A Look At Life: Fake Tan

3rd July 2015

The Perils Of Fake Tan
when you’re a whiter shade of pale...

Heather Harris

I’m standing naked, except for a pair of paper pants the size of a small napkin, with a spray gun pointed ominously towards me…

No, it’s not the latest scene from a James Bond movie but something far more mundane: my annual effort to turn from an English Rose (if they did a grey, hairy species) to a sun-kissed beachcomber, without the cost of an air fare. And before you can turn your freckly little nose up, let me tell you, this is a last resort.

All those millions of critics who tut at the mere mention of a chemically-induced fake tan are people who go brown in the sun – or at least have gone brown at some time in their lives.

I have not. I married an accountant with olive skin primarily for his ability to dilute my pallid gene pool. It failed (the genes that is not the marriage – 23 years on and we still look like the ‘before and after’ on an Ambre Solaire advert, with me and my daughter firmly in the pale corner).

Every year, as that elusive British sun finally peeps out of the clouds for 24 hours in mid-August, my daughter and I rush for the factor 50 before you can say Vitamin D deficiency.

Slathered from head to toe as if heading off to swim the Channel, we nodded in approval at the photos of Nigella Lawson hitting the beach in a burkah. Meanwhile, the males of the Harris species had browned quicker than the sausages they were barbecuing.

I always felt so guilty overhearing our sunbathing neighbours asking my translucent daughter if she was ill – presumably with rickets – that I began to investigate the artificial tanning options.

First we tried potions, lotions and creams. After all, their marketing blurb all informed us we would have a ‘natural healthy glow in a few simple hand strokes’.

We didn’t. We, the bathroom tiles, a dozen towels and a shower curtain were all a delicate shade of smeared tangerine. And the few simple strokes took most of the morning and gave us cramp.

I defy anyone to apply fake tan to their whole body using just two hands (which continued to bear that nicotine stained look until well after Christmas).

Tanning booths appeared a less messy alternative. Taking care to make my daughter aware of the side affects of a healthy glow – a decidedly unhealthy risk of skin cancer – we lay down as the lid of what appeared to be a toasted sandwich maker was lowered towards us. “Imagine you’re on a Caribbean beach,” said the – beautifully bronzed – beautician as she left the room, at a worryingly fast sprint considering she had informed us that it was totally safe.

I made the mistake of assuming I had to turn over, rotisserie-chicken-style, to baste my bottom. This resulted in less of a Caribbean feeling and more of a midnight ‘wake up with the electric blanket on’ moment. We both looked ridiculous. Think Oompa-Loompas with a hint of creosote.

And it’s all Coco Chanel’s fault. Before the 1920s, tanned skin was associated with the lower classes as they worked outside in the sun. Desperate to look whiter than white, upper class ladies risked poisoning as they attempted to bleach their skin with lead-based cosmetics. But then, in the mid 1920s, Coco went on holiday to the French Riviera. When this icon of fashion returned home she had an enviable tan and, hey presto, future generations of women were destined to wear paper pants and dedicate their summers to avoiding strap marks.

Frenchman Jean Patou oiled his bank balance by launching the first suntan lotion, ‘Huile de Chaldée’, in 1927, and in 1946 two scraps of clothing were introduced onto an unsuspecting female market (and an overenthusiastic male one) – the bikini.

In 1972, the arrival of Malibu Barbie was the final straw. Once our rosy faced ally in the plastic doll world, she now came complete with bronzed skin, sunglasses and even her very own bottle of sun tan lotion. Definitely beyond the pale.

Roll on a few decades and ‘responsible tanning’ is now the buzz phrase. ‘Surely,’ I and my fellow Whiter Shade Of Pale fans cry, ‘the responsible thing would be not to tan at all. So – please feel free to join us under the parasol…’

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