Don’t assume age spots and extra wrinkles won’t matter: Older people care about rapid ageing. I’ve sold them hopeless products – many expect a cream to remove sun damage. How can we perceive skin tanning attractive when the act involves negative cell altering?
By the time your skin has a tan, cell damage has already occurred. Skin Cancer Foundation explain: Skin produces melanin (what darkens skin) to help “prevent further injury” from sun and tanning bed UV radiation which causes genetic damage to cells”. The foundation also state: a 75% increased risk of developing life-threatening melanoma from one indoor tanning session before age 35.
The tanned skin beauty myth
Coco Chanel allegedly made tanning vogue when she carelessly suntanned in the French Riviera. A Healthline article reveals: the 50’s and 60’s surf culture hyped further interest. By the 2000’s, a beach tan became widespread through sunless tanning products. Western culture links tans to wealth: an active, outdoors, relaxing lifestyle.
Like many, I thought skin tanning made me skinny and glowy. My olive complexion felt plain against the bronzed women on campaigns and TV. After lathering olive oil and cooking my skin as a teen, I switched back to childhood “safe” tanning – assuming sun cream protected from sun injury.
I bragged about my never burning complexion. How a day at the beach could do little more than make me darker. That bragging ended in Miami. Lazily, I only put on SPF cream before hitting the beach, and at some time late afternoon. By the end of my trip, peeling and red marks appeared.
During the beginning of lock down, I found comfort in garden sunbathing. But days later (looking much darker), I didn’t feel attractive. Straw-textured hair, dehydrated skin, tiredness, headaches, dryness – nothing to show-off about. My camera captured me as a tangoed Oompa Loopa. I try to eat healthy, exercise, decrease stress, sleep well… why did I purposely do something that causes the worst anti-ageing signs, possible cancer and actual body harm? To supposedly make me thinner and healthy-looking?
Healthy skin tanning doesn’t exist
“Book a tanning bed before your holiday; it’ll stop you from burning and will make you tan quicker”. I’ve heard this advice many times. Dermatologist Sheriff Ibrahim spoke to website Inverse, sharing truths on false sunning myths: Sun DNA damage CAN happen to any skin tone, and a “base tan” isn’t a good idea. He notes than tanning involves damage to DNA – pre-tanning initiates the process because to tan, you have to injure your DNA. Most shocking, Ibrahim stated: tanning is “your skin’s last-ditch effort to protect itself”.
What about sunless tanning products and spray tans?
According to Health Harvard, the long-term effects of sunless tanning products are “largely unknown”. The publication explains the key ingredient in tan products (DHA – a colour additive) hasn’t received many safety tests. Harvard mention one study which showed DNA cell damage from mixing DHA to skin cells.
Publication The Skincare Edit, describe how tanning products can produce free radicals (they can damage cells and accelerate ageing), and increase sun damage. Plus, DHA in spray tans and lotions may cause harm if you inhale it. When you consider buying these products, ask yourself: Why do I want to create the look of someone who has destroyed (possibly killed) their cells and damaged their skin? What’s sexy, glamorous, aspirational about hurting your body?
Can sun tanning be racist?
Some online white influencers commit “blackfishing” (posing as biracial) because Western society currently loves “exotic” looking women with predominant “white features” and some “black”. Dark olive skin with green eyes, for instance. Most don’t attempt to make themselves look biracial: culture has taught them to believe pale isn’t beautiful. Celebrities like Ulrika Jonsson (former Gladiator host & Sun newspaper columnist), perpetuates this myth when she discusses her tanning addiction (tanorexia).
It’s become okay to laugh about paleness – jokes and memes on looking like a ghost. In January, The Daily Mail put the phrase: “Feeling pasty?” on an article title. Skin tanning companies often encourage people to use their products to improve their dull complexion. Countless celebs show-off their tans, and every fast-fashion brand aimed at young women uses white models with tanned skin.
It’s not surprising therefore, why people want to darken themselves. I’m olive toned and even I’ve felt the need to tan. But from a different perspective: it’s frustrating for black people, continually facing discrimination for their colour, seeing women who are better treated for being paler choosing to be darker. And when they go darker, rather than face the racism black people receive, the world applauds them – they’re more beautiful. Their skinnier… when do we say black women look better for their natural complexion? Yes, tanning naturally happens so you can argue it’s not racist, but many products can alter skin colour drastically. Some wear foundation around 6-7 shades darker.
The desperation to achieve tanned skin encourages the idea that skin tone can alter beauty. Read: Racial Beauty Standards Fail All Women
Skin tanning is not attractive
It’s a trend. There’s a difference between unavoidably tanning from going outdoors, to purposely aiming to look much darker. Our skin shouldn’t tan to gain vitamin D.
I tan easily – it was once a flattering trait. It’s difficult for me to stay the same shade when I’m outdoors. Though now – that’s a flaw. Tanning has lost its sparkly appeal. As a makeup artist, it was saddening to see women hate their natural colour. Whether women wanted to be darker or lighter – I saw it as a society pushing insecurity on them, and my makeup skills couldn’t solve their feelings.
Staying in the shade during peak hours, liberally applying SPF sun cream, wearing protective clothing (hats, sunglasses), can help to protect from sun damage. And a healthy lifestyle can improve a person’s glow. Yet I know, people who love tanning may read this blog and not change anything, because their tanned beauty ideals are backed by society. And some are addicted.
What are your thoughts? Has this piece made you consider going in the sun less? If you love skin tanning, what could inspire you to adapt your habits?