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A Tan for All Seasons

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Living in a large northern city, we often joke that there are only two seasons -- winter and construction. In the beauty world, however, there's summer and then re-construction.

All winter long, we shell out thousands of dollars for miracle creams and potions that claim to lift, tighten, plump and erase signs of aging -- all this in the name of maintaining healthy looking, vibrant skin!

Then, in the summer, we switch gears. Like rotisserie chickens turning every few minutes, we worship the sun to get the perfect tan. Once crispy, we loathe the sun as we try to get rid of the damage a tan leaves behind with expensive laser treatments, peels and re-surfacing treatments. And just when we thought we've been lectured 'til we're blue (not brown) in the face, we do it all over again the following summer.

Being of Danish/Irish descent I didn't exactly get the skin tone of my dreams. I tend to have reddish undertones and every year, I think that a little more exposure to the sun will miraculously give me that golden skin tone I've always coveted. And though I admit I indulge in sunning myself as a guilty pleasure, I can't help but wonder why, despite all the dangers, a sun tan is still so alluring in our culture when other cultures focus on maintaining fair complexions. Here, I take a look at where these stigmas originate.

Caramel vs. Casper: Who's the fairest?

Different cultures, like those in the southern Mediterranean countries of Europe, still consider a tan to be a very important beauty mark, while others in Asia believe that the fairness of the skin is indicative of a person's attractiveness. In the past, social roles and economic status -- particularly in French and British aristocracy -- have been related to a person's skin tone, where light skin became associated with wealth and high position. The less privileged class worked outdoors and got darker skin from exposure to the sun, while the upper class stayed indoors and had light skin. Women even went as far as putting lead-based cosmetics, arsenic and powders on their skin to artificially whiten it.

In China and Japan, pale skin and painted geishas can be traced back to ancient drawings depicting women and goddesses with fair skin tones. Again, pale skin was seen as a sign of wealth. Thus, whitening cosmetic products are popular in East Asia, and many women there frequently use skin-whitening creams. This "beautiful white" ideal leads many Japanese women to avoid any form of tanning.

On the other (browner) hand, though sun tanned skin used to be associated with the sun-exposed manual labor of the lower class, that stigma has since been dramatically flipped. Women have been going gaga over golden skin every since Coco Chanel returned from a Mediterranean vacation in the 1920s, flaunting her hottest new fashion accessory -- a bronzed glow. Today, Western cultures often consider tanned skin more attractive, and healthier than pale skin, even though we know the opposite health claim to be true.

Yes, pale skin is safer and smarter, but it is associated with being stuck inside doing office work (no thanks!), while tanned skin alludes to more leisure time and sportiness that comes with wealth and higher social status, or celebrity clout (St. Tropez, anyone?). Goddesses like Jennifer Lopez epitomize this sun kissed look and keep it in vogue . Others, like Paris Hilton, are a little more heavy-handed with the spray tan, but it's tough to knock her generally sun-safe approach. And to all you teen gals out there, there seems to be a sort of 'tandemonium' in this age group. Let's leave the orange obsession to Snooki who rocks it best... or worst.

Yes, the tan is an interesting beast. We all know the dangers of developing serious and dangerous skin cancer, yet some of us tan anyway. Either we crave its delicious glow, cower in fear indoors or have the best dermatologists in the biz on PowerBook.

Fake it before you bake it
For those guilty of sun worship, try to ease up and achieve the look harmlessly.
PLEASE protect your skin with a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) sunscreen and re-apply often. Make sure to check the expiry date too! You wouldn't drink sour milk, so don't use expired sun block either.

A couple of my favourite products to get the look are:
o Guerlain Terracotta Bronzing Powder
o Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel
o Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer
(side note to the ladies... wearing a pale lip colour will also deepen the look of your tan).


Fix it, don't nix it

Sometimes, it takes more than a dusting of mineral powder to revive your skin. If the damage is already done, you can still try to undo some of the superficial damage (more on this in a future blog this fall!), although these treatments come with risks of their own. I believe that rejuvenating laser treatments increase your collagen production like you had when you where in your 20s. Not only do they help smooth out fine lines, they restore the natural radiance of your skin balancing the skins tone and texture.

But don't fool yourself into thinking pricey procedures will bring back your baby face. Understand that these are surface treatments that can't repair or prevent deeper layers of damage from coming back to haunt. That doesn't mean you have to be a hater -- just leave the extreme sun lovin' in the past.

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