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facekini also face-kini

noun [countable]

a face mask worn on the beach in order to protect the face from the sun

'For something less revealing this summer, take a look at the face-kini, the ultimate alternative to slathering on sunblock on trips to the beach.'

Huffington Post 21st August 2012

For me and my fellow Brits, the appearance of summer sunshine is such a novelty that we often have the urge to expose our skin to its rays at the earliest opportunity, for fear of missing what could quite possibly be the only time in the year that we can experience the warmth of its glow. Whenever I'm prone to such reckless behaviour, my nose is the first thing that betrays what I've been up to, glowing so pinky-red that I could give Rudolf the reindeer a serious run for his money. But it seems I could have easily avoided this problem by having the courage to wear a rather bizarre innovation in the realm of summer clothing accessories – the facekini.

a facekini also has the added bonus of protecting the wearer from mosquito bites and jellyfish stings when swimming

A facekini is a fabric mask which covers a swimmer's entire head and neck down to their collarbone, incorporating slits for the eyes, nose and mouth. You can see a photo illustration here. Looking like a brightly-coloured balaclava, the facekini is made from a stretchy, lightweight material which protects the wearer's skin from exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun, and is often worn with an accompanying long-sleeved body suit. Facekinis come in a whole range of colours, patterns and sizes, retailing where available around a very affordable £2.50. They also have the added bonus of protecting the wearer from mosquito bites and jellyfish stings when swimming. And if all that isn't enough to persuade potential purchasers, the following might just be the clincher – the bright orange version can, allegedly, help to scare away sharks!

Background – facekini

The word facekini first appeared in August 2012, when European and US newspapers widely reported on a new craze of wearing protective face-masks observed in the beach resorts of China's Qingdao coastline. The word facekini is purely a western creation for humorous effect, and not in fact used by the Chinese themselves, who describe the concept more literally with an expression which translates as simply 'nylon sunscreen mask'.

For Chinese women, motivation for wearing a facekini isn't entirely health-related. In Chinese culture, pale, white skin is considered beautiful and a sign of status, whereas a bronze tone has traditionally been equated with physical labour and the lower social classes. Unlike their western counterparts, women, particularly the older generation, are therefore keen to avoid their complexion being darkened by exposure to the sun.

Facekini is a blend of the words face and bikini, though the latter was of course just incorporated for humorous effect, a facekini in no way resembling the appearance or function of a bikini.

Another relatively new word based on bikini, and which in reality does resemble its physical form, is tankini, a blend of bikini and tank top which describes a two-piece female swimsuit with a bikini style bottom and a strappy top extending to the top of the hips. Other variations on the theme include the microkini, an extremely brief bikini, the monokini, originally a topless version but now usually describing a skimpy one-piece swimsuit, and the skirtini, a swimsuit featuring a bikini top and a small skirted bottom.

The word bikini dates back to the 1940s, and is named after Bikini, a coral island in the north Pacific where nuclear bombs had been tested in 1946. French designers are said to have adopted the word as a metaphor for the garment's 'explosive' impact.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 15th July 2014.

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