a pale girl's guide to summer

This was my wedding tan. I'm still proud of it.

When I was being formed in my mother's womb, the good Lord above saw fit to give me the skin of someone who lives in a cottage in the rainy Scottish highlands where the sun just don't shine. I even have their reddish-brown hair. It was a mix-up, I'm sure, because my mother tans just by saying the word "sun," and I get a 3rd degree sunburn just by looking out the window. On my honeymoon in Jamaica, I slathered myself in SPF 70 every 1-2 hours and spent 75% of the day in the shade, yet I still broke out in hives from the sun. The sun is out to get me. I've accepted it. It's my cross to bear.

My pale skin has been my least favorite part about myself since I can remember. I was teased mercilessly in school and told by many a classmate that I shouldn't be allowed to wear shorts with skin as pale as mine. It merely makes me roll my eyes now, but it devastated me as a kid. I've since come to grips with my skin, and I actually like having pale skin now. I really, truly do. I think the switch flipped when I visited Scotland and realized that everyone's skin looked exactly like mine. I had found my people.

So after many years of trial and error and sun poisoning and blisters and hives and peeling, burning, itchy skin, I have compiled a list of how to survive summer if you have skin like mine.

freckles are my tan

1. Ease your skin into the sunshine. And always use protection sunscreen. I went to the pool Saturday morning (at 11am, because I needed to clock my hours before the drunks get there so I can read my book about pioneer life in the 1800s in peace). Everyone else at the pool brought coolers with lunch, dinner, snacks, and enough beer for an army. I brought a water bottle and a book. One hour in the sun with sunscreen and I was already edging on medium rare. When I left the pool, people looked at me like "um, didn't you just get here?" and I gave them the "hello, have you seen my skin?" look. You can't go 0-60. You can't go from hiding your skin under boots and sweaters and then put yourself in a bikini and throw yourself into the sun. It's a recipe for disaster. But then again, I have a self diagnosed sun allergy. Too many hours in the sun and I get itchy and hives and dizzy and nauseous, which brings me to my next point..

1a. How those people can spend an entire day in the sun pounding beers with no sunscreen and without ending it in a hospital is beyond me. Not only am I sensitive to the sun, but I'm sensitive to the heat. To say I'm prone to heat exhaustion would be an understatement. The only way I can survive a summer day outside is in the shade with several gallons of water. I have no idea how people can sit in the hot sun and drink alcohol. That would be my suicide.

2. Never, under ANY circumstance, wear tanning lotion. It's the equivalent of selling your soul to the devil. It's like paying for skin cancer. Just picking up a thing of tanning lotion will give me melanoma. Don't do it.

3. Invest in some Benadryl cream. I will sing its praises from the rooftops forevermore. James brought it from the resort gift shop in desperation when I broke out in hives from the sun on our honeymoon. That stuff WORKS. Every pale, befreckeled person needs a tube of this heavenly ointment. It has saved my life more than once.

Benchwarmers, anyone?

Also, buy stock in aloe. I bathe my skin in it as soon as I get out of the sun. It drastically reduces the severity of my sunburns. But be warned, if you have the blue aloe, be careful how much you put on your forehead before going to bed. You might wake up with a blue forehead. Don't ask me how I know this. 6th grade was traumatic, ok?

4. Learn to embrace it. I used to HATE my freckles, but now I love when they pop up. Freckles are my tan, and I'm ok with it. And I love the way the sun turns my hair auburn. Summer hair is my favorite hair. At the beginning of the summer my legs are like the sun; you can't look directly at them without scorching your retinas. By the end of the summer, they go from blinding white to a light, light pink. It's nice when I don't need sunglasses to look at my own legs. It's the little things, you know?

5. Check the expiration date on your sunscreen. Let's just say I relearned this lesson over the weekend. I don't want to talk about it. Thankfully Benadryl and aloe came to the rescue.

If all else fails, stay inside. Air conditioning makes me happier than any tan ever could.



    You write the words of my people. This is my life. THIS IS OUR LIFE, OUR CROSS TO BEAR.

    I couldn't love you/this more.

    I will send you some of my coveted SPF 100+, we have to look out for one another!!!

  2. I used to not like my pale skin either, but now I do! My skin isn't quite as bad as yours in the sun, but I burn so easily, and going without sunscreen is skin suicide for me too. My burn used to tan over well as a kid but now I just go right back to being pale. And I've finally accepted it. Pale people unite!

  3. GAH (<--my new thing, I'm sorry) ...I wish I could relate, but I cannot. I have Italian blood running through my veins and I have always been able to tan. Actually, I look back at childhood photos and see myself with bright blonde hair and a nice tan and think, "Now I have to pay for both of those things..."

    Embrace those freckles!

  4. This is amazing. I'm totally there with you! I'm so self-conscience about my pale skin. My Chinese friend told me about how girls in China do ANYTHING to make their skin more white. White is the new tan in China. So, in that case, if we move to China, our pale skin will be totally IN, if you know what I mean. Problem solved. Ha!

  5. My dad's family is a long line of gingers. While I was not blessed with red hair, I did get their skin and freckles. My mom also could tan like non other. I am now really embracing my skin, as friends my age are dealing with wrinkles and sun spots, I am basking in the pale, freckley goodness. And I still get carded. Boom. Plus, I know I am way more protected from melanoma than other people.

    And yes, easing your way into sun exposure is the best way to avoid ouchies.

  6. All hail the pale women! Oh finally! If I read another blog post or Facebook status about someone "needing to tan desperately," I'm going to put my head through a wall. I too had a rough time in school because... kids are mean. My Swedish/Irish/German combo skin has not done me any favors. That, and a head full of red hair. I have learned to simply not care- and to pick up a bottle of Jergens gradual tan lotion when I go to Target at the beginning of every summer.

  7. PALES FOR LIFE. I'm semi-pale, but I have perma-freckles on my chest and shoulders from learning the hard way that I will never be a bronze goddess.

  8. I'm quite white too--and I'm not entirely sure I accept it....that may be why I married a Mexican...but I have no desire to try to kill my skin into being darker. No way. Angel's convinced me that "natural" mineral suncreens are the way to go....and growing up in a Muslim country, I learning that staying covered up in the sun really isn't too difficult or too miserable, either. Wearing a t-shirt at a waterpark is my favorite way of avoiding painful shoulders.

  9. I don't burn, I just get dark. So does my husband. So does our baby! Thank goodness.

    (But I think you should be comfy in whatever skin you have, pale or not!!)

  10. oh, i am right there with ya! i swear i used to get tan but anymore i just burn so easily. my irish skin is getting paler every year? MAYBE. i got "bronzed" before our trip to jamaica and ppl were all, 'you should ask for your money back'...whatever i knew i was tan (for me)!

    good tips, i've never tried the benadryl cream for sunburn, wish i had known a few weeks ago! our skin is going to look awesome when we're older. so there!

    p.s. i'm jealous of your freckles. mine just meld together, not cute.

  11. Oh, my sweet fellow pale-atron. I feel ya.

    I had no idea I was actually a pale-atron until I'd moved away from home, then came back to visit two years later. 2 years in Alaska had robbed me of a tan I'd acquired in the bare-bottomed-on-the-lawn baby days that moms like to photograph so they can ransom your obedience later in the teen years. I was WHITE. I had to time how long I'd been in the sun, strength-training my way up to being able to be outside all day WITH sunscreen. I had basecoats of regular sunscreen and touch-ups with spray sunscreen. I burned through 30 SPF. I hadn't even KNOWN.

    As a fellow pale-atron, I have one word for you: Lidocaine. It's a topical numbing agent, a goo you smooth on like aloe except it's made of Science. It reduces inflammation, so it helps with pain & healing as well. Usually sold by the sunscreen and aloe gel. I cannot overemphasize this: it is how to survive contact with the summer sun.

  12. Hahaha... while I can't say I understand the plight of being pale, I do feel for you. :) And I don't burn easily, but I tan REALLY fast... like I'm out for 20 minutes and I'm like three shades darker... so even though my skin has a natural SPF according to science, I still slather on the highest stuff if I am going to be out for a while (which usually doesn't happen because I am pro-air-conditioning as well). I don't mind a little tan, but I think I personally look best at my kind of natural, non-sunkissed tone, so I try to sort of stick to that. :)

  13. ALWAYS USE PROTECTION....in the form of sunscreen. Freakin' hilarious.

    GIRL, I'm on the pale side too thanks to my mother. It's a curse and a blessing. When everybody else and their mother has skin cancer later in life, we'll be the few who are happy because the sun doesn't like us growing up. But it's a curse when you want to wear a cute pair of shorts! Put that together with some thunder thighs and that's just a bad combination. I'm screwed....for now ;D

  14. You go girl! I'm pretty fair-skinned myself, but can get tan EVENTUALLY. But I must must MUST ease into it, like you said! I think freckles are adorable though FYI! :)

  15. Confession time: I kind of wish I didn't tan as easily as I do. It's crazy, I can be outside for all of 20 mins and I'll be 2 shades darker with crazy a$$ tan lines haha

  16. Oh, you pale, poor, sweet girl. Women in the 1800's killed for your skin. ENJOY IT.

  17. I always loved being tan. I'm the person who tans when someone says, "sun." But now I see all the celebrities who are like 60 and they look like they're 30 and everyone is all, "what's your secret?" And they're like, "STAY OUT OF THE SUN AND/OR ALWAYS HAVE SUNSCREEN ON! DON'T TAN. EVER." And I'm over here like, "Crap. I think I've blown my chances already." But now, I always make sure I have sunscreen on at least my face and my boobs. Because those are the two things I really care about keeping young looking. The rest can be tan, I can handle that.

  18. Tanning is like anorexia (bear with me now)...because I swear, I've had friends who were born white and somehow pass as a native american, and they STILL don't think they look tan in the mirror. I assure you, their knee caps were the color of tar.

    Only, while that's sad, what's more sad is that it became like a competition to me (the pale skinned, lightweight) as if it was some twisted drinking game; you try to keep up, even though the other person totally can drink you under the table...and then who looks like the red nosed fool? You do.

    Knowing when to stop, people. Stop promising yourself "just one more hour", or you'll end up transcending that boiled lobster color and enter the phase that looks almost as if you have a case of hypothermia; you turn purple. And you are not cold, because your skin feels like a furnace. This happened to me in April (which is NOT spring in Minnesota) when I was convinced by a friend to expose our winter white bodies for, oh, two hours. You start to panic when your naturally tan friend has scorched to a shade of red. You spend nearly a month trying to recover from the blisters and the skin so tight it wrinkles when you grin. You know you have it bad, when total strangers come up and say, "Oh, honey...you really shouldn't do that", as if you didn't notice that your skin is on fire.

    You can only do that so many times before it catches up with you. And it will...the thing is, even though I know this, it's so hard to shush that little voice that still pesters me about being fair. No matter how much I know better...it's still a struggle to refuse to care.

  19. I love you we should hang out and blind people with our legs together. Hahah I'm here because I have a summer wedding coming up where everyone else is tanned and I'm gonna be glowing with hives should be fun.


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