products for pale skin

Products for Pale Skin: NARS Illuminator in ‘Orgasm’

It happened again last week.

I was out visiting family, and a casual acquaintance of theirs – a woman I’ve only met a few times – suddenly zeroed in on my pasty complexion.

“Are you feeling OK?” she asked, cutting across the conversation we’d all been having to address me. “Because, it’s just, you’re SO PALE! You really look ill!”

Embarrassed, I explained (with the help of the other people present, bless them, who agreed that my complexion looked the same as it always does) that I was feeling perfectly OK, thanks, but, like many other redheads, I have very pale skin, and that this is how it looks.

My questioner was not to be appeased, though.

“You really don’t look well at all,” she told me. And then, addressing the room at large, “She’d look a lot better with some colour in her cheeks.” (I was wearing my usual makeup, including blusher) at the time. “I’d like her better with some colour.”

Now, as some of you know, I am not ashamed of my pale skin. I firmly believe that pale skin can be just as beautiful as any other shade, and I am not going to apologise for the face I was born with. Or, as Lady Gaga might say, “I was born this way, baby!”


With all of that said, there’s no denying that I was stung by this woman’s comments, as I always am when someone tells me that my natural skin colour is unattractive or, in this case, makes me look “ill”. I don’t expect any healthy person enjoys being told that, do they? Because saying someone “looks ill” is just another way of saying they look BAD. Unless you know a person very well (or they’ve told you that they actually ARE ill), I think it’s one of those things that are best left unsaid. Never ask someone if they’re pregnant unless you can see the baby crowning, and never tell someone they look ill unless the ambulance is on the way, or you’re sitting by their bedside. Some free Forever Amber advice for you, there.

Over the next few days, then, I found myself looking at myself even more critically than I normally do, and I had to acknowledge that while I don’t think I looked ill, I am certainly much paler at this time of year than I am during summer, say. This is something that always happens to me in winter. I wear sunblock all year round, but in Spring and Summer I find that my freckles will darken just from being in the sun, which gives me the appearance of “having a bit more colour” as my new friend would say.

By January, however, I haven’t seen the sun for such a long time that my freckles fade completely and my face becomes almost paper white (er, not exactly, obviously, but you know what I mean) without so much of a hint of natural colour. When that happens, my usual makeup just doesn’t cut it any more, so I dug around in my beauty box, until I found my trusty tube of NARS Iluminator, in ‘Orgasm’.

I received this as part of a complimentary Glossybox a while back, but after my initial experiments with it, I found I didn’t use it much, because it wasn’t particularly visible on my skin. That was back in August, though, and I’d had three weeks in the California sun, plus the “best” of the UK summer. Now that I’ve tried it again on my much paler face, I have to retract my original comments on this. Yes, it’s still very subtle. No, it doesn’t create the kind of difference that makes you go OMGLOVE! But, having been wearing it all over my face (with the exception of my forehead, which really doesn’t need to look any shinier, thanks, and is mostly hidden by my fringe anyway), I find that it does take the edge of my pallor, and gives me a slightly healthier “glow”, as much as I hate that word.

I’ve moved this from “occasional use, only when I remember it” to “daily essential”. For now, at least. Next time I see that particular acquaintance, I may just let my pale flag fly.

related: Why am i so pale?

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  • I can´t believe she said that to you! That´s just so unnecessary. I am pale too, and I get stuff like that a lot. Once my friends even started saying that I looked dead! yes, dead! They started asking me if I was feeling ok, because I was looking really pale. But I was feeling perfectly fine and kept saying that that was my natural color. I portuguese, so most people in my country are fairly tanned, so naturay I stand out a bit.But it was still a super weird thing to say dont you think?!

    January 25, 2012
    • Yeah, I don’t think it’s ever OK to comment negatively about the colour of someone’s skin. Like I said, if it’s someone who knows me really well asking if I feel OK, it wouldn’t bother me, because they know what I normally look and can tell if there’s something very different about me, but this was someone who I don’t think even knows my name, so to just tell me I look “really ill” was a bit unnecessary!

      January 25, 2012
  • Helen


    Thanks so much for this! My skin color changes a great deal between winter and summer. By February my skin becomes so light that I begin to look a bit like a vampire with my dark hair. I’ll make sure to try this out.

    January 25, 2012
    • Haha, me too! And for some reason, I always forget that this is going to happen, and just keep on wearing the same makeup as always, oblivious to the fact that I look ghostly!

      January 26, 2012
      • Jeannine


        Me too, sometimes. I can’t pull off the darker blush I usually use in the summer during January and February. I really need a slightly more neutral palette for winter, but am loath to spend the money for something I’ll use 2 or 3 months of the year….

        February 2, 2012
  • I don’t see anything wrong with pale skin, and I get really upset at comments like that one. No, my skin does not match the current beauty ideal of tanning bed worshipers, no, I don’t see anything wrong with that, and no, I am not ill. I think it’s awful one should have to explain oneself to perfect strangers or hide one’s true skin colour.

    January 26, 2012
  • cmap


    Amber!! Your pale skin is beautiful! I love that alabaster skin!!! I am so sorry that your family friend said that to you. I bet she didn’t mean any harm, but it hurts just the same. I used to work in a beauty shop, so she may have meant your make up. Maybe your blush was too purple/blue. People with lighter complexions have to be careful about using blush with purple or blue tints. It can cast an unattractive pallor on that lovely skin. Pink is just red with blue tint, so be careful with that. Use a vivid red (like pot rouge) in small amounts on the apple of the cheek if you ever get tired of the NARS. Bobbi Brown pot rouge is so popular, but raw MAC pigment is really nice too

    January 26, 2012
  • I completely understand your feeling, but i think in my case is much worse, I’m brazilian, people barely believe me when I say it. Most of them think all the brazilians are naturally tanned the whole year, and it’s not true, specially ’cause I’m a southern girl, where europeans imigrants have colonized. But despite of it all I’m a proud redhead, when I hear bad comments I just ignore, it hurts, but will heal.

    January 28, 2012
  • Jeannine


    Grrr… I get things like that all the time, although they are still very rude, no matter how common. One coworker in particular seems especially keen on making sure that I’m not coming down with the flu or something similar (very nosy), and always, without fail, mentions my complexion to me when I don’t put blush on. I have very dark, almost black hair, and the contrast between that and my winter skin is very dramatic, and I sometimes play that up because I’m aware that it makes me look unique. (I am careful to use a bit of color somewhere on my face, usually pretty eyeshadow, to make sure I don’t look gothic, which is not my favorite look.) It’s not as if those of us with very pale skin go around in the summer commenting on how dark everyone else has gotten!

    February 2, 2012
  • Wow, that’s so rude. I once got asked ‘how do you stay so pale?’ by someone clearly wearing fake tan and I wanted to say ‘by not rubbing orange dye all over my face’ but just said ‘sunscreen’. I always make a point of telling people who mention it that I go out of my way not to tan (which is true) as I love my pale skin colour.

    February 2, 2012
    • “I always make a point of telling people who mention it that I go out of my way not to tan (which is true) as I love my pale skin colour”.

      I do this too: it really infuriates me when I come back from a trip somewhere sunny and every person I meet wants to know why I don’t have a tan – er, because I wear the highest SPF I can find, because I don’t want to burn, or worse. It’s always said in this very accusatory tone, too, as if I’ve done something “wrong” by not tanning, when I actually think the opposite is true. People always talk about a “healthy tan” but in my case it’s a healthy pallor!

      February 3, 2012
  • that’s quite rude… i’d get a bit angry with someone i barely know saying that! i get the same type of comment all the time, mostly because the skin underneath my eyes is very thin and the tiniest bit of tiredness expresses itself there in the shape of dark circles. (i have to admit i’m too lazy to ever do anything about that, i rarely wear more makeup than my usual liner/mascara and the occasional red lip)

    anyway, i’m a pale girl as well… it shows even more since my family has some spanish ancestors and my brother got those genes, so he’s very dark skinned. i noticed my legs actually reflect light. i’ve had people stating that being a vegetarian must be unhealthy because i am so much paler than my brother and parents, and people seeing me in profile asking if i have a black eye (right after some exhausting exams)

    February 2, 2012
  • Cannot believe she said that to you. I get the same type of comments. People don’t seem to understand that I like my pale skin and do not, in fact, want a tan – be it real or fake.

    February 23, 2012