperfections in my skin that cause me despair. When you’re young, you think you’re going to live forever in taut, smooth skin. And you can. Just remember: You + Sunscreen = BFF.

I had the same bumps that came from being out in the sun (this happened when I was 12). My Dad took me to the dermatologist and he said it was 'cuz I have sensitive skin. He recommended KeriLotion...I've used it since I was 12 and never had another problem with my skin. Of course, that doesn't mean you give up the sunscreen!

i love the sun! like you, i never go out without sunscreen, although also like you i tan easily and therefore probably should use a high spf.

i get very tan in the summer if i get a chance. i LOVE my weekends spent in the sun. i hate the look of a fake tan and feel like i look so much healthier than fake bake gals at the end of the summer.

love it!!

You know, I read this entry this morning and then went out into the sun for several hours without any sunscreen. Because I am sometimes completely brainless.

I love the sun. Ironically the more tan I am the healthier I feel. I admit I am a bit of an addict. Last Saturday I was out for not even two hours and I burned.
The olive skinned goddess who never burns.
I just can't tan the way I used to anymore.

BTW , the self tanners they make nowadays are much more natural looking.

What is hard for me is that I love the sun also and one of my three children has my skin ( we tan easy and if we burn alittle on our shoulders or face the next day it is tan)BUT my other two children got my husbands skin...NO matter how much skin I put on them they still burn.

Oh yes, I remember baby oil!! Now days I only tan a couple of times a year, but when I do I want to look tan so usually put a bronzer on. I have not tried any sunless tanners. Back in the early 90s I tried one of those things and my hands were orange for a week. I will stick with the natural sun.

This is gonna seem all off topic, but just go wih me a minute. You know how Thomas Jefferson had the slave mistress, right? And like they have traced the decendants of the children from that relationship and found that some of them "passed" and faded to White, while some married darker and are now Black? Well, I'm thinking your "good genes" may have been named Shaquita and been from the south side of Nigeria.You was looking just a lil' too brown, Chile! Welcome to the family!

well...my relatives did come from Virginia....

I can't eat anything coconut without thinking of 80's suntan lotion. I always was dark when I was younger, but as I've gotten older I don't even try. This is very funny. You've inspired a post!

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