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Why it’s perfectly alright not to tan

After years of hiding away, SUZANNE SCOTT has finally learned to embrace the (pale) skin she’s in


We may be living in the time of the tan, but while my friends are laying out in the sun and topping up their color with self-tanners, I’m sitting in the shade with an enormous hat on and a thick layer of factor 50. I cannot tan and, more importantly, I do not want to. A dermatologist would classify my skin as Fitzpatrick Type 1, which translates as typically Celtic, super-sensitive and impossible to tan. At the mere suggestion of sun, my skin fires back with a rash, and if I forget to top up my SPF every hour or so, I’m rewarded with a painful sunburn.

When I was younger, I hated my natural coloring. It felt like everyone I knew tanned, so it was an inevitability, that I found myself at a tanning salon every week. It was stupid and reckless but, looking back, I can see I was desperately unhappy with my skin, so I try not to judge my younger self too much.

At some point I stopped trying to change my skin and instead started to love it for the way it was. I came to see my coloring as something that tells the story of my heritage and sets me apart from my peers. My paleness has become my signature and now my skincare routine is structured to get me as close to porcelain as possible. I shudder when I see people baking in the sun and can’t stop myself from badgering them about the free radicals, the wrinkles, the pigmentation and the risk of developing skin cancer.

I’m not alone in my aversion to tanning – and it’s not something that everyone wants or even can do. Women are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of protecting their skin against UV and, hopefully, are becoming more accepting of their natural coloring. If you, too, want to preserve your natural skin tone and avoid the damaging effects of excessive sun exposure, here’s how it’s done…

Wear SPF (of course)

One constant among all skin tones is that UV causes free radicals and inflammation. The darker your skin tone, the more natural protection you have, but no one is immune to sun damage. As far as I am concerned, the only safe tan is one you get from a bottle. This is a sentiment echoed by Paula Begoun, the founder of Paula’s Choice and a woman who takes sun protection very seriously. “If you’re not sun-smart, you’re sun-stupid,” she says. “You should be neurotically obsessed with sun protection.” Begoun takes her skin protection extremely seriously, completely covering up at the beach and even going so far as to wear UV-protective gloves when driving or getting her gels topped up at the nail salon. “Research shows that just one minute of sun exposure causes damage, but you feel absolutely fine and your skin looks fine,” she says. “Skin is good at hiding damage and inflammation.”

Don’t stop there

For maximum protection, your skin needs UV filters and antioxidants to counteract free radicals. Look for high-factor, broad-spectrum (meaning protection against short UVB rays that burn, and longer UVA rays that cause damage at DNA level) formulations and use a topical serum containing an array of antioxidants; variety is key. And remember: your chances of reaching later life with flawless skin are far greater if you adopt an approach of prevention rather than cure. “You can’t fix sun damage; you can make it look better, but you’re really limited in what you can do,” explains Begoun. Lasers and peels can help to fade unwanted pigmentation and retexturize skin to an extent, but nothing beats not incurring the damage to begin with.

Create a targeted skincare regimen

There are three incredibly effective skincare ingredients that help maintain perfectly flawless, porcelain skin: retinol, vitamin B3, known as niacinamide, and peptides. “Most research shows that retinol is a stunning ingredient,” explains Begoun. “It absorbs well and reduces excess pigmentation. Niacinamide instructs cells to make a sturdier wall, or a better membrane, while peptides help to maintain good skin coloring and an even skin tone.” Make these three ingredients the cornerstone of your daily skincare regimen, but keep retinol limited to nighttime use, as it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.


The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown.