Tan line refers to a division on the human skin between an area or areas of pronounced comparative paleness relative to other areas that have been suntanned by exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The source of the radiation may be the sun, or artificial UV sources as used in tanning beds. The tanned area is such that it becomes visually clear where the skin was exposed versus covered up. In some cases, very little sunlight is required: people can sometimes pale even further than the natural skin tone of the rest of their body. In women, paling further than natural skin tone sometimes occurs in the areas of the breasts typically covered by a bathing suit top. Paling can also occur due to coverage around the buttocks or crotch area where clothes are especially taut. Tan lines are usually an inadvertent result of a work environment or of recreational activities, but are sometimes intentional.
||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (May 2014)|
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A "farmer's tan" refers to the typical tan lines developed by a working farmer regularly exposed to the sun. The farmer's tan is usually started with a suntan covering only the arms and neck. It is distinct in that the shoulders, chest, and back remain unaffected by the sun. The "Texas tan" is similar, with the exception that the shoulders are also affected by the sun, caused by working outdoors while wearing a sleeveless shirt.
Some of the common tan lines associated with a farmer's tan include:
- elbows (from a short-sleeve shirt)
- neck (from shirt collar)
- thighs (if shorts are worn)
- ankles (from socks, only if exposed)
- forehead (if a hat is worn)
- wrist (if a watch is worn)
- eyes (if sunglasses are worn)
A "driver's tan" (or similar terms such as "trucker's tan" or "taxi driver's arm") is a tanning pattern where one arm from the sleeve downward is tanned significantly more than the other arm, due to extensive driving of a motor vehicle with the window down.
Wearing a bikini in the sun results in the uncovered skin becoming suntanned and creates a "bikini tan". These tan lines separate pale breasts, crotch, and buttocks from otherwise tanned skin. "Racing stripes" may refer to the portion of a bikini tan line exposed when wearing one-piece swimwear.
A "biker's tan" is a tan line that goes up 3/4 of the leg, where lycra bike shorts would normally begin to cover. Depending on the activity, the inner side of the arms may be paler than the outer side. Unless the biker uses cycling gloves made to allow tanning, the area on the back of each hand will usually not be tanned.
- "Goggle tan"
- "Tennis tan"
- "Soccer tan" — a stripe of tan from the lower thighs to the bottom of the knees common to soccer players; the upper thighs and lower legs are covered by shorts and shin guards/socks.
- "Football tan" — a stripe of tan from below the knees to just above the ankle; the thighs, knees and ankles are covered by uniform pants and ankle socks. Often the arms are tanned similarly to a farmer's tan, but the face is untanned due to wearing a helmet. This tanning effect can be particular pronounced since many football teams run two-a-day practices during the summer.
- "Tiger tan" — two tan stripes on the arm of a lacrosse player, resulting from the gap between gloves and elbow pads, and the gap between elbow pads and shoulder pads.
Intentional tan lines
One of the common uses for tanning beds is the option of tanning completely nude to reduce the appearance of tan lines. In contrast, some people prefer to have tan lines, and will wear undergarments or swimwear for the sole purpose of creating a sharply defined tan line.
Additionally, "tanning stickers" can be purchased that are simply stickers that attach to the skin while tanning. Common designs are a heart, Playboy bunny and dolphins, but many different designs exist. These are typically sold on a roll of 500 to 1000 as single use, disposable sticks. People can place the sticker on the same area each time they tan (indoors or outdoors) and this will leave the covered area pale, while the rest of their skin tans normally. This allows individuals to see their tanning progress, and allows others to see as well if the "tan tattoo" is in an exposed area.
It is also possible to use sunscreen to intentionally create tan lines that form patterns or words, to make a statement or simply create a design.
Avoiding tan lines
The wearing of clothing while tanning results in creation of tan lines, which many people regard as un-aesthetic and embarrassing. Many people want to avoid tan lines on those parts of the body which will be visible when they are fully clothed. Some people try to achieve an all-over tan or to maximize their tan coverage. To achieve an all-over tan, tanners need to dispense with clothing; and to maximize coverage, they need to minimize the amount of clothing they wear while tanning. For women who cannot dispense with a swimsuit, they at times tan with the back strap undone while lying on the front, or removing shoulder straps, besides wearing swimsuits which cover less area than their normal clothing. Any exposure is subject to local community standards and personal choice. Some people tan in the privacy of their backyard where they can at times tan without clothes, and some countries have set aside clothing-optional swimming areas (also known as nude beaches), where people can tan and swim clothes-free. Some people tan topless, and others wear very brief swimwear, such as a microkini or thong.
A recent innovation is tan-through swimwear, which uses fabric perforated with thousands of holes that are nearly invisible to the naked eye, but which let enough sunlight through to produce a line-free tan. Tan-through swimsuits typically offer SPF protection of 6 or less, and an application of full-strength sunscreen even to the covered area is recommended.