Why Do We Still Feel the Need to Tan?


Why do we still feel the need to tan?  Even though we know that a tan is the sign of skin damage (and I don’t think anyone wants a melanoma) there is still an urge to be tanned.   The other day I was speaking to a client who feels that she can’t go out in summer with her white legs.   Another who feels she has to spray tan herself every week to look healthy, yet a tan is not a sign of health.

Nobody says that Nicole Kidman or Cate Blanchett need to get a tan, so why do the rest of us feel that white is so unattractive?  Now this is not true in Asian countries where white is what most people want to be and they spend time and money on bleaching their skin and using whitening lotions.

Some say that a tan makes the cellulite less obvious, and that we look slimmer when tanned (darker skin recedes more than lighter skin), but is it really worth potential death or disfigurement?

Do you still like to tan either fake or real?  If so, why?


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More from Imogen Lamport


  • I am a redhead (not a true "carrot top," but pale with freckles and strawberry blonde hair). But I have still always felt better with "some colour" (because, let's face it, it's red or white for me – not much in between!). I feel a tan on my face brings definition and actually evens out my pasty skin tone, especially the blue veins visible in my eye area. I feel less need to wear make-up and I also appear younger AND slimmer. However, tanned for me is a pale day for most people, so I know I'm an exception. But overall, a fresh-from-the-outdoors look has always made me feel better about myself, whether it's from a spray tan or facial bronzer (usually) or an afternoon spent outside (rare, without SPF 50).

  • I'm one of those rare Aussies who's never tanned in my life. I'm a brunette with very fair "English" skin, and even though i grew up in the 60s and 70s when tanning was de rigeur, I never did. I'm happy to be white, I'm not even sure that a fake tan would suit my colouring

  • I oiled and basted for years as a kid and tried to tan when on holiday after I moved to England. These days I'm so pale that even 'light' tanning products are streaky orange and, frankly, I can't be bothered. Having reached my mid-50s I'm remembering the phrase 'lose it, tone it or tan it'. I've added 'cover it'. Even tanned, my legs never were my best feature…

  • Hmmm… I prefer having a tanned skin. It conceals my under-eyes without any makeup, and I think it gives some balance to my dark brown hair. Yup, I'm the one who thinks she looks healthier when tanned.

  • Indians wud kill for the white skin…! fairness products dominate our cosmetic market big time… the very definition of beauty is linked to skin tone here!

    i always feel fairness obsessed ppl shud meet those who think tan is beautiful and vice versa… 🙂

  • I don't feel the need to tan at all – and you can definitely tell by looking at me! It's even hard to find makeup that is pale enough for me. Sometimes with all my pastyness I do feel a little washed out, but I add color in the form of pinky blush, not a tan brown.

    I know that *other* people think I need a tan, though. I have gotten a lot of unsolicited advice about such-and-such spray tan or so-and-so's tanning salon.

  • Having a tan even outs my skintone…not the blemish so much, but my under-eye circles and such. I have some light veins that show up, and tanning kind of camouflages those, too.

    Part of it is psychological for me…having a tan reminds me of summer, and the beach, and carefree times.

    And while I don't tan very often (other than in the summer or right before swimsuit season), I do like tanning beds…so warm and relaxing. I wish they weren't horrible for me, though. O.o

  • I apply a fair shade of self tanner to my legs in the summer because wear skirts almost daily and I hate the thought of wearing sheer nude hose (mainly because they seem to be so unfashionable.) My legs are far from perfect and I find that the self tanner helps them look smoother and camoflages some discoloration I have. I liken it to wearing makeup: My lips aren't naturally this red and my legs aren't naturally this tan, so I don't get why it's a big deal to do either.

  • I tan gradually when I can to build my skin's natural protection from the sun. I need it when we go kayaking, which is almost every weekend when it's hot out. I feel that chemical sunscreens are more harmful than a light, natural tan. I also appreciate the natural vitamin D that my skin makes with the sunlight. Of course, before we moved to Florida a few years ago I wouldn't have said any of this.

  • If you are naturally tan, then this doesn't apply to you! Your skin is much more protected from sun damage!

  • If you are naturally tan, then this doesn't apply to you! Your skin is much more protected from sun damage!

  • I feel better with a little sun-induced tan. It seems to make my skin better (on my arms and legs, I have those red dots and scaly sections). Because I have some Spanish and Native American ancestors, my skin tans well.

    However, as I get more grey in my hair, I think untanned skin looks better with it than tanned.

  • I don't have skin that tans and I'm happy that way. I wear sunscreen 365 days a year and I don't care that I'm pale and freckly. I've never seen a fake tan that didn't look a disgusting orange colour (except in photoshopped magazines, of course.

  • A friend of mine who does profesional make up for teater and films and knows muich about skin etc said to me that when we take our first gexposure to sun in the spring our skin inflames a bit so that's why we look younger like collgen filled.. and maybe get hooked to this "face". But after 45 years I find sun tenses my skin and deam todinmediately get wrinkles. Too bad, eas much fun!

  • Kidman and Blanchett are beautifully proportioned goddesses – their ideals really don't apply to the rest of us – it's in the Aussie psyche – for better or worse. I feel heaps better and look slimmer with some colour – I use Dove Moisturiser with built in tan stuff – does the trick.

  • I'm very pale – my friends and I refer to my moon tan. I don't try to tan, even though I think my legs might look a bit better with a little tan. I really can't be bothered – I just try to accept myself the way I am. Pale skin and all.

  • My family is part Cherokee, so I tan a deep reddish brown if I get out in the sun. But I decided when I was 20 or 21 that I'd rather have good skin at 80 than a tan. So I pile on sunscreen, try not to go out in the middle of the day, etc. Personally, I don't give a damn if veins or cuts or scars or bug bites show on/through my pale pinky skin. I honestly don't get what all the fuss is about, especially this fear people have of showing pale legs. Yeah, my legs are pale – big deal!

  • Speaking as an Asian who lives in Asia, we do generally prefer to be as pale as possible, though I do have friends who like tanning.

    Personally, I like my skin fair so I can feel like Snow White with the whole hair black as ebony, lips red as blood, skin white as snow thing. =D

  • I think it's really got less to do with beauty than status symbols. Pale was in back when it showed that someone didn't have to work outdoors for a living. Now, tans are a sign of luxury; the tan demonstrates (or fakes) that you went somewhere tropical on vacation! I imagine this is why I can get away with yellow in renaissance dresses but not in modern clothing! 😉
    I don't know if it was the sunscreen itself, my skin being protected, or the fresh air, but my skin never looked better than during this last summer when I was spending a lot of time outside wearing SPF 100. Probably some combination of all three.

  • Funny, isn't it: when our children are born we don't look at them and think how much better, healthier or "more defined" they would look when they can finally get a tan. It's a culturally acquired aesthetic.

    Times change. Overdone tans on white-skinned people now look cheap, at least to some tastes. When I was growing up in the '60s, one could not be too tanned.

  • No tanning for me. When I was in high school and early college, I highlighted my hair blonde, and know that the hair color looked better with some color in my skin. However, my natural skin shade is really "pasty", a real tan isn't feasible (since I tend to burn first), and faux-tanning is too much work.

    So when I dyed my hair red for the first time years ago, and people said that my complexion just looked natural with red hair, I decided to stay that way.

  • I'm half Japanese, so tan would look strange on me any way. I even look strange if I wear blush or bronzer–an ivory complexion suits me much better.

  • I grew up in Arizona so battling the sun was just part of our day. I didn't wear nearly as much sunscreen as I should have – but a lot more than others. Dad is a doctor so he'd remind us "pale is pretty!" And pale keeps you young. I don't mind self tanners, but rarely use them. If I ever think of skipping the sunscreen I just remind myself that when I'm 50 I sure as heck am not going to look it!

  • I way prefer looking pale and I think it makes me look younger than when (or if) I am tan. Tan – real or faux – seems to emphasize my nasolabial creases. That said, I don't think we'll ever stop people tanning as most people are white and we always seem to want to be what we're not…brown. Brown people of South Asian heritage whom I know all want to be paler. I don't get it!

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