If you’ve got fair skin or pale skin, the prospect of going out for a tan can be extremely intimidating.
You’ve likely struggled with sunburns in the past, and tanning effectively may be something that you think is off reach.
We’ve got good news for you, though. As a fair skinned person, you can tan—perhaps not as well as everyone else—without burning.
As long as you learn a bit about the tanning process, and follow a few simple steps. In this article, we’ll explain the basis of fair-skinned tanning and leave you with a working knowledge of how to tan with fair skin.
Don’t worry—all of the tanning methods that we’ll teach you will result in a natural tan.
Fair-skinned people don’t have much melanin relative to their darker-skinned compatriots who also have an easier time tanning.
You’ve heard of melanin, which is the chemical your body produces and embeds within your skin to protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation damage.
Melanin is a pigment which is very dark, and its main purpose is to absorb the light that hits your body so that UV rays don’t penetrate into your skin and potentially cause DNA damage and skin damage.
The counterbalance of melanin is that your body needs a small amount of UV energy in order to create vitamin D in addition to other critical biological chemicals like melatonin, which regulates your sleep cycle.
Fair skin and pale skin are inherited genetically from your parents, but also take cues from your environment and your actions.
Your genetics determine the baseline level of melanin production, whereas your actions influence the short to medium term spikes in melanin production which we call tanning.
This means that there is no way to get a permanent tan or burn, though with enough sun exposure pale skinned people or fair skinned people may develop sunspots, moles, and if taken to excess, skin cancer.
Here’s a quick skin type guide to determine what you have.
If you have type 1 skin – this post is for you.
If you live on a higher latitude, your skill will naturally become paler because your body has less access to sunlight each day, and needs to make the most out of every UV ray that it can catch.
In contrast, if you live near the Equator, your skin will be deluged by the sun at all times—far more than it needs to fulfill the biological processes that use UV energy to produce Vitamin D.
As a result, your skin will increase its level of melanin production, which is responsible for the darkening of your skin which we call tanning.
The more frequently you’re exposed to the sun beyond your skin’s ability to protect itself with melanin, the more melanin will be produced so that you’ll be in better shape the next time around.
This means that building melanin is a process of getting sunburns or having close calls with sunburn.
In general, people with fair skin or pale skin walk the line between lightly tanning and burning during their tanning efforts, which we’ll talk more about in the next section.
To tan with fair skin requires a lot of patience and also alertness. A high quality tanning oil can be helpful because it can accelerate the tanning process while reducing your exposure to ultraviolet rays beyond what your skin is capable of dealing with.
To be the best tan for pale skin, expect to take things slowly, use sunscreen, and expect to have to take time off from tanning cycles when you accidentally get a light or moderate sunburn (unless you want some gnarly tan lines).
Tanning cycles are periods of time spent in the sun counterbalanced by periods of time spent away from the sun as much as possible. If you have fair skin, you will need to perform many short tanning cycles to build up a tan.
As mentioned previously, tanning with fair or pale skin is likely to result in skin tags, sun spots, or moles, which are concentrated pockets of melanin that are typically permanent.
Skin tags and moles are defined as benign tumors, and the vast majority of these freckles are harmless, but anyone with fair skin who is going to be devoting a lot of time to tanning should expect to see a lot of these little buggers crop up.
The rule is that if a new skin tag or mole is even in shape and surface gradient, it’s almost certainly fine. If a new mole or skin tag is large, lumpy, changes from day to day, and extremely dark, you should make your way directly to the dermatologist and stop all tanning efforts immediately—melanoma is no joke.
While the truth is that your skin will produce melanin in greater quantities the more badly you’re burned, sunburns are extremely uncomfortable and directly linked to skin cancer, so they should be avoided as much as possible.
Learning how to tan with fair skin is a process of learning how to use suntan lotion and time in the sun to walk the line between just a little too much sun exposure and getting a sunburn.
Given how difficult it is to estimate the true severity of ultraviolet ray penetration through the atmosphere on most days, you should expect to slip up and get a little burnt quite a few times, even if you practice well. You can even burn on cloudy days too, so watch out.
Avoiding burns is a function of using a higher SPF sunscreen lotion and lowering your time spent in the sunlight. On the other hand, if you are trying to tan, you will need to find an SPF rating that allows enough ultraviolet energy to prompt your skin to produce more melanin.
Depending on how fair skinned you are, this could range from an SPF of 5 to an SPF of 30. SPF 15 is a good starting point for fair skinned people trying to build up a tan.
The good news is that once you have a base tan built up—once your body has produced a minimum amount of melanin that makes getting burnt less likely—you can downgrade to a lower SPF.
You probably won’t get much tanning accomplished if you use an SPF 45 sunscreen and sit in the sun for hours, though.
These days, you can even take a sunscreen pill to help protect your skin, though you may want to combine it with traditional sunscreen methods until you get the hang of how much protection it provides and how quickly.
Take care to read your sunscreen’s instructions for its duration of action, and apply it evenly over the surfaces that you want tanned—especially if you have a lot of hair on those surfaces.
Getting rid of hair before sunscreen application can help avoid razor bumps too.
Hair can get burned and tanned just like the rest of your skin, and tends to bleach out rather than get darker. Here’s a few bikini trimmers that we recommend if you want to get rid of it completely before tanning.
While you’re learning the tanning process, you’re bound to make mistakes.
You can’t make a sunburn go away any faster than your body can repair it, but there are some tools which you can use to reduce the amount of painful swelling, itching, and peeling that comes with a bad burn.
Aloe vera gels are the go-to products for addressing serious surface burns because they contain chemicals which provide a cooling sensation and also help your skin with re-moisturization.
Applying a copious amount of aloe vera gel to a serious external burn prevents the sunburn from causing cracked skin, although it can’t reverse any DNA damage or accelerated aging of your skin that will have occurred as a result of getting a serious burn.
Here’s the protocol for how to tan with fair skin:
This protocol will slowly but surely take you toward the tanned body that you’re seeking, but we still have a little bit of wisdom to share for how to tan with fair skin.
Here are a few tips for tanning fair skin:
Now that you’re ready to safely and gradually tan your way from fair skin to a beach body, get ready to make a lot of Vitamin D and have a lot of fun—or relaxation—in your tanning venue of choice.
Keep our tips and protocol in mind, and everything will be fine. If you’re tanning with friends, don’t feel the need to keep up with them—fair skinned folk are a special case, and shouldn’t be held to the same tanning rules as everyone else.
You’ll know that a slight burn or two was worth the pain when you start receiving compliments from people you know who are accustomed to seeing you with fair skin.