How To Tan In 6 Steps (With Pale Skin, Or Normal Skin, Or Whatever Skin You Have)

So, I went to the beach for the past few days, and now I’m red like a lobster. God, I’m in pain. It feels great! I’m going to be so pretty when this is over! No, I’m not, I’m going to be peeling like a reptile. A goddamn reptile. I make bad choices, huh? Like Lindsay’s daughter’s friends. Just let me lie to myself a little longer.

I looked like Wednesday Addams at the country club, okay? I had a lot of issues about who I was, and who I am, and whether or not I wanted to fit in, so I bought a Lily Pulitzer dress and then I lay out by the pool with no suntan lotion on for three hours. In many ways, my vacation would have been written by Bret Easton Ellis if he did a lot of Klonopin.

And I am a lobster now, ripe for considering. Afterward, I looked up a lot of facts about tanning, while sitting very erect at my computer, because I can’t move, because it hurts too much. Anyhow. If you want to get skin cancer, this is how you go about getting it in the most beautiful manner.

1) Exfoliate your skin. With a loofah! Or a sponge. Or sea salt. Rub something scratchy over it, anything. Your nails if you have to. Just give it a good scratching.

2) Moisturize. It will cover up all the nail marks, also, make your skin soft like a baby’s so the sun can just sink its killer teeth right into it.

3) Apply some sort of useless, low-level sunscreen. Forgot about that 50 SPF you wear because you want to live a long life! You want to look pretty in that pink and green bikini! The SPF 8 will be great because it will still let you tan/die an early death, but will make sure you have a more even base as opposed to a bright red burn.

4) Don’t tan for more than two hours at a time. You’ll burn.

5) Oh, you’re supposed to flip over ever fifteen minutes. Huh. I guess some people don’t like the whole two-tone effect? I think it’s cool.

6) Shower after tanning (you are sticky and gross) but don’t use soap. Soap will dry out your skin and make you peel. You only rub lotion on yourself now, like you’re that girl in Silence of The Lambs. Her tan was awesome.

You look pretty now. Maybe someone will love you.

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    • M

      Maybe someone will love you? Ouch.

      • Jennifer Wright

        His name will be William Grenville the Third and he will have a dark past and a weird, weird accent picked up from his childhood dance tutor. You will live on the North Shore of Long Island.

        Enjoy, deathly tan siren!

      • M

        Sounds dreamy.

    • EKS

      First, I’ll say that I understand this is meant to be sarcastic. However, it’s unfortunate when people are so one-sided in their view of sun exposure. The sun is life-giving and essential, and if you’re moderate in your exposure, you can still reap the benefits (e.g., vitamin D conversion, mood improvement) while mitigating risk.

      • Dove


        It always baffles me when magazines say things like “make sure you wear an spf even when you’re going to the grocery store at 10 p.m., because those sunbeams reflecting off the moon can prematurely age you/give you cancer!!!!”

        Getting 15-20 minutes of sun every few days is good for you, according to my very skin cancer averse doctor.

    • sara

      How to get a tan:
      Step one: Buy sunless tanner.
      Step two: Use sunless tanner.
      Step three: Wait.
      Step four: Put on SPF 50 and go outside.
      Step five: Enjoy benefits of eventually using less sunless tanner and not getting skin cancer.
      Step six: Laugh at lobsters. Or set them free. Your call.

      • Allison

        Did you know the entire SPF system is bullshit? using spf 80 is pretty much using spf 10. sunsless tanners have proven to be MORE of a risk to your health than the sun… not to mention the gloopy orangeness of them.

        thanks for playing, but no one loves you

      • Kate

        Don’t listen to Allison, she obviously has no friends.

        Sunless tanner uses DHA, which could make your skin more sensitive when exposed to the sun. That does not mean that it is worse for your skin, just that your skin will produce more free radicals when exposed to the sun. Stock up on antioxidants, that becomes less of an issue.

        That said, I’m keeping my sunless tanner, because I have no plans to be wrinkly and sun-spotted when I’m older. Also, a 23 year old friend of mine recently got a cancerous mole removed from her chest, so it is something to worry about. It doesn’t just happen to the old folks…

    • Jamie Peck

      I use SPF 100 on my tattoos and 50 everywhere else and still managed to get a weird-shaped burn on my back this past monday. Don’t fuck with the sun cause it’ll fuck with you right back!

    • Lisa Hix

      Jennifer, you are my East Coast twin! I’ve accepted the fact that the sun is trying to kill me, as I am at least part-vampire (not the sparkly kind), and that a man will have to learn to love me despite the glare of my skin (I hope).

      That said, I’ve just found out my sunscreen is also trying to kill me, and that has me heartbroken.

    • Eileen

      I wouldn’t say SPF 10, but I had to see a plastic surgeon when I was in my early teens (for scars – my parents aren’t crazy Botox-mom types), and he said that SPF over-30 is a waste of money. Just don’t forget to put it on 30 minutes before sun exposure and to reapply if you go into the water. Also, make sure you get your back done properly…there’s nothing worse than not being able to fasten your bra because of sunburn (or, the reason I will never quite forgive southern California).

    • victoria

      omg… there isn’t even a word for how much i love this article. bravo! fyi, that wednesday addams pic looks like me in middle school. fyi, i’m still that pale.

    • Leah
    • mikki

      i love this article my bf now whats to have sex!!

    • Caroline

      By M: Or does it sound creamy..?

    • Jacci

      You..are sound like someone who’s been told the date time and place of their death lighten up!!!! But on the other hand your amazing and I love this article very no bullshit!!!

    • Josey

      best article EVER ! Love you for making this..

    • alina

      “you look pretty now. maybe someone will love you.” lol

    • Emily

      Here’s my advice for pale skinned people…it takes forever for us pale folks to tan naturally baking in the sun (and we have the highest risk for skin cancer) so self-tanning is the best option but not a dark self-tanner or even a medium shade self-tanner. (As these will make you orange) A gradual self-tanner is the best option. Especially for beginners. (A.K.A. people who have never self-tanned before) Jergen’s Natural Glow is what I recommend. After a few days of a nightly application, within three days you will have nice natural looking light tan. Remember to use plastic gloves to keep your hands from matching your tan and get a pack of small foam paintbrushes (that are like $1.50 at the store for like 15 of them) to apply the tanner to the back of your hands afterward. After three days of applying daily, I would recommend moisturizing daily and reapplying tanner every 3 days to keep the color you’ve got.

      Yep. That is what us pale folks have to go through in order to look normal.

      • Emily

        ….and I meant to add that the small foam paintbrushes can be used to painfully apply to your back. Lol.