A pale-skin-wor­ship­per’s first spray tan has in­ter­est­ing results


It’s 1 p. m. on a cold, grey day and I’m on the sub­way, re­lieved to be un­der­ground where the sun doesn’t shine. ( This wi l l be­come rel­e­vant in a minute. ) Re­flected in the train win­dow is some­one un­fa­mil­iar, some­one who looks just like me but has a warm glow ra­di­at­ing from her face, as if she’s turned on the “pretty” Snap fil­ter while loung­ing on a beach in her abun­dant spare time. I have just come from my first-ever spray tan. I am not okay.

It’s not the spray tan’s fault. So­phie Evans, Bri­tish “skin fin­ish­ing ex­pert” for ritzy tan-in-abot­tle brand St. Tropez, did a spec­tac­u­lar job mak­ing me feel com­fort­able about the process and even con­toured on a more toned fig­ure and chis­elled face. When I raised con­cerns about my blotchy skin, she told me “gold takes away all red­ness, you’ll love it,” with a twin­kle in her eye. Re­ally, I know it looks glam­orous; it’s just that I’m hav­ing a small ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis.

I thought I was a lot more “chill” than this, but as the warm- penny smell of DHA (the chem­i­cal used to turn skin brown) wafts from un­der my coat col­lar, I start to ques­tion ev­ery­thing I stand for. Though I was a sun wor­ship­per in my mis­guided youth, my skin has barely seen the light of day in al­most a decade, since I first read about how harm­ful UV rays can be in a very strongly worded ar­ti­cle. Faster than you can say “but Bo­tox,” I de­cided sun-in­duced wrin­kles and skin- cell dam­age were en­emy num­ber one, and sun­screen be­came my lifeblood. I was so sure that be­ing uniquely pasty among my friends and fam­ily was proof of the purest form of com­mon sense that the mere in­di­ca­tion of a tan, even though it’s not real, rat­tles me to my smug core. There, on the sub­way, I won­dered: Did I just com­pro­mise my skin­care morals? Take the sun dam­age gate­way drug?

I spend the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math fir­ing off fran­tic, dis­mayed text mes­sages about need­ing to scour off the bronze to ev­ery­one in pos­ses­sion of a phone. “You never feel un­com­fort­able when your face is chalk-white from that aw­ful sun­screen, so do not worry about this,” my mother replies, ap­par­ently hold­ing noth­ing back. She’s al­ways liked to re­mind me how lucky I am to have my fa­ther’s olive com­plex­ion over her milky Ir­ish one. My dad, whom I re­sem­ble so strongly that his own fa­ther once con­fused us in a pic­ture, tends to his tan like an an­tiques dealer main­tains prized Art Deco pieces, but with co­conut- scented, Hawai­ian Tropic SPF-4-fu­elled trips down South in­stead of lac­quer. There’s a thresh­old for the num­ber of times some­one can be com­pared to their par­ent be­fore they crack: Keep­ing my skin per­fectly pasty dimmed the re­sem­blance and saved me from hav­ing to come up with witty re­torts to peo­ple point­ing it out.

It soon be­comes clear that this is a deeply per­sonal con­cern. For the rest of the day, no one I en­counter shares my emo­tional earth­quake over my trans­for­ma­tion from macadamia nut to acorn. Com­ments in­clude “Looks nice!” Still, when I fi­nally get home that night, I give my epi­der­mis the Lady Mac­beth scrub­down. Within a week, I re­gret act­ing rashly and not giv­ing the spray tan a chance. If this were a rom- com, I would not have the au­di­ence’s sup­port. So I sheep­ishly dip into a bot­tle of “very light” self-tan­ner at home, chas­ing that slightly blurred, less ruddy com­plex­ion and just­back-from-the- beach ef­fect. No one notices but me, which is all the tan I can han­dle. A lit­tle colour ev­ery now and then, with no dam­age and my skin­care morals left in­tact—I’d say that’s worth its weight in gold.

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