To Tan or Not to Tan

This weekend is supposed to be 75 and sunny for at least one day. I could cry I’m so excited because I think we’re finally at the end of the tunnel… and maybe I’m celebrating prematurely? But we made it!

Carly Heitlinger

Yes, these are photos from the Bahamas trip still. (Kind of love how much we shot because it made coming back to snowy/rainy/freezing NJ a little less stressful, at least blog-wise.) But the bathing suit is actually a preview of summer, so it’s not available just yet. (Although if you can’t wait, J. Crew has a similar high-waisted option.)

With warm weather finally around the corner, I wanted to do my annual sun safety post! I feel so strongly about staying safe in the sun. It’s the easiest way to take care of your skin longterm and reduce your risk of skin cancer. Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in females age 15-29. The statistics are staggering, but the bottom line is, even ONE sunburn is one sunburn too many.

As someone who burns unbelievably easily, I have to be extra cautious. But just because you might not sunburn easily doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. Tanning alone is still damaging and you’re still exposing yourself to harmful UV rays.

Gingham Swim Suit

The best ways to play it safe:

1. Avoid the sun. Ugh. I wish I could be like one of those turtles who perches on a rock and just lays out in the sun all day, every day. Of course, though, the best way to avoid damage is to avoid being in the sun. Now that’s generally not practical and I do believe in moderation as a rule of thumb for life. A life spent in a bubble would not be one worth living.

It’s generally recommended to avoid the sun during the hours at 10 am and 4 pm, which is a huge window of time if you’re trying to enjoy a day outside. This is not scientific and only my personal choice, but if I can, I avoid being outside between, like, 11:30 and 2 pm. When the sun is beating down directly overhead, I find it harder to find good shade!

Another tip? Look up the UV index. You can search for this on your phone before heading out for the day so that you know what you’re dealing with.

2. Find shade! Want to be outside but don’t want to put yourself at risk? The next best thing is to find shade. This is a good idea for a lot of reasons (like staying cool) and if you’re setting up an outdoor activity (like a party or a pickup soccer game), try to bring a tent or something of that nature that everyone can utilize.

3. Suit up. I am ALL ABOUT HATS in the summer. I have a giant collection and as cute as I think they are to wear, they’re really a fantastic way to keep the sun off my shoulders and face. You can also find a bunch of clothing nowadays with UPF built in. Look for coverups that have UPF in the fabric like Cabana Life.

4. Sunscreen tips. Even if you’re not ~going to the beach~ I still think it’s a good idea to apply sunscreen. I wear sunscreen on my face (either SPF under my makeup or makeup with SPF). If I’m wearing something where my arms are exposed and I know I’m going to be outside, I’m putting on sunscreen.

– Apply sunscreen in the nude. This is something I’ve been doing since I was a kid and it’s really the only way I can guarantee full coverage. When I apply it everywhere, I don’t have to worry about straps moving a little bit or even forgetting a spot. I work methodically from my face to my neck, then my shoulders, arms, torso, back, and legs. I have the system down pat.

– Pack it everywhere. Don’t let not having sunscreen be an excuse for not wearing it. I try to tuck a bottle of sunscreen in every beach tote (I know I’ll use one of a couple that I own) and even one in my car. I’ll check a bag even if I don’t need to, just so I can make sure I have my favorite sunscreen while traveling.

– CHECK EXPIRATION DATES. I know I sound like I’m preaching about sun safety, but I am the first to admit that I’m still not perfect. I have the best intentions but sometimes I come up short. Case in point. Last May, I went out for a picnic on the pier with my boyfriend and some friends. It was the first super warm day and I, naturally, applied the sunscreen. It was from a spray bottle, which I typically avoid, AND it was super expired, which I didn’t realize. The burn was the worst I’ve had in my life. My knees swelled and became very stiff; it took a few days before they looked normal and before I could bend without pain. I. Still. Have. Tan. Lines. I’m worried it’s permanent and I kind of hate myself for being so stupid.

– Reapply often. Just because you put it on in the morning doesn’t mean you’re safe throughout the whole day. I try to reapply as much as I can (and force my friends to put some more on too). My favorite face sunscreen also comes in a tiny bottle which is easy to keep right in my purse.

The sunscreens I love:

Kiehl’s Super Fluid for face

Image Skincare for neck/chest/shoulders

Supergoop, Target Sport, Coppertone for body

Carly the Prepster

BUT QUESTION! What are your thoughts on fake tanning? I kind of think this falls into the same category as dying hair. Everyone has their own opinion and should do their own thing. I actually have gotten an airbrushed tan… once. But I didn’t look like myself at all! I think because I am just so fair and my hair is so dark that I ended up looking like a completely different person. (This wasn’t some major airbrush either, it did, in my opinion, look like a “good” tan, I just didn’t look like myself.)

Just as I’m trying to embrace my natural greying hair, I am working on embracing my natural skin. It’s hard because there’s such an emphasis on tans in the summer. People feel like you look better and healthier with a little color, right? But what’s so wrong with what you’re born with?! Every year I contemplate trying a tan again and I’m not going to say I’d never do one, but I do try to embrace the skin I’m in!

Would love to know your thoughts on this too! 

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I admit I would love to sport a tan in the summer but 2 reasons why I don’t: I do not enjoy just laying in the sun on dry land and I have Lupus. Yes, the wonderful happy sun makes me sick. I cannot tolerate the heat and monitor the UV index and humidity. However, oddly I have felt the pressure to self tan this winter because it appears to be a trend at the gym. Ugh. I cannot muster up the patience or time but have major envy for those that can. I need to remind myself to practice self care in ways that will keep my have an autoimmune disease in check so for now that is strengthening my body and mind. Thanks Carly for such a timely topic. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in sporting my natural skin color.


I definitely look more well rested when I have a bit of a tan (my under eye circles don’t show as much hehe), but since I’m a big fan of SPF and rarely go on beach/warm summer holidays it’s been a while since I actually got a tan. After following a lecture on skin conditions (which mostly was about different skin cancers) I have been rigorous with SPF!


Living in SoitybFkorida I feel like I’m constantly battling the sun – like you K stash sunscreen everywhere. I like to buy the travel sized tubes and keep them in my purse and pocket, and I want to pick up some powdered sunscreen to keep in the car (I got a bad burn once after alllying melted sunscreen). I’m with you on fake tanning. To each their own. Personally I prefer being pale. xAllie


Such a great post and important message. I’m very passionate about sun safety. I’ve also embraced my natural skin and keep the focus on it being healthy and glowing. I apply sunscreen 365 days per year whether sun, snow, sleet or rain. It’s also important to apply to the back of your hands. You can reverse many things in life, but not sun damage. It amazes me with all the information out there how so many are under the misbelief that a tan is healthy. On the topic of self tanners, I’ve had a few airbrushed tans but they’ve never been just right. Streaky legs, uneven color. You bring up a good point about expiration dates. Check before you purchase as well. Ive found bottles on shelves that have been expired.


I love this! When I was a teenager I wasn’t as concerned about sunscreen protection, but now that I’m in my 20s I wear sunscreen every day, without exception (even if it’s going to be rainy all day!)


Such a good reminder to check expiration dates! I think everyone is guilting of looking the other way on this one just to use up a bottle, but if it’s not doing it’s job it isn’t worth the risk!

I’m all about embracing your natural skin tone and I actually don’t think tan “looks better” than your natural skin in the summer or any time really. Unless it’s someone’s natural coloring, it ends up looking fake or making me wince just thinking about how much time that person must be getting burned in the sun!! Let’s campaign for natural color as beautiful!


Great post, Carly! an such an important topic! As far as fake tanning I don’t do it myself (I used to tan at a salon in high school and really wish I hadn’t) but I think its okay in moderation. I get wanting to be a bit tanner for special occasions but I would say its important to embrace your natural color and be comfortable with your skin tone. Being pale isn’t a bad thing!

Taylor |


I have very fair skin and dark hair like you so I can relate so much to the tan or not to tan dilemma. The past few summers I’ve learned to embrace my fair skin (with the help of your blog) and know that at the end of the day I’m being safe and not causing any damage to my skin. I think if I’m ever in another wedding I would try a spray tan. And for one day wear I highly recommend Sally Hansen’s Airbrush Legs 🙂

Jessica | The Magical Wife

I have read how terrible DHA (the main ingredient in self-tanners) are for your skin, so I have been avoiding them the past few years. I would LOVE a recommendation for a DHA-free tanner if anyone knows of any! I have been searching forever and even might have asked you about this before Carly (sorry!). Hopefully you or your readers might have the name of some DHA-free products to share. *fingers crossed*


I appreciate this post SO MUCH. I am so easily swayed to want to be tan by social media (and even family that tans super easily), but my skin really doesn’t handle sun well and I am not always the most sun safe. Seeing your gorgeous pictures without a care about being tan makes me realize that being pale really is not an issue, and is equally as beautiful. Definitely going to try to embrace it more this summer!


I’ve never done a spray tan, but I used to do fake tan at home until I decided to just embrace the porcelain look. It’s just WAY
too much upkeep!


I too am fair skinned and growing up kids in school (even in college!) would tell me to get color. There were times when I deliberately didn’t put sunscreen on. Guess what? Burn & no tan! 😉 I had a terrible burn in middle school and I remember I had tan lines for almost 2 years. It wasn’t until I had my first baby that I started wearing sunscreen daily. My husband is a beach person so I’ve become very aware of protecting my skin as well as my children’s skin. Getting my husband to wear sunscreen and not lay out in front of the children (they have my husband’s olive skin tone and I want to teach good skin habits and not to lay out!!) is a constant work in progress. I’ve started to go to for skin checks 2 x a year not because I have to but because it brings me peace of mind.

You have beautiful skin and you’ll continue to have beautiful skin years to come from being sun smart.


I am so glad you posted this I feel as though there is always so much pressure to get tan and as some one so pale I really feel this is important information. Thank you for spreading the health warnings that I know many people choose to ignore and reading this helped me gain more confidence about looking good and embrace my eternally untanned self.


Fellow pale girl here! I’m actually worried about getting a spray tan for the same reason of not looking like myself. I’ve also tried a few self tanners on my legs to no avail. I’m so careful about sun safety so I love your posts about it! My mom had a melanoma so I know I’m at a higher risk. She had her surgery the Monday after one of my spring breaks, so naturally I avoided the beach that year. My grandmother actually asked me if I was sick I was so pale!


Hi Carly,

As a pale English girl stuck in Alaska, I don’t get much sun! I do embrace being pale, however, I do feel more confident with a healthy glow. Sun beds are big up here. Hello 7 months of misery! I’m not a huge fan of them but when I feel low they do help to perk you up.

Let us rock the pale skin/dark hair combo!

On another note, I love reading your blog and I love the fact you update it everyday! Thank you for that!

Shannon Mahaney

Growing up in Florida, I was always in the sun. Now at almost 30, my skin has so much sun damage from all those years at the beach and by the pool. Now when I go to the beach I don a hat, hide under an umbrella and cover myself in Supergoop Sunscreen. It’s by far my favorite kind!

diana pearl

agreeeeed with that bottom part, girl! i am also so so so pale (i say i have two shades — red and white, lol.) and i hate this idea that you need to be tan for the summer or that it makes you look healthier? (which is actually insane when you think about it…) more people should embrace their natural skin color (and obv wear sunblock!)

Nicole @ Laughing My Abs Off

I think like any beauty trend, it’s just that, a trend. I mean in the past, super duper pale skin was the pinnacle of beauty. Now it’s tanning. Later perhaps it will be dying your skin green. I completely agree with you that the priority should be your safety. Thank you for the tips!


Oh man, I ALSO got burned by expired sunscreen a few years ago – I thought I was being so careful and re-applied but WORST BURN EVER. My legs also became swollen and it was so painful! Never making that mistake again!!

Katy S

Thank you for posting about this and for embracing a natural look in all of your posts. My husband was just diagnosed with stage 3 Melanoma at 29, and it just puts everything into perspective. Getting a tan to feel more attractive or fashionable is just not worth it.


As someone who is also super pale, I embrace it. It’s completely culturally and socially constructed that we think tan skin looks better. We used to think pale skin looked better because it was associated with wealth (not needing to go outside and work). Think of it like a cultural fad and don’t give in. Silly to pay money to spray chemicals and color on your skin.


This. Is. Everything. Thanks for shedding light on the dangers of tanning and speaking to your confidence in yourself- fake tan or not. Embracing your natural beauty should be talked about more!

I don’t mind fake tans, but if you’re having to do it consistently to feel confident with yourself, there’s some deeper underlying context that should be addressed. Same with make up, dying hair, etc. moderation!


Thanks for the great reminder! My mom has been dealing with melanoma for about 2 years now, and while she was a sun-worshipper as a teenager in the 1960s, I always remember her slathering me and herself in sunscreen when I was a child. I hate when people say skin cancer isn’t a big deal–ask my mom who has been through multiple surgeries, immunotherapy and upcoming radiation–it is a big deal and you don’t want it!!

Bri S.

I am a pale/freckled red head so the sun and I are not always the best of friends. I have vivid memories of being a kid and my dad absolutely coating my face and ears in thick white sunscreen and it took forever to soak in.

I still haven’t embraced the pale but I’m trying! I have gotten 2 spray tans in my life (the palest color they offer) and I did love them because I kept the color so so light. I don’t do it often though! Just for special occasions. The self tanning lotions can look so unnatural so I tend to avoid those.

I will keep in mind to check the expiration dates!! There are also special sunscreens that don’t bleach the ocean coral reefs so I stick to those as well!

Cat Kittlitz

I often wish I had been born in a different era; I’m so pale but I’ve learned to embrace it! I’m all for an embrace your own skin movement, and I wish there were more influencers who were honest and didn’t feel the need to apply allll the fake tanner. Thanks so much Carly!


I was never, ever a spray tan girl, but lately I’ve 100% converted to an airbrush tan. It’s amazing how much more confident I feel about my skin when it’s slightly more tanned. I have super dark hair too, so I typically go for a light shade. This part is pretty customizable, and you can ask for no orangey tones. I love that it evens out my skin tone, like makeup for your body. I had my first spray tan of 2018 last month, and it made me feel like it was summer even with freezing temperatures. Highly recommend an airbrush session every now and then!


I wish I could tan too, but I really care about the skin on my face and my mother and sister both had a basal cells on their skin. I’m half middle-eastern, so when I do get sun I would turn into a fabulous toast color, but now I am so pale I’m practically see-through.

I also have severely low vitamin D, so I take a high dosage supplement every day to keep my numbers up. It would be so much easier just to sit outside, but the cancer risk (and wrinkle risk) is too real. Anyway, I will definitely be sitting out this weekend, for sure, with a hat and sunglasses under an umbrella. But who’s to say I can’t put my feet out in the sun!

Also, I didn’t know you were living in NJ! Hasn’t the weather been awful? I’m in Montclair – it’s such a beautiful town, and there’s a ton of great food. Anyway, enjoy!

Eva |


Great post! I’m 36 and right around the same time I embraced my rapidly greying hair I embraced my paleness. It’s who I am so I stopped stressing about it. I realized I was worried what other people thought of my hair and paleness and at the end of the day their opinions don’t matter. So rock the pale skin!

Cristina - Memories of the Pacific

Even though I’d love a sun-kissed glow, in recent years I’ve started to accept that my skin is really white and that it’s not worth damaging it. I’m not a fan of fake tan either, it doesn’t look natural. Society should really work on stopping that “beauty ideal”, and accept everyone as they are. Why does only one type of person have to be perceived as beautiful?


Sun protection is very important, but the flip side that’s also good to keep in mind is that so many people nowadays have vitamin D deficiencies! Some sun is good for you – it’s actually recommended that we get 5-30 mins of midday sun twice a week with no sunscreen – especially if you live in less sunny states or spend most of the day indoors for work/school. Obviously, knowing your own skin is best!


Just wanted to do a PSA…sunscreen stored in a car is never a good idea. On a 80 degree day the inside of a car can reach over 110 degrees. Granted this is dependent on the color of the car and if it is in direct sunlight. The point is that temperatures that high can degrade the sunscreens effectiveness much quicker. So if you store it in a car toss it much sooner than the expiration date or apply more frequently. Love the blog, I’ve been a long time reader!


In college I was obsessed with fake tanning- like year round. Cannot believe the time and money I spent on. And I also can’t believe how uncomfortable I was with my natural skin color. Now I’m pale and I embrace it!


Hi Carly,
I love your blog! I live in Arizona and people are serious about sun safety here! Only tourist tan. Anyways, I’m originally from
Indiana and stopped tanning when I was 18, it took me a few years to get used to being pale but now at 45 I can see the difference.


Love this post! Thank you for making a big deal about sunscreen and taking care of your skin in the sun. It’s crazy that people still don’t realize how important it is!


Absolutely love this post – thanks for spreading such an important message! I lost my father a few months ago after an excruciating battle with malignant melanoma. I can say with 100% certainty that no suntan is worth how horrible that cancer is!!! I am now the annoying girl who tells everyone I know about sun safety because I never want to watch someone I love go through that again!


Katie – I’m so sorry to hear about your father. My dad is in the midst of a 5 year battle with metastatic melanoma and it’s horrible. We never knew how aggressive and unpredictable a cancer it was until my dad was diagnosed. Posts like these always make me happy knowing that influencers are trying to educate others on such an important topic. Hopefully others won’t have to go through what our dads and families have. xo


Alexandra, I am so sorry to hear that. It really is SO terrible. We had no idea just how awful melanoma was until my dad went through it. Praying for the best possible outcome for your father!! xx, Katie


Love these tips! I moved to Colorado at the end of the summer last year and will need to remember these…I’ve found I burn even more easily at higher elevations.

And I’ll do spray tans occasionally (mainly for big events, such as being a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding!), but I don’t really like the tanning lotion- too much upkeep. For the spray tans I’ll usually do the second lightest shade and it’s perfect! My skin tone looks normal in the wedding photos instead of much paler than everyone else. I wouldn’t recommend them frequently though- also not worth the upkeep!

Cashel Koski

I too am extremely pale and got a spray tan once… I hated it! Everyone said it looked good but I just didn’t feel like myself and wanted my super pale skin back! The silver lining was that it evened out a shorts tan line from two years prior that I had feared was permanent!
Cashel |


Thank you for this post Carly. I think it’s so important to talk about how beauty ideals can be completely opposite depending on where you are in the world! I am very fair skinned too and I remember how girls in Asia envied me. In contrast, here in Europe some people even make fun of my skin tone. In the end, it’s just ridiculous!


Love your sun safety post every year! My dad has metastatic melanoma and before he was diagnosed we had no idea all of the staggering details about skin cancer. I’m very fair with dark hair as well, so I’ll add a little bronzer or change up my blush to a warmer shade for spring/summer. I’m always in the shade or rocking SPF 50 so I’ve never had the nice glowy tan like my sister. I would probably look weird! Glad I’m not the only one rocking the “pale” look at the beach!


I love that you made a full post on this! It’s so so so important to take care of your skin, especially when you are young. I don’t necessarily like that I am so pale, but I know that preventing melanoma and skin cancer (both of which are in my family) is way more important than bronzed skin.

Arthur K

Our skin come with its natural colour, look after it or else. In a country like Australia where the sun can really burn, the stats on skin cancer should be enough to scare any one young or older.


I’m 63 and have used sunscreen since I was 18. It works. My skin looks pretty good. But, as Celine mentioned, vitamin D deficiency is a problem for many. Two years ago, I retired to Florida and bought bathing suits that covered me from neck to ankle. I even had a face covering to use in my pool. Within a year, I was so vitamin D deficient that I’m now taking prescription doses weekly and OTC pills 3 times a day. So, I’ve just decided this week to expose my skin to 20 minutes of sun a day. I still wear a hat, but I’d like to get off these pills. As for spray and fake tans, I love how I look and feel with a tan. When I lived in CT, I’d get a few spray tans at the end of winters just to get me through it! If I could afford it, I’d get a spray tan weekly, so I wouldn’t need make-up. But, then again, I’m 63, fair and need make-up to look awake!