I am white – borderline transparent. You know those little frogs that have see-through skin that allows a bystander to be witness to their tiny froggy spleen? I am like the non-amphibious version of that.
Other than my personal kinship to genetically altered frogs, something important to note about my dermatological status is that grew up in a small surf town north of San Diego. San Diego: also known as the land of the burritos and the year-round tan. While my more melanin advanced comrades ran around in their nifty bikinis, I was lacquered up with SPF 1000, adorned in a far less fashionable fluorescent pink camouflage-print rash guard (because, apparently, just the fluorescent pink was not enough).
Though I hated it at the time, I now fully appreciate the tremendous precautions taken to ensure my continued pale complexion, because with every visit my doctor reminded me that, due to my skin tone, some form of cancer is not a possibility but a certainty.
In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who has battled a severe vitamin D deficiency, made the statement that I found to be slightly upsetting.
“We’re human beings and the sun is the sun – how can it be bad for you? I don’t think anything that is natural can be bad for you,” said Paltrow.
First off, there are a lot of things that are natural that can be VERY harmful to a person’s physical and emotional state. Like arsenic or an obsession with bell bottom capris.
I want to believe that the Iron Man 3 actress’ seemingly ignorant words were taken out of the context. Even so, the implications of a message like this, that the sun can’t possibly be harmful because it is “natural,” have the possibility to be unspeakably damaging.
Young women, myself included, attempt to cosmetically emulate celebrity-types, like Paltrow, holding these women’s oft-unattainable attractiveness as superficial ambitions, leading us to experiment with an array of beauty supplies and backwards procedures on an unending quest for subjective excellence.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, afflicting more than 2 million Americans a year, with melanoma causes about 9,400 deaths each year in the United States. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that melanoma has increased eightfold for women under 40 since 1970. Tanning beds are a major factor in this increase, with beds giving off 10 to 15 times the UVA radiation of normal sun exposure and with 70 percent of customers being young women.
About three months ago, my doctor checked a weird-looking mole on the back of my arm that turned out to be basal cell carcinoma (which sounds a lot scarier than it actually is). He simply dug into my arm and removed the cancerous cells, leaving a scar as a complimentary parting gift.
I was then informed that, when it comes to skin cancer:
– SPF 30 should be worn on the face daily (lip balm too)
– Limit your direct sun exposure to 15-20 minute increments
– Try to spend minimal amounts of time outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (when the sun is at its strongest)
– Apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to sun exposure
– Reapply sunscreen after swimming and every two hours when you are outdoors
– Be familiar with your skin type and of your family’s history with skin cancer
If you do get sunburnt, it is helpful to stay hydrated, apply moisturizer, avoid products that contain petroleum (like Vaseline), take ibuprofen to relieve pain and wear loose cotton clothing. Also, aloe vera is a godsend.
Self-examinations are extremely important. Alert your dermatologist if you see a dark, irregularly shaped growth with uneven reddish-brown, brown or black coloring. An annual check-up in recommended for those without a previous diagnosis of skin cancer.
Jergens commercials and Cosmo have made me well-aware that a nice tan completes any summertime ensemble, but the 3 inch scar running down the back of my arm doesn’t exactly compliment my a-line sun dress.
Though it took me 20 years, I can now confidently say that I am comfortable in my pasty, froglike skin.
Featured image via memebase.