Grace Timothy | Contributing Writer | 1,072 day ago

How I Learnt To Accept My Pale, Pasty Skin. With These Genius Products

The Debrief: Because no, not everyone has been to St Tropez (the place or tanning booth) lately

Illustrations by Marina Esmeraldo

I am naturally very fair-skinned. Not Jessica Chastain porcelain perfection, more like see-through with bright blue veins. Like a jelly fish. 

As a result, I spent a long time thinking I have the wrong skin. I’ve grown up in the era of St Tropez (the spray, not the place) and endless shots of biscuit-coloured limbs of women like Cameron Diaz, so it’s rubbed off on me that beautiful = bronzed. But other than the Caribbean cruise I went on at 16 where I burned alongside 60-something leathery necks, I have never tanned properly.

As a result, over the past few years I’ve been through all the typical stages of grief. First came denial, slathering on fake tan. At uni I used to cover myself (and my clothes, bedding, the walls and flatmates) in what turns out was just a big orange stain, as I now see in photos. Using bleach to try and get rid of the permanent red-brown tinge on the palms of my hands was a real low point – I’m not sure if I still have fingerprints left – and there were definitely a couple of guys who didn’t enjoy waking up in sheets smeared in what looked like Marmite and smelt like crap.

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Next came anger: why, Cameron, why?! Swiftly followed by a faintly ridiculous bargaining with myself – and my skin. ‘Maybe ONE sunbed won’t hurt,’ I told myself, shelling out £20 to stand in what felt like a coffin with strip lighting that buzzed, only to come out with a freckled, beetroot face and a rash on my chest. And the constant threat of melanomas hanging over my sweaty head. 

Of course, I’d never see the flaws I saw in myself – the grey-looking collarbone, the dark circles, the inability to wear short shorts at short notice, or yellow EVER - on other women who were equally pale. Angelina, Emma Stone and Amy Adams all look pretty great and, on more than one occasion, I’ve stolen make-up tips from them – peach blush, browns and taupes on eyes and clearly defined brows.


In fact, seeing Jessica Chastain in a yellow dress on the red carpet might have been the thing that ushered in my age of acceptance. At last I’m happy being a bit pasty. Because I finally realised that it’s the quality of the skin that counts. A tan can act like a big old concealer for your body. The skin I wanted was smooth and not broken up by blocked pores and 5 o'clock shadow. 

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So, in my role as a beauty journalist, I set about learning to love my paleness and treat it with respect it deserved. I realised that exfoliation is key. Because if your skin is pale it’s got to glow like crazy. So I started using He-Shi Exfoliating Bodywash, £11, on my body religiously and Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Refine and Polish Miracle Balm, £57,  on my face (great for sensitive types) before a day cream. 


When I wanted an extra pep of confidence, instead of reaching for the fake tan, I invested in some body highlighters. Palmers Cocoa Butter Formula Body Gloss, £4.49, for example. Or adding Becca Shimmer Skin Perfector Rose Gold, £33, to my usual REN body lotion.


I realised that fair skinned faces are more likely to show up dark circles so bought the best light-reflecting cover-up for under eyes I could find. (Sharing the love: YSL Touche Eclat, £25, has a tone for everyone, even us pale types). I learnt that powder can make you look both paler and a bit dry, so to stick to dewy textures: tinted moisturiser, cream blush and iridescent eye crayons or creams.


And every time I tried to reach for the bronzer I’d stop myself, instead embracing a little gem I like to call THANKS FOR MAKING ME ALL GLOWY: Topshop Glow Highlighter in Polish, £9 – it gives me all the fresh-faced, healthy, I’ve-just-been-on-holiday radiance of a tan. 

It’s taken 20-something years and a lot of ruined white shirts, but I’ve finally learnt to go natural. And I’ve picked a good time to do it, it seems, because according to the legendary make-up artists Lucia Pieroni and Val Garland the tan’s actually a bit over for us all. At SS15 shows like Christopher Kane and Erdem they brought a bronzer-free glow to the skin, instead whacking on highlighter and dewy moisturisers. 

Perhaps the crazy-dark tans of the likes of Geordie Shore and co have put the high fashion crowd off sending their new collections out on an obvious overload of DHAs? Don’t get me wrong, the tan hasn’t disappeared altogether – there was a subtle warmth at Pucci and a gorgeous ‘freckle tan’ at Preen courtesy of St Tropez, and Kate Moss is looking fierce in their new ads – but to inspire pasty girls like me, there was miles of pale skin on show.

After all, now that the beauty industry’s focus is so firmly on having THE most youthful skin possible, UV has become a bit of an enemy – not only might it cause cancer, but it will definitely crank out some serious wrinkles. I’m not risking either, thanks very much. Or a streaky, smeared duvet again. With my secret weapons to hand, I am pale and totally into it. 

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Follow Grace on Twitter @gracetimothy

Tags: Beauty Chat