I live in Colorado. I also have type two skin (barely, it’s very close to type one). That elevation really compounds the problem of having pale skin in such a sunny state. Sunlight is radiation, and so its intensity is squared as you get closer to the sun.
However, last summer, I was able to tan my torso. This is quite an accomplishment for me, since the story usually goes: shirtless, sunburn, peel, no tan, try again if you dare. There was no goldilocks sun exposure that would give me a little color without burning me.
At the end of summer 2015, I was walking outside shirtless for an hour and I wouldn’t get burned. If I went a bit over an hour, I’d be red for a couple days, but I didn’t burn. In fact, I don’t think I had a sunburn all year.
I’ll tell you what I think was key to my success.
1. A strong diet, low in n-6 but with seafood. For the purposes of creating and supporting skin that can interact with the sun in a healthy manner, I think your main focus should be removing as much PUFA from your diet as possible. However, this comes with a caveat, since seafood has some amazing properties when it comes to the sun. You might be interested in supplementing with astaxanthin, as well. You want a strong, varied diet, because getting enough nutrients is important for the function of your skin. Remember that a strong diet will include gelatin/collagen/broth and organ meats. There are many accounts of people getting burnt less when they go on a paleo diet.
2. Introducing sun gradually. Most people recommend building up sun exposure in 15 minute increments. I completely agree with this, but I go one farther. The intensity of the sun grows throughout the season, so it’s important to start as early in the year as you can. I’ve been sunbathing on warm days since the middle of February. I do this when I go on walks in the morning (sun isn’t as harsh in the morning). This is an even more gentle way of building up sun exposure. If your body’s first big introduction to sun is at noon during May at Waterpalooza, you’ll be feeling the after effects of that decision for a week.
But wait, it’s really cold in February and even some of March. That’s true, and especially so since we’re talking about exposure before 11AM. That’s why I like to do it with a walk. In February, I left my house with sweatpants and hoody. By the time I got to my spot, I was warm from walking around. Then I took off my shirt and hoody and warmed myself with the sun’s radiation. Thanks to Colorado’s general lack of clouds, I can get quite warm laying in the sun in February. Sometimes walking home I wouldn’t even bother putting my hoody back on; my shirt kept me warm enough.
This year I got an earlier start, and I won’t have a long trip to Europe breaking up my summer like last year, so I’m curious to see how far I can push my tolerance this season. Plus, judging from the fact that my exposed forearms remain darker than my torso even in winter, it seems reasonable to assume that a certain level of the tan acquired in summer is cumulative over one’s life. The anecdotal experiences of people who work outside (myself included) support this. I’ve never heard of anyone getting burnt more or needing more sunblock as they add more seasons of work under their belt; it’s always less sunblock and less burns.