On Her Own

Of raccoon masks and farmer’s tans

Tan lines are the bane of my existence right now. I’ve been spending lots of time outside and the necessary protective gear means that my face has all sorts of light and dark areas now. It’s worse than the contrast between my pale legs and dark arms, let alone the farmer’s tan I’ve acquired otherwise. Avoiding skin cancer by protecting ourselves from the sun is nice and all but let’s be honest: vanity plays a role too, not to mention wanting to avoid the pain of a nasty sunburn. Let’s talk about some of the strategies to address both, and maybe you can share with me some of yours?

For burns and farmer’s tans, I’ve remembered to start wearing sun sleeves (these are a current favorite (affiliate link)). These kinds of sleeves can be worn with any t-shirt, and easily taken off when you go inside. I thought they would be awful in the heat but it turns out that they are so thin that they didn’t make me any warmer than I was otherwise. Lighter colors actually seemed to make me feel a bit cooler, I think partially from wicking some of that sweat away and letting it evaporate. Since I started wearing them, I’ve been able to avoid making my farmer’s tan worse and in fact, it’s been lightening a bit from not picking up additional sun exposure every time I’m out. It’s a similar strategy to wearing hats, light hoodies, and other physical blocks from the sun. They work great because you can’t miss a spot like you can with sunscreen, and they don’t sweat or rub off. They might not have as high SPF as sunscreen, but you don’t have to remember to reapply them so you will likely get more benefit over the course of an entire day or weekend. The problem is that it’s difficult to cover every square inch of skin, so there are still areas that will be prone to darkening or burning.

When in doubt, consulting an expert is always a good first step. I asked my friend, the skin care and beauty products fanatic, what she would recommend. After a dizzying array of links, I learned that there are a number of creams, serums, and lotions that contain very mild alpha-hydroxy acids that can brighten and even out your skin tones while they gently exfoliate your skin. She told me it’s important to choose a formulation that is specific to face or body and if you, like me, have funny tan lines from your sunglasses or mask and funny tan lines from your clothing, you’ll need to buy several different products. Fortunately, expensive isn’t always better: you can find high value options by asking around and doing your research. Several of the products she recommended to me are basic drugstore brands (like Amlactin body lotion (affiliate link)). Either way, you might take the opportunity to revamp your entire skincare routine (or start one, like me!), and roll what you need to fix your tan lines into your regular self-care. Alpha-hydroxy acids are, after all, also good for smoothing out wrinkles and roughness, which you might be concerned with as you age anyway. Plus the idea of rubbing acid on your face every day is pretty metal, am I right?

If you aren’t into that idea, that’s okay too. You don’t owe anybody any particular appearance as long as you are happy. It helps to be dressed appropriately for the setting you’re in, but it’s the rare situation where your look must encompass how even your tan is. The trick is to own your appearance. You will need to be confident in your raccoon mask, and also be prepared to field questions about the sharp line on your arms or legs. Courtesy dictates that people shouldn’t mention them, but they will anyway, perhaps under the guise of small talk. By preparing in advance to not be ashamed of the fun you’ve had outdoors and the visual results, you’ll be much less likely to be thrown by the stares and comments. Even though we all say we won’t be bothered by things like that, specifically thinking about how and why you won’t be bothered will help you not get blindsided.

You are also allowed to change your mind late in the game, even if you can’t go back in time to cover your skin with clothing or sunblock, or take the time to allow your tan to even out on its own or with the patient use of skincare products. In those cases, you still have options. You can cover the unevenness: pantyhose may be uncomfortable but has its uses for those ghostly legs, not to mention bronzer makeup or lotion to strategically cover the lighter areas. Just make sure to try them out in advance to make sure you are satisfied with how they look against your natural skin. There are also self-tanner products that will darken your skin chemically. You’ll need a few days for those to work, but they can be easier to match to your varying skin tones and they won’t rub off. You can also dress or accessorize in ways to deemphasize the areas that stand out the most. Here, that might mean long pants or different length sleeves, or maybe a pair of glasses to detract from the lightness around your eyes (or, for that matter, the bags under them).

Self-protection? Absolutely. Starting out by protecting yourself from too much exposure to UV rays (though remember to get enough for that lovely vitamin D), then by taking care of your appearance so that you can comfortably operate wherever you are. And by valuing yourself and showing the world you value yourself and are confident in yourself, you are that much better positioned to protect yourself against all comers. But in the meantime, let’s talk details. How do you deal with the sun and with the appearance of tan lines? How about the part I skipped – the appearance of sunburns?

Hi, I'm Annette.

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