The Great British Beach Tan

The Great British Beach Tan

British beaches are wonderful. I know; I happen to live 250 yards from one. Shingle. Seagulls. Blistering sunshine. 

Now, Club 55/St. Tropez, Hastings beach is not. I can’t think of anywhere on our coastline, actually, where you have to worry about ‘resort wear’. (With the possible exception of Rock, in Cornwall, which is a Bodenfest.)

But nevertheless, it is possible to acquire quite a decent tan (weather permitting). And indeed, I’d say you’re almost more likely to burn, close to home. Why so? Because it’s easy to kid yourself that the British sun’s thin and weak, and won’t do any damage – when in fact, a sunny Bank Holiday will turn countless throw-caution-to-the-sea-breeze sunbathers into lobsters faster than you can say Sun Protection Factor.

So yes: SPFs are the order of the (holi)day, even when – thanks to the credit crunch, the heinous exchange rate and redundancies – so many more are holidaying closer to home. It’s true: Brighton is not St. Barth’s. Penzance is not Portugal. Cromer is not Cannes, but as I say, it’s so easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, staying (and playing) outdoors all day. Even on a cloudy day in the UK, some UV gets through. (Although not as much as on a cloudy day in the Caribbean.) While it’s true that some dermatologists believe that our rising skin cancer statistics are linked to the two-week summer jet-away to the Med – roasting skin that’s under wraps for most of the year – any sunburn, even acquired close to home, will up your chances of developing skin cancer. (We’re talking four times the number of melanoma cases today as in the 70s, according to Cancer Research…)

When it comes to choosing suncare, The European Commission now recommends that all sunscreens contain a ratio of 1:3 UVA to UVB protection. (Previously, many sunscreens only protected against the burning UVB rays, and didn’t screen out the A’ rays – which are, principally but not exclusively, the Ageing ones, while also doing damage to DNA.) They’re also moving towards all sun protection products being labelled ‘Low’ (under SPF15), ‘Medium’ (SPF15 – 25) or ‘High’ Protection (SPF30+). My advice is to go for Medium for bodies, High for faces. End. Of. Or High, all-over. You’d be surprised how you do, in fact, develop a golden and lasting glow when wearing those higher SPFs.

Personally, I’d never venture outdoors on a beach without an SPF25 (High Protection) or above on my face. (And a hat.) Yes, even in the UK. If you don’t mind turning into a wizened old crone, then go for it, but when it comes to anti-ageing, prevention is way better (and easier) than cure. It’s infinitely preferable to stop a wrinkle in its tracks than try to erase it once it’s there. And that’s why tinted moisturisers and self-tanners (more about those anon) were invented: so that we can all preserve our skins while creating the illusion of a sun-kissed glow.

So: slap on the SPF25+, from bra-line to hair-line. (The chest area is ultra-vulnerable, because it’s perfectly angled to receive the sun’s rays.) Allow to sink in for 10 minutes before you even think of applying make-up on top. (A good summer option is one of the new mineral make-ups: shimmery and dewy-looking, they look more natural in the summer months than during winter, when skin tends to veer towards matteness; mineral make-up offers a level of sun protection, too, because the minerals ‘bounce’ light off the skin. Just don’t rely on it alone.) My top choices for body include Green People Edelweiss Sun Lotion SPF25 (I’m a huge fan of their suncare), and Jason Mineral Natural Sunblock SPF30. For faces, Innovative Skincare Extreme Protect SPF30 is fantastic: it’s designed for everyday use but I’ve deployed it on a Dubai beach, where it tans my skin beautifully – although I’m also loving the new This Works In Transit Skin Defence (also an SPF30). Nice to have options, I always think.

Do pay heed, too, to the notion that only mad dogs and Englishwomen go out in the noonday sun. Take a siesta. Go for fish ‘n’ chips. Make for the cool, shady confines of your beach hut and boil up a few shrimp – but get yourself (and most especially your kids) off that sun-drenched beach between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (Beach huts may seem to have been specifically invented to shield against the battering effects of gales, but actually, they’re a fine retreat from the sun.) Provided you avoid the peak hours of sun exposure – when the sun is at its highest in the sky – an SPF15 for the body should be adequate. (Higher for children, of course: don’t skimp on the SPF for small folk. SPF30, SPF40, SPF50+ – all fine…)

I hope you won’t need sunburn relief. But the real role of an after-sun isn’t to unburn any sunburn: it’s to replenish moisture, to nourish skin (with emollients that help trap that moisture in), while also helping to neutralise any sun damage (usually with a cocktail of antioxidants). It’s a beauty step you might think of skipping, if you’re holidaying in Blighty – but well worth the few minutes spent massaging after-sun into skin. Your suitcase (isn’t it great not to have to worry about excess baggage) could usefully contain Optima Health Care Organic Aloe Vera Gel (it’s 99.9% aloe vera, packing all the soothing punch of that cooling plant), and Green People Cool After Sun Lotion: I once watched when a pale houseguest applied this and literally took the red out of her sunburn before my very eyes.

So: that’s safe sunning covered. But even though we’re talking shingle ad rock pools rather than soft Caribbean sand, what about those first few days, when our bodies can look so pale and pasty we look like we’ve crawled out from under one of those aforementioned rocks…? Well, thank heavens for fake tan. All self-tanners, though, are not created equal in terms of the shade they deliver. There’s been a shift to differentiate between different depths of tan – Ipanema beach at one end, Southwold beach at the other. My advice: choose carefully. A just-back-from-the-Seychelles tan, this year, says more about you (and not necessarily in a good way) than an ‘It’ bag or a bling diamond bracelet. The self-tan watchword, right now (at least in the UK), has to be S-U-B-T-L-E. I’m a massive fan of This Works Perfect Legs Gradual Tan – and though it says ‘legs’ on the pump-action bottle, at Kathy Phillips’s suggestion I’ve used it all over, with great results. 

I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than the British coastline during the summer months. (February – now, that’s a different story…) So let’s keep our fingers firmly crossed that this summer, when so many millions are staying closer to home, we can enjoy Cornetto-meltingly beautiful weather.

And you can have a beautiful summer holiday, in every sense…


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