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Hail the pale: The Hollywood tan loses its luster

| Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, 6:16 p.m.
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The tan is fading from fashion.

A coppertone complexion — achieved the fake way, through lotions, sprays and powders — isn't looking so fresh this summer season, as young, fair-skinned stars like Taylor Swift, Emma Stone and Jessica Chastain go beyond the beauty pale and embrace their natural, peaches-and-cream peaux.

Their fans are following suit. Sales of self-tanners dipped 2.1 percent during the year ending in March, according the NPD Group, a market research firm. “When you look at who's in the (celebrity) forefront, I just don't see a lot of this sun-kissed-beauty type thing coming out,” says NPD beauty-industry analyst Karen Grant.

“As much as most women say we're not influenced by celebrity, we totally are,” Grant says. “We see what's being popularized in the media. It just starts to permeate into our psyche that this is acceptable, that pale is cool.”

“I don't love celebrity tans,” says Kristin Lisivick of Upper St. Clair, an employee at Oh So Tan McMurray. “I think a bit of a glow is nice, but no one looks good when their skin looks like leather.” She says that, for some people, it is “definitely time to lighten up.”

The dangers of a UV-generated glow are long known, of course. But now J.Crew catalog models are eschewing ersatz caramel color. Likewise, runway models.

Indeed, it's the faux mahogany look that's increasingly a faux pas.

Blame, in part, Snooki and the other Jersey Shore sirens, along with the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, who “started taking it to such a crazy level,” says Victoria Kirby, Redbook beauty director. Darkening yourself 10 shades past your natural epidermis “became associated with stars who are not exactly known for their sophisticated style.” It was an orange-tinted contrast to the natural-hued stars who are, such as Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett. “That's when things started to divide.”

The trend is also a bit of a backlash to other recent forms of beauty artifice. “The past couple years have been so much about people going for enhancement, lash extensions or hair extensions, the faker the better,” says Emily Dougherty, beauty and fitness director at Elle. “This idea of people taking a step back to, ‘What is my skin tone?' and celebrating their true skin color” is very freeing. “It's not about dark skin tones trying to be paler or pale skin tones trying to be darker.”

Longtime celebrity makeup artist Paula Dorf goes a bit further, declaring the faux glow gauche: “It's tacky-looking. It's aging.” Last summer, Dorf whittled her bronzer collection down to one, from three. “I've always felt it looked so artificial, and instead of making someone look great, I always thought it made someone not look so good.”

Pale skin may be the newest trend in Hollywood, but the look is a staple for several cultures around the globe.

“Asian countries have long histories of utilizing white skin as a key criterion of personal beauty,” according to “Skin Lightening and Beauty in Four Asian Cultures,” a report from experts from York University in Canada, the University of Utah, and Hosei University in Japan. “In Korea, flawless skin like white jade and an absence of freckles and scars have been preferred since the first dynasty in Korean history.”

Rumma Ahmad of Marshall is the daughter of Pakistani parents. In their native land, she says, women are considered “more beautiful, graceful, and desirable” if they are fair-skinned.

“People with lighter skin are idolized there,” she says. “I try to avoid the sun at all costs.”

While pale skin can hold cultural significance, it is a matter of health.

“I wish this was a trend I saw more here in Pittsburgh,” says Dr. Laura Ferris, a dermatologist at the University of Pittsburgh. “(Not tanning) reduces the risk of skin cancer, like melanoma and carcinoma, the most common type of cancer. It also decreases the bad cosmetic effects of sun exposure — wrinkles, blotchy skin, freckles.”

Ferris puts sun block on her face and hands every morning as part of her daily routine, even in the winter. She encourages staff members not to tan and wants to show her patients that “your skin looks good as its natural color. You don't have to be super-tan to be beautiful.”

USA TODAY and Emma Deihle of Trib Total Media contributed to this story.

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