Welcome to the School of Hard Knocks: a series that looks back critically on the things we’ve done, haven’t done, and wished we’d done. This isn’t about regret or victim-hood. It’s about sharing gained-knowledge that hopefully helps someone out there take away tools that they didn’t have before. Because the hard is way is hard.
School of Hard Knocks: Sun Protection
I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada where 80% of backyards are occupied with pools as a last-ditch effort to find reprieve from the inhospitable summer heat. I have fond memories of my mom lounging poolside, wafting with the smell of chlorine, glossed in a double layer of Hawaiian Tropic tanning lotion and baby oil, roasting in the hot summer sun until such time her skin turned an almost saddle-tan. Needless to say, sun protection was not a priority in our home. We were sun devotees and summer was not complete until my sun-bleached towhead hair dawned the proud slight-green chlorine tinge and an all-over bronze-glow graced my tiny bod.
Fast forward to age 17, when I was a very terrible, very tan employee at a tanning salon. Basking in the sun was still a favorite pastime of mine — artificial or not. If sun protection was even used, it was done so briefly to ward off a third-degree sunburn then quickly abandoned when I got a good base (i.e. sun damage).
Like you, I saw the periodic warnings declaring sun exposure was bad and some mumbo jumbo about UVB/UVA rays, but I liked being tan. Despite all the warnings and finger shakings, I couldn’t see the damage so I continued to approach the sun with a laissez-faire attitude: “I’ll deal with this problem when I can see that it’s a problem.” The issue with that logic in most areas of your life is that if you wait to deal with a problem until such time you can see the consequences of your actions, it’s either too late or could have been avoided entirely.
I didn’t become skincare obsessed until I developed cystic acne 5 years ago (very annoying). In a quest to quell the aforementioned adult acne of my nightmares, I sought the guidance of a sage skin savior by the name of Johanna Grantham. Unbeknownst to me, during my first consultation, I was required, at least loosely, to have a UV face scan that provides an analysis of the damage wrought on my unwitting skin. The results were actually astonishing, but I’ll let them speak for themselves.
This scan shows the damage done by UV rays that can’t be seen by the naked eye and take 6 to 10 years from injury to come to the surface. When I saw these scans I had to pick my jaw up from the floor.
My willful ignorance of just how awful UV is for our skin caused unnecessary harm, earlier signs of aging and put me at an increased risk of skin cancer for the years to come. Yikes.
Needless to say, I am a reformed sun-worshipper. Yes, I still love a good tan, but instead of my broiling my largest organ under the oven that is the sun sans protection, I opt for a non-toxic self-tanner. Unfortunately, I still have to deal with the consequences of my UV addiction and regularly search my naked bod for weird moles fraught with the fear of melanoma.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to heed the warnings of sun damage, but since I can’t, I’m telling you.
Sun protection really matters. Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses are all investments in your protection to ensure a safer, more youthful you down the line. If you don’t already, wear sunscreen every day — even on cloudy days. Remember your neck and chest when applying sunscreen, and remember to reapply. Wear a hat when you’re doing outdoor activities, and wear sunglasses when you go outside.
My current favorite sunscreen for my face is Koa’s SPF 45+ Invisible formula, Salt & Stone’s SPF 50 for my body and Salt & Stone’s SPF 30 chapstick for my lips (your pucker needs sun protection too!). Both are mineral sunscreens formulated to be safe for your body and for the environment, specifically the coral reefs.
I bid you adieu with the hope that you learn from my mistakes and protect yourself from harmful UVB/UVA rays, because they suck.