Editor’s Note: This blog post has been updated. You can find frequently asked questions about spray tans and vitiligo here.
Several years ago, I turned to spray tans for an extra boost of confidence – and end up addicted to the idea of “perfect” skin. At that point in time, my skin was nearly 100% naturally depigmented due to vitiligo, leaving most of my skin ghostly white. Although I had used tanning lotions to cover areas of my neck and arms before, I was looking for a better way to give my skin a little color. What followed was a two-year crusade into the spray tanning world – and a mental and emotional health crisis.
Spray tans became a confidence crutch for coping with vitiligo
While I had started wearing spray tans to gain confidence, I ended up losing it as I slowly became addicted to the idea of “perfect” skin. When I had a fresh spray tan on, I was closer to being “normal” than I ever had been in my entire life. For the first time that I could remember, I could walk down the street, and no one would stare. I didn’t have to deal with curious eyes or intrusive comments – and it felt good. So good, in fact, that I started to panic and have meltdowns if the spray tan turned out even a little bit wrong – a drip mark from extra product or uneven tanning levels on different parts of my body. I had lived with spots all over my body for two decades, and yet I was freaking out over the tiniest of “mistakes.” My confidence slowly diminished, only to be replaced by neurotic thoughts and never-ending self-criticism.
Being seen without a spray tan became a crippling fear
I spent years living with patchy skin. My first spots appeared along my spine, knees and elbows age the age of seven and rapidly spread along my limbs from there. By the time I was in college, my vitiligo was on every part of my body. Despite my insecurities, I would wear shorts and dresses that revealed my skin. Fast forward a few years and the last patches of my real skin we’re disappearing. I started covering my skin with spray tans and quickly became addicted to it. Spray tans were my ticket to freedom – and I ended up wanting that freedom so badly that I couldn’t live without it. While I had spent years living with spots, the idea of being seen without tanner caused crippling anxiety. I ended up planning my entire week – and occasionally, vacations – around a spray tan schedule.
My desire to be my “old self” made me lose my “real self”
I started wearing spray tans to feel more like my “old self.” Although I’m Caucasian, I grew up with skin that would develop a deep natural tan in the summer. In my mind, that was the way I supposed to look – and spray tans gave me a chance to achieve that look. Yet, the more I tried to look like my old self, the more I lost who I really was. Consumed with trying to be something that I wasn’t anymore was emotionally draining and stressful. Instead of trying to accept the person I was, I was trying to go back to a reality that simply no longer existed.
I realized that small steps towards “letting go” had a big impact
After a few years of wearing spray tans, I decided to start using a camouflage I could apply at home. I was still covering my skin head to toe. The only difference was that I could apply the product anytime, anywhere. As a result, I spent less time applying camouflage each week because I didn’t have to drive to a tanning salon and wait my turn for an appointment. That simple shift meant that I was spending less time each week consciously thinking about camouflaging my skin. A year later, I decided to switch to an even lighter shade of camouflage. And a few years after that, I stopped covering my skin all together – something that I attribute to the smallest of steps that I took along the way to “let go” of my need for camouflage.
Erika Page is a blogger, speaker and self-love advocate with universal vitiligo. After living with vitiligo for two decades, Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.