A Whiter Shade of Pale – A Very White Girl’s Guide to Summer Survival

I am white.  Not just check the box next to Caucasian white – but crayola crayon white.  And like every really white girl out there I have grappled with summer and the bare legs, bathing suit reality of being this pale for as long as I can remember.  When I look at a bikini I don’t think about the body baring aspect of it, I think that it will require way too much sunscreen and I am just not up for that job.  When you say beach I think sunburn.  When you say lounging by the pool I think they better have some damn big umbrellas.   Summer is a constant battle between me and the sun.

Every pale girl out there has at least one killer sunburn memory.  The one that required globs of Noxema cold cream, white, goopy and smelling faintly like bologna.  I have two.  The first one happened in Montauk.  Now, back in the 1970s and 80s sunscreen barely made it to SPF 15.  So I slathered on the pasty white Coppertone – “copper” tone is a total misnomer for us pale girls, nothing like lotion that made you look even whiter! – and headed to the beach with my family.  After coming out of the ocean I went for a bike ride.  Reapplying?  Not really part of the routine.  I ended up with a crimson burn on the front of both of my thighs and my forearms that felt simultaneously like fire and ice, the skin tightening against the muscle with every move, sensitive to even a breeze and leaving me unable to sleep.  My second unforgettable burn happened the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years of high school when I was studying abroad in Spain.  Being the stupid teenager I was I decided a summer in Spain called for a bikini and though I thought I had covered every inch of myself in sunscreen I didn’t get the skin under my bikini top – and when you’re lying down “tanning” the sun has a way of finding the little nooks and crannies you forgot.  I ended up with a killer sunburn right under my breasts.  Yes, it was every bit as painful as you are imagining.

Here I am older and wiser.  I’ve lost my teenage bravura and self-denial that made me think somehow if I willed it to be so I could tan.  I tried the QT and went through my phase of being orange and slightly blotchy in the name of tanning.  Every year I listen to the beauty experts talk and read the silly women’s magazines that say the sun in unhealthy and be proud to be pale and then see them slather on fake tanner until they all look like tangerines.  Last year I had an appointment with a new dermatologist to get a full body mole and skin check.  She looked me over with that special light and told her assistant that my skin is what skin should look like.  My pasty white, never goes outside even in December without sunscreen on skin.  I almost passed out.  “Really?” I said, looking at her gorgeous dewy olive skin.  Yup, no sunspots, no damage, no funky moles, no premature wrinkling.  So, screw it, I am going to hide from the damn sun and be OK with that.  My daughters have my husband’s Mediterranean skin that actually turns bronze in the sun – seriously I think they start to glitter when their skin tans.   So I’ll be the pale mom watching my girls build in the sand and frolic in the water from underneath the shade of a big umbrella.

Here are a Few of My Favorite Pale Girl Survival Goods:

1 The EWG Sunscreen Guide is a MUST for you and your whole family.  I threw out all of our Neutrogena sunscreen after reading this guide.  Chemical free is the way to go, especially for kids. (and they have an awesome iphone app)  I like the Badger Brand (their stick is way better priced than California Baby).  Expensive, yes.  Chemical-Free, priceless.  And don’t forget to sunscreen your hands every day.  As my Derm says, your hands give away your age.

2. Big Straw Hat – No brainer.  Keeps sun off your face, keeps you cooler and looks really cute.  Here in NYC they sell them on the street and even The Gap had cute ones this year.

3Cover Ups – You know the drill, and yes, I think those little strapless ones are cute but you should cover your shoulders which are prime sunburn targets.  That’s just the Jewish mother in me.

4Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral Sunscreen Powder.  I LOVE this stuff.  It’s not waterproof so don’t use it if you’re swimming, but for running around the city, doing errands every day,  or for a sunscreen touch up at the beach or pool it’s the best.  Also good on husband’s bald spots or thinning hair.  Not that he has any.

5. Self-Tanner.  OK I do not think this stuff works for the truly pale but one of my friends swears by the Clarins self-tanner for pale girls.  If you’ve tried it let me know what you think.

6. Bronzers I am game for trying one of the bronzers that give you a superficial tan that washes off so it’s more of a when you’re going out at night with bare legs and don’t want your pasty white legs to give off more white light than the candles at your table kind of product.  I’m thinking of trying the Perfekt Body bronzer or the Lorac Tantalizer and I’ll report back if I do.

In the end though I think I’ve come to terms with my pale skin and I’ll just pretend I live in NYC in Henry James’ or Edith Wharton’s time when pale was the ideal.

Are you a super white girl with some summer survival tips?  Let me know!  I’m always looking for new ways to survive the summer sun while maintaining some sort of style.

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4 replies on “A Whiter Shade of Pale – A Very White Girl’s Guide to Summer Survival”

  1. Oh, I forgot one thing: I have no delusions of ever being anything more than pink. I don’t need to tan, bronze, or turn any other shade than my natural pink. I’d just love a stong sunscreen without the oil/grease.

  2. Well, I might not be a girl, but I am a SUPER white guy. That doesn’t even explain it, really. I have two colours: pink & red. And sometimes bubbly red. It’d not good. After too many times in the bubbly stage, I’ve learned the skills of the ninja: Dashing from a bit of shade to another bit of shade to stay hidden from the sun. I hate sunscreen, but my wife hates my ninja routine, so I’ve learned to find the least greasy SPF 50+ I can find. I cover everything I can and slather the super-sunscreen on everything else, then cowardly slouch my way into the dreaded inferno. I hate my skin.

    My question is this: During a trip to Spain a couple years ago, I found a high-SPF sunscreen that sprayed on alcohol-wet and dried quickly. It didn’t claim to be water-proof, but I didn’t need that. It was great! And I can’t recall the name of it. I’ve since bought loads of similar products, but I always end up with that nasty oiliness. Does anyone know of a super-sunscreen that dries nicely without the oily yuck?

  3. Ah, the curse of being fair…

    Two of the best sunscreens I’ve used are La Roche Posay (SPF 45+) for the face and Neutrogena 45+ for the body. As a ‘fish belly white’ Canadian for the most of the year, these two products give great protection once my skin hits the sun. I actually mix the La Roche Posay with my regular moisturizer for year-round protection.

  4. You make me laugh, you always do. While I may not be crayola white, I think we all struggle between striving for that perfect, spot-free skin of yours and wanting to have a healthy glow. Some ideas: Nars body bronzer (think that’s what it’s called), I put sunscreen on but use this on arms and legs as it gives some color but also washes off…you will not be a tangerine. I also like Jergens- they have a gradual tanner for different skin tones, even your whiter shade of pale. And while we must apply and reapply sunscreen, we do get vitamin D from the sun. As a nutritionist, those wearing SPF one zillion should supplement D3 as vitamin D deficiency has increased along with sunscreen usage.

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