Fast forward ten years, and the only tan I’m interested in comes in a bottle. And my SPF is 30 plus, with UVA protection as well, of course. I wear a sun hat, and stay in the shade. I’ve even tried to source a parasol for my last holiday (the search continues, if anyone has any recommendations…).
If you asked me what my essential holiday beauty product was ten years ago, I know exactly what I would have said. “Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Oil SPF 4”. It was such an emblem of summers-gone-by that its sweet coconuty scent is singed into my memory (and probably, my skin).
And no, that’s not a typo – everyone used SPF 4 in the naive belief that the lower the SPF, the faster and deeper the tan (I’m yet to discover who came up with this theory, but whoever they are, they have a lot to answer for). Real sun worshipers (i.e. my older sister) dared to go as low as SPF 2, or if you were really hardcore, like her friend who would accompany us on every family holiday, you’d ditch the protection all together, instead commandeering the olive oil, only returning it to the table for meal times. I aspired to be on her level.
But I don’t think I’m the only shade-seeker – a quick scan of the beach and people are slathering on the SPF 50, and everyone has a beach umbrella to at least keep their head out of the heat. It would appear that it’s officially no longer cool to sunbathe. Our days spent as a poolside rotisserie chicken are over. And boy, am I grateful. I mean, am I the only person who secretly hated sunbathing? The light-headedness, the stinging skin, the dehydration, the woozy heat making you feel both sick and sleepy. I would protest, even to myself, that I was enjoying it, but only because I was afraid of the severe FOMO that arose having failed to get an enviable tan by the end of every holiday. Now I don’t bother sunbathing, I have so much more time to actually do things that I will enjoy and remember. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing memorable about a week spent sunbathing, except, the spectacular burns.
I’ve had two spectacular sun burn experiences. Once, when I fell asleep on a lilo and couldn’t sit down or lie on my back for the following week. The other when I couldn’t afford after sun so stole an aloe vera plant from the neighbouring apartment’s balcony (side note: aloe vera gel fresh from the plant smells really rank). Even then, I was assured that it was ok because my burn would “turn to tan”. This is what Abi McCleeve, founder of UltraSun, calls “trauma tanning”. “Instead of a deep golden tan that you would expect, the skin burns and sheds, leaving the skin tanless in days,” she explains.
According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 16,000 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year (that’s 44 every day) and 86% of cases diagnosed in 2015 were preventable – i.e. they were due to avoidable sun exposure. Despite recent awareness, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have more than doubled in the UK since the early 1990s. Rates in females have increased by two times and rates in males have almost tripled. I’m just speculating here, but I’m guessing that we are seeing the ramifications of the SPF 4 generation combined with global warming – and it’s far from cool.
That’s not to say proper protection won’t result in a healthy glow. On the contrary, it may even make your golden tone last for longer if you pile on the sun cream. “There is no such thing as a total block from the sun,” explains Abi. Instead, brands can provide scientifically-proven filters that help to protect from damage. “Our ethos since the very beginning of the Ultrasun story has been to formulate to encourage and educate, not to nag, and it’s more effective in helping people to take protection seriously,” says Abi. “We formulate in formula variety from clear gels to tinted option, very high UVA and UVB filters that absorb quickly – essentially removing barriers to protecting properly. By selecting an SPF right for your skin and gradually introducing your skin to the sun, this can help you to achieve a long-lasting tan. We want to help and encourage people to spend shorter spells with regular shade breaks.”
“We believe in encouragement and education based on the reality that many are closed to the idea of high protection and reducing their time in the sun. Rather than scare tactics or lecturing, our constant product innovation aims to offer solutions that gradually change behaviour. We aim to show rather than tell the customer that you will tan when protecting properly and limiting direct time in the sun.”
Aside from a gentle glow that accumulates through unavoidable sun exposure in our day to day lives with adequate protection, we can always boost our bronze levels with self tan. Formulas are more advanced than ever – there’s mousses, sprays, mists, drops and even sheet masks, meaning no matter what your preference, or level of skill, there’ll be a product that suits.