The Second Half: The trials of tanning

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

Summer’s here, and everybody’s talking about tanning products: you see print ads, commercials, and displays at every store. Even the TV news shows are yapping about it. From March through November, magazines sport photos of sun-kissed models, smiling broadly and looking ever-so-healthy. But, whenever I looked in the mirror this spring, some pasty-faced old broad glared back at me as if to say, “Sun? What sun?”

Living in the colder climate of northern Illinois, looking “sunny” is as rejuvenating as a new pair of shoes that are sexy and comfortable. But how do we get that “living by the beach” look in our Second Half, without risk of skin cancer and serious wrinkling?

I typically use sunscreen whenever I am outdoors—otherwise, I would burn to a crisp. While using sunscreen daily slows down the process, I always develop a decent tan by mid-summer if only on my arms and face. The legs come later, with extra effort because I can’t bale hay, ride horseback or straddle a Harley in shorts!

This year is different, however. This year, I am wearing a fabulous gown for Twenty-Something-Son’s wedding in August, and I need a flawless tan from the armpits up. Short of lounging in the sun in a strapless bikini—one scary thought!—I had to research my options.

The new federal regulations regarding sunscreen products are big news, I guess, but I couldn’t tell what the fuss was about—it didn’t seem like much of a change to me. WebMD reports: “… products will not be allowed to claim they ‘block’ the sun or that they prevent skin cancer or aging. They also can’t say they last for more than two hours, unless proof of longer protection is submitted to the FDA.”

Not such big news—wisdom tells me to re-apply every couple of hours. On the other hand, I’m glad they have to be clearer and eliminate the “BS factor” in advertising. The truth is that the sun and tanning beds both hold risks from radiation, risks we must avoid in our Second Half.

So, here are some other choices.

Sunless tanners have been around for years, and I’ve tried a number of them. Whether they make you tan is insignificant when compared to the unearthly smell that goes with it. It doesn’t come off when you shower, you can’t cover it up with a fragrance, and the stink stays with you for as long as the tan does!!!

“I don’t care about the smell,” one pal said, “I look fantastic, and there is no risk of sunburn.”

“Yeah, but if they told you a skunk’s spray would give you a gorgeous tan, would you do it?”

“You are way too dramatic,” she called over her bronze shoulder as she stomped away, “and you’re so pale, you look sick!”

Hmmm…perhaps I hurt her feelings. I don’t want to look fabulous if it means people have to stand 12 feet away just to tolerate me. Some folks have a hard time tolerating me anyway—why add to the list of offenses?

The smell from sunless tanners comes from a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a color additive that darkens the skin through a reaction to amino acids. While DHA reportedly smells worse on some skin types than others, I find the odor offensive across the board. This chemical is also used in spray-on tanners, such as those used in salons. If I can’t tolerate the smell, neither of these options will work for me. What’s next?

My Mom used to use a few drops of iodine in baby oil rubbed into the skin before the days of Coppertone QT. She would tell me, as she rubbed it on while sunbathing, “This gives me a little head start on getting some color.” You could call it a 1950s bronzer.

The website eHow Health offers an upgraded version of the old standard—I’ve summarized for brevity.

Things You’ll Need: a high-quality sunscreen, measuring cup, plastic bottle with squeeze-top cap, iodine, and baby oil.

Recipe: Measure 1/4 cup sunscreen, 1/2 cup iodine, and 1/2 cup baby oil into the bottle. Cap the bottle and shake it vigorously for 60 seconds to combine ingredients. Apply to skin and lie in the sun.

(For complete instructions, read: “How to Make Suntan Lotion Out of Iodine & Baby Oil” at

As for me, I think I’ll stick to store-bought, thank you. Besides, iodine makes me orange…um, not that I’ve ever tried it!

There is such a thing as a tanning pill, although they are banned by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA’s got a great website at—type “Tanning Pills” in the search box for the whole deal, but here’s part of their spiel:

“So-called tanning pills are promoted for tinting the skin by ingesting massive doses of color additives, usually canthaxanthin… Although canthaxanthin is approved by FDA for use as a color additive in foods … its use in so-called tanning pills is not approved.”

OK, no magic pill for tanning. Hubby suggested: “Why don’t you get one of those stretchy things with no straps to wear?”

“A tube top?!?” I exclaimed in horror. I haven’t looked firm enough to wear a tube top in several decades.

One of my better Second-Half pals offered the best solution: “Get a bustier from Victoria’s Secret to wear when you’re gardening or hanging laundry. No one will see, and you can wear it later for romantic encounters.”

Who knew tanning had such mixed blessings?

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the June 29-July 5, 2011 issue

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