A Fair-Skinned Girl Asks, Is Tanning Worth the Risk?

emma grady photo

The author, Emma Grady, and her fair skin in the sun. Photo: courtesy Past Fashion Future

It doesn't take a genius to know that the tan, sun-kissed look is the ideal look come summer time--anyone who has seen Pamela Anderson strut her stuff on Baywatch in a skimpy red one-piece knows that.

With the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) recent sunscreen guide, and the shocking stats it presents, it got motivated me to make a personal goal to preserve my fair skin tone all summer long, but can I do it?
Growing up on the coast of Maine, I've spent many summers skimping on sunscreen searching for that sun-kissed glow achieved by beach babes' tan skin. A favorite past time with friends was "laying out" in the sun, but no matter how many days I spent relaxing--read: stressing--in the hot sun, I still needed help from self-tanners and bronzing powders to reach the perfect hue.

Eventually, I have to face the facts: I do not naturally tan, my skin just turns pink then red--also known as a sunburn--and I won't be twenty-five forever.

The statistics are intimidating: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and one to two million Americans develop skin cancer each year, according to EWG. While wearing sunscreen can help prevent skin from burning, EWG points out another risk:

Sunscreens allow people with pale skin to stay outdoors longer, often aiming to get a tan or to maximize burn-free time in the sun. In the process, they are intensely exposed to UVA rays, which do not cause burning but inflict more subtle damages.

So what's a pale girl to do? I've covered the risks of tanning beds here on TreeHugger and offer an alternative with a review of my favorite tanning lotions over on Planet Green. What about forgoing both and embracing what you have? Besides wearing EWG-approved sunscreen, you can cover up, use an umbrella, wear a sun hat, and sunglasses.

EWG recognizes common behavioral tendencies of those who wear sunscreen: they spend more recreational time in direct sunlight and wear less protective clothing, which may "exacerbate sun damage that leads to melanoma."

With all those statistics and harmful UVA rays floating around, it's beyond common sense to cover up in the sun than expose your skin to potential harm. It feels better investing in my skin's future than chasing after an unrealistic dream of tan skin today.

What do you wear in the sun to cover up? Do you tan in the sun? Tell me in the comment section, below. (Oh, and if you see me out without sunglasses, a sunhat, or sunscreen, feel free to call my bluff.)

Read more at EWG.

Like this post? Follow Emma Grady, an award-winning fashion writer, stylist, and the founder and editor of PastFashionFuture.com, on Facebook and Twitter.
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