I have a New Yorker cartoon framed and hanging in my living room. In it, cat parents are talking to their feline son, who is smartly dressed, bow-tied and carrying a suitcase, presumably poised to leave his childhood home and set off into his adult life. The mother cat has a tear on her furry cheek, while the father, placing a paw on his child’s shoulder, imparts advice: “Find a patch of sunlight, my boy. Find a patch of sunlight and bask in it.” It seems to me that no wiser exhortation has ever been spoken. These words could well serve as my life’s credo. I may have them bronzed.

When it comes to bronzing and sun-related behaviour, however, Toronto dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll, predictably, offers different directives. “First: sun avoidance! Particularly between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you’re outside, seek shade,” she says to me over the phone in a way that feels less like promoting shade than throwing it. As a lifelong sun-lover, I feel my spirits cloud over as she goes on. “Wear protective clothing, wear sunscreen, reapply it and make it a family habit.”

In my own family, much like the aforementioned cartoon cats, sun-seeking was a hobby, a pleasure and a sport. I fondly recall my parents, my sister and I tanning poolside on loungers in a happy lineup, passing the Hawaiian Tropic or the (since discontinued) Bain de Soleil Orange Gelée (both SPF 4) like familial batons. (This, I should clarify, was in the ’80s.) In my family, “You look pale” landed like an insult, one degree away from, say, “You look tubercular.” “Pale” was pejorative. When I was about 11 or 12, I travelled on my own for the first time to visit my grandmother at her condo in Palm Beach, Fla., for a week of what turned out to be mostly inclement weather. Upon my return home, my dad picked me up at the airport and appraised the state of my complexion: “You have a little tan!” he declared. A damning review.

This was, of course, many moons (and suntans) ago, and, speaking of families, I now have an ever-growing family of fine lines and wrinkles as souvenirs. By now, I would have had to have spent my life living under a rock—not my preferred perch—to be ignorant of the sun’s dangers. Carroll outlines them for me, her tone as sharp as a shadow on a sunny day. “Sun is radiation,” she says. “UVB radiation damages your DNA, [making] the cells replicate either too rapidly or improperly, and that’s what a cancer is—it’s cells behaving badly.” Sun exposure also wreaks aesthetic damage, causing hyperpigmentation and accelerating the breakdown of collagen, which results in fine lines and wrinkles. (Check.)

So, yes, I now wear sunscreen with an SPF higher than 4, but—and this could be my greedy former tanned self talking—finding sun and basking in it remains one of life’s greatest pleasures for me. I can hardly think of anything more instantly mood- correcting. It’s physiological: Sunlight regulates our circadian rhythms and activates the production of feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. “Light and mood travel in a conjoined orbit: Dim the light, and we dim our joy,” writes Ingrid Fetell Lee in her 2018 book, Joyful.

Yet today sun and shame travel in a conjoined orbit—there are few things that invite more shame, finger-wagging and regret than sunbathing. Sunning is the new smoking. I hear Carroll’s voice brighten at this comparison. “Yes! I always tell my patients that tanning is smoking for your skin.”

“But what about vitamin D? And mood? What about joy?” I ask her weakly. She tells me to take supplements. There is an exchange from 1963 between Jackie Kennedy, who enjoyed spending summers at the Kennedys’ Cape Cod manse, and her New York City-based dermatologist, Erno Laszlo (who also treated Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe), that was documented in the doctor’s notes. They read: “She said she will stay out of the sun while at the Cape and always wear a hat. Doctor says it is not necessary because the sun is good for her, and she should not be afraid of brown spots, he will make them fade in the fall.” When I share this nugget with Carroll, she chuckles bitterly. “That was before we knew the risks. There are lots of safe ways to enjoy the sun. But tanning? No!” she concludes as if drawing a shade over this conversation.

She concedes that there are cosmetic treatments— BBL (BroadBand Light laser therapy) and fractional lasers—that can make brown spots “fade away” and help reduce the signs of sun damage (broken blood vessels, pigmentation), encourage collagen production and stimulate the body’s natural healing process. In the dermatology world, early fall is known as “laser season.” “Every season is laser season in our office!” says Carroll. “But it is frustrating when people don’t listen. I do still have a lot of patients who will say ‘I just want to have a little bit of colour.’ But you know what? We have bronzers! We have self-tanners!”

Indeed, self-tanners and tanning artists are enjoying their moment in the sun. Professional spray-tan artist and Dolce Glow founder Isabel Alysa chats with me via Zoom from her home in Valencia, Calif. Her whole career and life turned on a tan, she tells me. After 10 years in foster care, she left her foster family at the age of 17 to live on her own. “I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from,” she recalls. “I was working in three or four dead-end jobs at the time—cleaning bathrooms, working at a Jack in the Box—just to make ends meet. Then, at the age of 18, I got my first spray tan. And I’ll never forget the way it made me feel. I was in such a dark place in my life, and I immediately felt better. All of my worries and all of my insecurities about my body lifted. I was no longer depressed! I was happier, I felt motivated and I had confidence. I thought, ‘I can walk into any room and own it!’” She resolved to launch her own tanning side hustle and went door to door in Burbank, offering spray tans and earning $100,000 in her first year. She has since tanned the likes—and limbs—of JLo, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Salma Hayek. She recently flew to Antibes, France, to tan Sofia Richie for her wedding at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.

Alysa’s line of tanning mists and foams are part of a fast-proliferating world of new tanning and sunscreen products that offer alternative ways to get sun-kissed as well as reimagined classics. Miami-based Vacation’s brand-new collection features Orange Gelée SPF 30, reminiscent of the cult glamour lotion by Bain de Soleil that I remember so well. Just looking at this product beams me back to holidays past, to times more hedonistic and guiltless, when we knew less and seemed to enjoy ourselves more. As I think mournfully of those bygone bronzing days, I spot a patch of sunshine outside. I know what I need to do. (And, yes, I’ll bring the Gelée.)