Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Sunshine of My Life

This past weekend, I made the mistake of exposing my skin to direct sunlight for more than fifteen minutes, and once again I was reminded of my genetic legacy of pallor. When I was a teenager, I spent many summer afternoons lying on our deck in my bathing suit with my body smeared in baby oil in the hopes of getting a tan like the popular girls. Except that there was just one problem: I can’t tan. It’s not like I turn pink and then tan, I just turn bright pink, then peel. The best case scenario is that I wind up with a few extra freckles. It took me an embarrassingly long time to finally accept this, and at least once every summer from age 13 to 18 I would subject myself to a near-paralyzing sunburn because I was sure that I over the winter I had developed the ability to produce melanin.

After years of voluntary exposure to damaging and potentially deadly UVA/UVB rays, by age 22 or so I finally got it through my fair skull that sunblock is my friend. Probably my best friend, even more so than corrective lenses and lip balm. Since then I never leave the house with less than SPF 15 on my face, even at night in the dead of winter. For a summer weekend of swimming and boating, I break out the heavy artillery: an SPF 30 formula that was determined by researchers at the Environmental Working Group to provide the best broad-spectrum protection. It feels like body armor, and after 40 minutes of floating in the lake followed by a vigorous toweling off, I was still greasy enough to leave a Kat-shaped stain on a deck chair.

By Sunday evening I felt bloated from overindulging in red meat and margaritas, but it seemed as though my sun protection efforts had paid off – no pinkness, no pain. I must’ve been sufficiently cautious, right? So why did I wake up on Monday morning with a disgusting, prickly red rash covering my forearm? It’s as though nature has to find some way to punish me for not wearing a caftan 24 hours a day. At least my freckles are still kind of cute, because between the grease and the rash, I can use all the extra charm I can get.