What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Similar to articles about plastic surgery, whenever a magazine has a "special section" about sun protection (see: every June/July issue in the past four years) and the spookiest of deaths that can result from tanning (other than getting locked in a "cancer bed" and cooked alive, à la "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" or "Final Destination 3"), I skip it.
I'm not in denial that soaking in UVA/UVB rays could give me cancer -- just like I'm not in denial that smoking can give me cancer, or that binge drinking causes my liver to freak the fuck out. I GET IT. I'M GOING TO DIE.
However, someone close to me (let's call her Anna, as I'm on a pseudonym kick) has melanoma. She's a few years younger than I am. She keeps getting chunks of her skin cut out. After each surgery, it keeps coming back, like a bad boyfriend, or a yeast infection that never seems to go away. (My lady parts haven't had a great year thus far.)
Since she's strong and dope, Anna's acting like nothing's wrong. It still scares the poop out of me. I realize I'm avoiding anything that triggers the thought that something could happen to her if her sick skin cells don't let up. I also feel a little guilty.
Anna grew up watching "The Simple Life" and "The Girls Next Door." And I watched them too. But, as she was younger, I think she viewed these shows literally, rather than accepting them as hokey entertainment. She took away lessons like, "If I'm hot, I'll get everything (like lots of money and attention) that I want."
Anna altered her looks at an early age to resemble her reality-TV idols: She bleached her hair. Lost weight. Wore bras that made her preteen breasts look two sizes bigger. And she tanned and tanned and tanned.
Anna's older now. She's independent and business-savvy. Despite the fact that her career has hardly started, I'm confident she'll make a lot more money than me -- without depending on her looks, or an old, rich dude (LOVE YOU HEF).
She still cares about her appearance. Needless to say, though, she does NOT tan.
Her plight wasn't enough to obliterate my desire for skin that's more Malibu Barbie than, "Your face is so pasty, are you feeling alright?" Although I never had a serious addiction to tanning like Anna did (she takes hot baths now to mimic the warm, soothing feeling she got in tanning beds), I hate to admit I burnt my sweaty ass in more than a few tanning booths, even after I found out about her melanoma.
I may have been older than Anna, but I'm still a product of that era, too.
It took some time -- and an extremely paranoid and prolonged visit to the dermatologist—to kick tanning. Like that. Now, when I head to the beach or pool (which I do almost daily since I moved to SoCal), I'm safer in the sun.
I'm not writing this as a confessional, or to condemn those who want a tan. I may cringe when I see women slathering on baby oil at the beach, but who am I to judge? Porcelain skin can be pretty. I understand the WANT for that sun-soaked glow, though.
When my handful of friends coat themselves in coconut oil poolside and refuse my offers of SPF, I assure them, "You'll still tan with sunscreen on! You just won't FRY." (Or, subtext: You're preventing sunburns, which increase your likelihood of getting melanoma.)
So, here's some easy sun safety, from the girl who still can't accept that "pale is hot" movement (for myself, at least):
SATISFY YOUR SHOPPING ADDICTION: GET MORE THAN ONE KIND OF SUNSCREEN
I've tried a ton of sprays and lotions from a bunch of brands and found that a combination of products work best. First, I'll start with Neutrogena's Clear Face Liquid Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($7.99, drugstore.com). For, um, my face. It's not oily, so you won't look greasy or break out.
APPLY BEFORE SUITING UP
Then, I'll put on my sunscreen of choice like I put on every lotion: Naked! So yeah, I do that at home.
By applying it before putting on your swimsuit, you're less likely to miss any areas, like the under-tit region you thought your bikini top was covering. The only sunscreen I've used without getting burnt -- or feeling smelly and slimy -- is Coppertone's Sunscreen Lotion in SPF 50 ($8.79, drugstore.com).
Also, most sunscreen instructions recommend applying the product 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure. This is like, common Mom Knowledge. (Who wants to care for a scorched 4-year-old? Do you?)
Everyone else? Slathering away at the beach and whining about their burns later. Fools!
FINALLY: YOUR EXCUSE TO BECOME A "HAT PERSON"
I'm neither a "hat person" nor a "mall person," but by some twist of fate called "The Grove," I bought a HAT at a KIOSK in the MALL recently. Who the hell knows?
I wanted a black floppy hat. After many moons of seeking my sacred treasure (1 month), I found this one. Oh, and it is magical!
It's made with UPF 50+ fabric that shields most UVA/UVB rays. I wore it to the beach this past weekend -- evidenced above -- and for the first time ever my schnoze wasn't bright red afterwards.
Since it kept my face cool, I also felt like I could stay at the beach FOREVER. I LOVE THE BEACH!
It's packable as well, which the lady at the kiosk made a huge deal about. I was like, "Oh wow, whatever." Later, I remembered I once bought the most adorable wicker hat in Australia and it got CRUSHED in my suitcase on the trip home. So that would be neat if that didn't happen again.
DUH, YOU KNOW THIS: REAPPLY, OFTEN
Eh, I'm typically not a fan of sprays, since I always seem to miss spots when initially spritzing them on. For reapplying -- something you and I and everyone else knows to do -- sprays are great, though. I like Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen in SPF 30 ($7.99, drugstore.com). It's also my go-to for everyday sunscreen. (You know, when you're like, clothed, and not exposing your whole entire body to the sun.)
If you want to reapply with lotion, go for it! The lotion + sand that inevitably gets everywhere [at the beach] may seem unbearably grainy against your skin, but it's an excellent exfoliant.
UGH sexy beach skin. I LOVE THE BEACH X 2.
Easiest to reapply -- especially if you're a compulsive Chapstick user, as I am -- is Banana Boat's Sport Sunblock Stick SPF 50 ($5.09, drugstore.com) on your lips. I also sometimes put a coat of it on the tattoo on the top of my foot. Gotta protect that ink! Oh, and my Irish/Eastern European ghost skin.
While NOT in the sun, I use Jergen's Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer ($8.49, soap.com) to amp up that "I went to the beach, I swear!" look after showering. It's subtle. Self-tanners freak me out. Whatever.
What are your favorite ways to prevent burning your ass off? Do you use a parasol like goddess Dita Von Teese? (Fact: I asked the question at the link before I started contributing. However, I like the sun! I'm going to look so old when I'm 40, wah.)
Do you adore your pale skin? Do you HATE that you like a lil' tan? DO YOU LOVE IT?
Follow me on Twitter: @caitlinthornton.