Things You Only Know If You Burn Like A Bitch

Tales of a very, very, pale girl


by Suzanne Scott |
Published on

I’m ashamed to say, as possibly one of the palest people on the planet, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been burnt. My pale skin is like a road map of freckles depicting my previous run-ins with the sun. It’s nothing to be proud of, and I now have to visit the mole clinic for a regular once-over to make sure there’s nothing untoward happening. Here are the things that you only know if you’re ridiculously pale like me and burn like a bitch:

Skin will burn to a certain point and then it will lose its pigment altogether

It’s basically, to my mind at least, a reverse freckle: instead of a spattering of brown dots you’ll end up with lots of little white dots. This happened to me on a trip to Greece a few years ago. After a day or more in the pool with just my face and shoulders exposed to the sun my shoulders burnt to a crisp. The result? Layer after layer of blisters that, once finally in retreat, left patches of skin completely devoid of life. There’s a reason for it; pale skin types are mostly made-up of pheomelanin while darker skins contain eumelanin. Pheomelanin offers very little protection from the sun – which if you burn, you’ll know – but it’s also easily degraded by the sun, meaning it will take the abuse to an extent and then the pigment will disappear altogether – hence weird white freckles. Once there’s no pigment left there is basically little-to-no protection from UV.

There’s only so many times you can faint before you realise that you’re not hanging but in fact suffering from severe heatstroke

Again sadly I’m talking from experience here. Anyone can suffer from heat stroke but you’re more likely to if you’re really pale. The way I see it, my pale and freckled skin was designed to withstand the bitingly cold temperatures of Muckish Mountain in Dunfanaghy where my family are from, not the scorching temps of the Caribbean. Lesson learnt.

Applying after sun to freshly burnt skin is hell on earth

Not only do you have to deal with the insane pain, but applying cold, smelly cream to your damaged skin is just a punishment too far. Plus it gives you that weird sicky, shivering feeling where your skin is both hot and cold at the same time. After sun has its place, of course, but I’m patting myself on my back for my recent discovery. My friend and I were on a road trip around America’s deep south last year; we’d taken in Savannah, New Orleans, Memphis and the like, and my skin was really paying the price. I couldn’t bare the thought of after sun and instead reached for my antioxidant serum that I use on my face. My reasoning was this: UV causes free-radicals (free-radicals go mental when the skin is burnt) and it’s the free-radicals that cause cell damage (leading to skin cancer) and premature ageing (by degrading collagen). Hence the antioxidant serum over every inch of my body. It worked. It’s a pricy move (I swear by SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic, £129[]) but it does the trick: calm skin and no freckles. Result.

The two most painful places to burn are your shins and feet. Who the hell knows why but that’s the truth of it

The best thing you can do, if your skin has a transparent ghostly quality, is to just man up and accept it. Like a couple of years ago when I was in Marrakech. I was supposed to be heading out into the desert on a camel ride but the 50-degree temp indicated I’d be best served waiting in the shaded tented area. Yes I missed out on a fun ride on a smelly camel but, importantly, I didn’t burn. I’ve come to accept that even with an inch-thick layer of factor 50 on my skin, if it’s hot enough I will burn.

Don’t bother with anything less than a factor 50. Being pale you need to become a sun care connoisseur. Except nothing less than high factor broad-spectrum protection. This means it will protect from high levels of UVB (which cause the skin to burn) and UVA (which damages skin cells and leads to premature ageing). Don’t just look for the SPF rating; you need a star rating too to be confident that you’re getting protection from both UVA and UVB. The government guidelines say you should wear a minimum of SPF30 and experts say that anything higher than that will prevent your body from making vitamin D (which it does from sun exposure) – however most experts agree that even just exposing your hands to daylight for 15 minutes a day is enough to synthesize Vitamin D. Some truly amazing broad spectrums factor-50’s include: SkinCeuticals Sheer Mineral UV Defense SPF50, £31 ( La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL 50+ Fluid, £14.00 ( and La Roche Posay Anthelios XL SPF50+ Protective Oil, £15.30 (

There’s nothing wrong with pale skin. I don’t subscribe to the feeling that to have a tan is to look healthy. Personally I see a tan for what it is, sun damage. There’s nothing to be ashamed about if you’re pale. At 30 I can honestly say that it has taken me a while to come to this conclusion, and like most other pale girls I used to fake tan to cover up my skin tone, bake in the sun in an effort for a ‘natural tan’ and I even went through a stage of injecting myself with Melanotan to darken up a bit – which did make me a bit darker (temporarily) but I would also vomit after each injection. Pale skin can look beautiful, ethereal almost, accept it and protect it.

Follow Suzanne on Twitter @Suzanne_M_Scott

Picture: Rory DCS

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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