It’s the middle of summer and by now many people are well on their way to establishing a darker shade of skin than they started the season with. A little bit of sun is good for you, we’re told. The sun’s rays provide a very pure form of Vitamin D and a dose of happiness. I love me some vitamins and happiness, but I don’t love any of the signs that the sun has paid a visit on my skin – including that “healthy glow” and even those “adorable freckles.” A bronze tone looks appealing…it really, really does, but I don’t trust it. I know a sun tan is a sign that my skin is protecting itself from harmful rays.
It’s probably important to note that I do partake in outdoor activities, like swimming, water skiing and lounging outside in daylight! And I looooove bathing suits. In fact, I wasn’t always such a “sun hater”, as I’ve unfairly been called. During high school, my friends and I would bake ourselves for hours after tennis practice and on the weekends – no sunscreen; the darker the better. But a series of issues during my college years made me think twice about how badly I wanted that temporary tint, and for those I’m grateful.
1) On two separate vacations, I got extremely ill from sun poisoning. For those who’ve never had it, it’s like food poisoning except caused by the sun – too much exposure to hot UV rays, literally making you ill. I ruined an entire day in Cozumel and again in Key West (vomiting and sleeping off the nausea) when I could have just spent more time in the shade.
2) My acne was pretty bad in college, and the antibiotics prescribed by my dermatologist made my skin extra vulnerable to sunburn. Within minutes of exposure to the sun – even underneath a layer of sunscreen – my skin turned pink and it tingled. Shielding myself for the rest of the day did not fix the issue; any pressure I put on my face felt like nails tearing my skin. Since then, my skin has remained somewhat sensitive.
3) During a regular check-up with my dermatologist, she found an abnormal mole on the center of my back. It was removed, and during the agonizing period of waiting to hear if it was cancerous, all I could think about was the days of sun worshiping with no protection. Thankfully it was nothing but a wakeup call.
Even if I wasn’t concerned with skin cancer, I am concerned with premature aging. My skin is fair so the sun takes an extra toll on me, and I’d much prefer to keep my skin pale if it means it won’t look leathery down the road. So I wear a wide brim hat and douse myself in a very high SPF that doesn’t conflict with my skin type. I’m that person who is protected even on cloudy days.
You’d think that people would respect my decision to not want a sun tan, but amazingly, I’m usually the joke of the summer. Maybe it’s their way of defending their own sun choices — which don’t bother me because I don’t care about your tan or your skin condition — but people think they need to tell me I’m overreacting and being silly if they see me with SPF 55. To that I wonder, haven’t they heard about skin cancer? So I’ve learned it’s easier just to make fun of myself, which is not the preferred strategy but it’s all I’ve got for now. And when it feels ok to do so, I’ll gently say “Are you wearing sunscreen?”
If I had the patience, I wouldn’t be opposed to getting a tan from a bottle, but I just don’t see the need. I really wish society, advertisers and fellow citizens would respect that not everybody wants a sun tan from the sun or a tanning bed. And I really wish people would stop thinking that’s weird, that I’m some sort of freak who is afraid of the sun like it’s coming to get me. I just refuse to let a color, which obviously isn’t natural to my body, define my beauty. Dark skin is beautiful; if you’ve got it, flaunt it. But if I’m pale, so be it.