Friday, May 14, 2010

Summer, summer, summer time...slather up!

Summer is upon us.  For most it means outdoor fun, shining sun, and beautiful tan lines.  Except me.  And many others in my situation.  We are part of the pale perspective.  We were fair long before Twilight made it sexy.  We are the light skinned, light hair, light eyed porcelain beauties (if I say so myself) walking amongst our olive skinned counterparts.  We do not tan, we burn, and then we peel and freckle.  We have to wear gobs of sunscreen to protect our ethereal epidermis from the sun's harmful rays.  And we stare longingly at the bronzed beauties amongst us as our society has made is painfully clear that being tan is beautiful, goddess like, and gorgeous.  

We attempt to tan because we get tired of the jokes (Have you ever seen the sun?  Did your parents lock you in the basement? Next time let me know when your going to wear shorts so I can wear sunglasses.  Wow, your skin glows it's so white.  We've lost you in the snow storm because you blend in.  I could go on and on...)  I can remember when I was younger going swimming with a good friend and because she didn't wear sunscreen neither did I.  A huge mistake.  I was in the 4th grade and received my first blistering sunburn.  I remember the fever, the pain, the oozing, the crying.  I blistered again at the beach in middle school and one more time as an adult refinishing furniture outside with my husband not even realizing how much sun was pouring down on the back of my neck and my ears.  Each time, my skin has bubbled and peeled, and each time this happened I increased my risk of skin cancer ten-fold.  It runs in my family, and I am not the exception to the rule; I must be more careful.

But, I learned slowly wanting to still claim the beauty of a tan.  I have been a member of a tanning salon more than once in my life.  I'm not sure how dark I've ever really gotten, but I do know that over time, my skin has become more resistant to sunburn and more apt to tanning - this is great, right?  Wrong.  At 34-years-old, when I joined a tanning bed this round, the sun damage on my face rose to surface like a submarine and took up residence on my forehead.  I have sun damage on my skin.  Splotchy spots of white among my regular skin color that surface only when I'm tan.  It's not terribly noticeable once the make-up goes on, but it's there.  This is my fault and I dread to know what a picture of my entire body would look like under one of the high powered "show skin damage" cameras.  I'm guessing you could see everywhere I've peeled over the years.  My freckles on my arms sometimes seem to unite as one giant freckle (not really, but it feels that way) and I'm constantly checking for any new moles or changes to my skin's texture out of fear.  If I'd spent more time listening to my mother about how sensitive my skin is, I wouldn't have to worry now.

My own son is pale, like me.  He did not inherit his father's olive complexion and he burns just like I do.  I keep him covered in sun screen and so far, we're good.  He's only six and my goal is to teach him now how important protecting his skin is, rather than later when he's blistered and burned like I was. 

A family member (a cousin of sorts by marriage) recently posted her own skin cancer story.  I'm providing the link to her blog here.   She, like many of us, is pale with red hair.  And she, like many of us, ignored the warnings about caring for our skin.  While at this time I seem to still fly under the melanoma radar, she does not having a section of skin removed on her arm recently as it was found to be Stage One Melanoma.  They caught it before it moved into her lymph nodes, but not every person is so lucky.  Skin cancer is not only skin deep.
However, the sun is not our enemy.  It does provide many health benefits for us.  In the following excerpt from The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, the postive aspects of the sun are cultivated and shared so we may better understand how the sun plays a reasonable role in our time outdoors.

The same DNA-damaging, sunburn-causing UVB wavelengths that sunscreens are designed to block also do some good: They kick off the chemical and metabolic chain reaction that produces vitamin D. Research shows that many people have low vitamin D levels. There is a well-documented relationship between low vitamin D levels and poor bone health. Now links have been made to everything from multiple sclerosis to prostate cancer. “Linking” low vitamin D with these diseases doesn’t prove cause-and-effect, but it suggests that possibility. Getting some sun may also shake off the wintertime blues: Research suggests that light hitting your skin, not just your eyes, helps reverse seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Moreover, being outside gets us golfing, gardening, and engaging in other types of physical activity. 

Nobody wants to get skin cancer, but we’ve gone from sun worship to sun dread. Dr. Stern and others say there is a middle way that includes using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 when you’re outside for an extended period and wearing a hat and shirt around midday. So when summer’s here, get outside and enjoy it!

So as you load up your picnic baskets. coolers, blankets, and toys be sure to load up your sunscreen, too and enjoy the warmth with those you love.

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