It’s a national misconception that tan skin is a sign of good health. It probably stems from the assumption that healthy people spend lots of time outside doing exciting, active things. (This assumption is problematic, by the way. Most of the people I know who have really great tans get them lying in a tanning bed or by a swimming pool.)
It’s an interesting reversal of paradigms, since the whole point of snooty objects like parasols was to keep women in earlier centuries from getting freckles or tans. Now tans give the same impression that pale skin used to – they are signs of prestige that suggest long vacations in Hawaii.
The truth is that sunburns and suntans are signs of irreversibly damaged skin, and the damage can lead to serious problems, including skin cancer. Most people have been given this information on multiple occasions (usually by parents screeching something about melanoma) and yet the myth persists, and the approach of summer always sends people (particularly young women) into a frenzy to stop being “pasty.”
The alternatives to being stylishly tan aren’t all great. You can wear sunscreen or stay inside all summer and be pale (which is a healthy option and shouldn’t be completely ecshewed). You can use fake tanning products, notorious for looking unnatural. (In one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Giles asks Buffy to describe a demon who attacked her, and she says, “Cloak, glowing eyes, and really bad fake bake.” Giles looks at her blankly and asks her to translate, and she replies, “Orange.”) You can go on campaigns trying to convince your friends to protect their skin and be pale with you.
I love the option of using products like Olay Complete Touch of Sun. Products like this can be part of normal good skin care routines, because they usually include moisturizer and sunscreen – SPF 15 so that it provides some protection without making anyone look like they’ve spent a lifetime indoors practicing the piano. The Olay version of this product also includes a little bit of bronzer, something that adds some color by “bringing out your skin’s natural color” without making you look fake or orange, and without requiring you to damage your skin in a tanning bed. I’m a fan of this kind of product because it doesn’t require you to destroy any misguided paradigms to avoid having leathery skin by the time you’re 30, but maybe if people say no to excessive skin damage a little at a time, it will work it’s way down into the collective psyche.