Thermodynamic fashion.
September 14, 2011 6:46 PM   Subscribe

How to get a really good looking tan? Is there an aesthetic difference between "side-effect" tans and "lie-down" tans? And, should one tan their face?

(I know it's the end of summer for one hemisphere, but I've been wondering about this for a while.)

First subquestion: a person can tan as a side effect of being outside, such as while walking around, or playing sports. Or, they can tan by lying down outside for half an hour, in a yard/park/beach. Over regular repetition, both these activities will result in a deep, sexy tan. But which gives a truly more aesthetically pleasing tan? Two factors might be: a) While up and about, sunlight impinges from random directions, v.s. while lying down, your body is lit from 2 directions ("front" and "back"). This could affect the uniformity of the tan. b) Similarly, standing vertically v.s. lying down casts a different set of shadows on your face/torso/limbs. Again this could affect the kind of gradations/gradients that appear on your skin.

For example, there's a phrase—the notion of having a "sun-kissed" complexion. Is that just a generic figure of speech used in travel literature, or does it refer more concretely to a certain quality or aspect of a tan?

Second subquestion: I've read advice that one should not tan their face, because it will cause premature wrinkles and/or a tanned face is considered unattractive by some standards. Is that for real? Or, maybe a light facial tan would be a compromise?

There's still couple weeks of solid afternoon sunshine left where I live. I may just go ahead and get a tan, after reading your answers and advice, of course!

Personal info if it matters: I'm male, fairly physically active, and am indoors more often than I'd like. (Not prone to sunburning, but to be safe I do apply sunscreen during the peak of summer.)
posted by polymodus to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had the best tans when I was a kid/young teenager. I spent 90% of every day outside and many, many of those hours in the water (either a pool or the ocean), and I was moving CONSTANTLY. Looking at photos, I had the most even, deep tan anyone could ever wish for. My theory is that the sun bounced around in and off the water. Of course this "side effect" (as you call it) tan took place when I was usually wearing a bathing suit (or shorts and a tank top), so I didn't get the dreaded farmer's tan.

So, my advice: move around, even if you can't be in the water. Bonus: you'll get some extra exercise too.

My friends who used to lay out; to get tan would always have a lighter bit of skin on the sides (it wasn't drastic, but a gradient) because they just allowed the sun to hit them on their front and back. Also, just laying there is super boring. Is that really how you want to spend the last couple weeks of warm weather?
posted by AlisonM at 7:06 PM on September 14, 2011

Have you considered spray-tanning? The expensive ones actually look quite believable these days, and they'll consult with you on the color you want and whether or not to do your face. (My cousin switched to spray tanning after years of baking in the sun, and she actually looks much better for it.)

I can't in good conscience advise you to go out and willfully crisp yourself in the cancer rays.
posted by phunniemee at 7:07 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Second subquestion: I've read advice that one should not tan their face, because it will cause premature wrinkles and/or a tanned face is considered unattractive by some standards. Is that for real? Or, maybe a light facial tan would be a compromise?
I don't mean to sound too lecture-y, but yeah, tanning causes wrinkles. I'm in my 30s, and you can definitely see some women my age starting to show signs of sun-related aging. The women I know who tanned a lot look a lot older than sun-avoiders. Tanning also cause skin cancer, and the non-killer but disfiguring forms of skin cancer are distressingly common. Something like 30% of all white people will eventually get basal cell carcinoma, and it's gross-looking and leaves behind ugly scars when they cut it out. So yeah, if you're at all vain, I would avoid getting a facial tan.

This is an area in which women are at an advantage, because there are makeup tricks we can do to fake a tan. But fake tans may be a good choice for you, if you're really committed to tanning. Personally, I've decided to embrace my natural paleness, although I do use that self-tanning moisturizer on my legs in the summer.
posted by craichead at 7:16 PM on September 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

Something to consider.. if you're going to tan while moving around, are you doing that shirtless? If you're doing that in a t-shirt and shorts, then you're not tanning as much of yourself as you would be if you laid down on the beach in swimming trunks.

Also, I personally dislike the paleness of a guy's hairy upper leg in contrast with the rest of the tanned body. So either laying out in speedos, or getting a spray tan while wearing speedos might help with that, if you care about that. Or maybe I'm the only one who feels that way? Then again if a guy got that by running around playing sports it wouldn't bother me.. if a guy got that because he actually laid out in the sun for vanity reasons, I would be turned off by that. Which brings me to another point, that might just be my opinion.. if a guy is so concerned about his looks and tanning that he is asking how to tan, then that already is unattractive.

Yes, tanning your face will give you wrinkles later.

My advice is to put some sunscreen on your face, and go enjoy the outdoors and play some basketball or frisbee while it's still nice out!
posted by at 7:33 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

An alternative to spray tanning would be a gradual-fake-tanning lotion, like Jergens Natural Glow. Since they're subtle and build gradually, there's less potential for disaster or Snookification.

(I can't recommend tanning in the sun either; you might as well be asking which brand of cigarettes makes you sexiest.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:50 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not going to do the anti-tanning lecture because you didn't ask and others will do it better anyway, but I will point out that you can get wrinkles on your body too. I mean, everyone gets wrinkles everywhere eventually if they're lucky, but the effects of tanning will show on your body surprisingly early just as they will on your face.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:04 PM on September 14, 2011

I spent a week at the beach, and between wearing a swimsuit and denim shorts and tank tops I got a really uneven, odd tan. With lines. On my legs. I was not specifically attempting to tan, however.

So, I would suggest that if you are want to tan evenly, you either do the fake tans or bake in the sun for a but, turning evenly until done.
posted by polywomp at 9:22 PM on September 14, 2011

If you want to see what sun damage does to skin, take a walk along any Australian beach. Look at the people over 40, most of whom spent their youths baking in the sun, before the country woke up to the dangers of skin cancer. Even for those lucky enough not to have had melanomas carved out of their backs, the long-term effects of intentional tanning are not pretty. Their skin is rough and leathery and yes, they have wrinkles everywhere. If the health risks don't worry you (and if you're still young, maybe they don't), maybe the fear of looking prematurely and unnecessarily old will.
posted by embrangled at 2:25 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Genetics is the key here and it will determine whether you can do any of the above with any degree of success and/or safety.

I tan easily, quickly, and evenly just from being outside in the spring and summer. I reach a good honey color and stop. I never burn. My entire family is like this, all my aunts have been making like lizards in the Mediterranean sun for fifty years and look amazing still in their 70s and 80s. No skin cancer to speak of.

Yeah, genetics. I don't purposefully go sizzle like they do, but I go about my business in tanks and shorts all summer (in Boston, with this weak ass sun) and end up looking fabulous by July through no effort of my own. My friends with their Anglo skin? Not even a little bit, and lazing around in the sun would make it worse. I've seen their burns from afternoons spent on a pond, in June, in northern NH. With sun screen.

My fiance has been tanning in salons for YEARS. I think it's ridiculous. I think it's harmful. I think it's counterproductive, but there's no stopping him. It looks good, in terms of color (he never looks tanned, but he doesn't look as pasty as his Russian/Irish ass ought to), but it's an expensive, dangerous thing to do.

If your skin doesn't want to tan, don't. If your skin is cool with tanning, do it in moderation and over a long period of time. No midday sun, ever.
posted by lydhre at 6:09 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, I'm going to admit to tanning. There I said it. Some people smoke, some drink too much, I work on my tan. I am a horrible person and will probably get skin cancer and wrinkles.

So that's out of the way. On to your questions but see below for my two huge qualifiers.

Tanning from activities can be better than tanning lying down. Lying down you can get shadows that don't tan (like ties from bathing suits). But! Activities require way more clothes so there is much more likelihood of tan lines, especially the dreaded farmer's tan. For me, it doesn't matter which I do the 'tanned' part is equally as tanned, it's where the whiter bits remain that are different. I prefer to lie down for like a hour (15 minutes per side because I get bored and have to rotate often). Then when I'm doing activities (I'm female so can't go topless) I don't have to worry about other tan lines. Also if you're really concerned, you adjust to where the sun is so that one side doesn't get more sun than the other (by which I mean where you are relative to the sun, because moving the sun is dangerous).

Sun-kissed, to me, refers to that little bit of (darker) colour along someone's nose, cheekbones and collarbones. Nowadays, it's usually because of make-up (bronzer specifically). It could also refer to a little redness or freckles in these areas.

Sun will definitely cause facial wrinkles. I actually lie out in the sun with something fabric over my face because I want to reduce my change of wrinkles. Tanned faces are not unattractive though. Honestly, there's a trade-off. But the other thing is that I've never seen someone and thought, their face is so pale! Or for that matter, so dark! Actually, I have. When I was in the Arctic we all had dark hands and faces and were pasty everywhere else but that's a different matter.

My two caveats.
1) As lydhre says above, this is sosososo dependent on genetics. If your skin doesn't really tan, don't do it. You probably look better with whatever colour you get if you're wearing sunscreen rather than getting either a real or fake tan, the latter of which can look extra fake on pale skin.

2)DON'T DO IT DUDE! is totally correct in my opinion. Pasty upper legs are kind of weird generally, and on a guy that lays out, a turn-off. If you're drying off after being in the water, that's okay. If you're Tanning? No. Weird. Get some friends and a frisbee and go place some shirtless Ultimate. Don't tan.

I live in the SE US and guys here get a couple beers and sit around by the pool tanning. I mean maybe they think they're just drinking out in the sun but if that's what they're doing, why aren't they doing it in the pool or in the shade? It's super hot. It just seems weird. When I was growing up, guys didn't ever tan so I guess I'm getting judgemental here. Your cultural norms may vary.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:21 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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