Tanning

“Oh, you got some sun!  You look SO good!”  Or, said with an enviable voice, “You’re soooooo tan.” I have overheard these and similar comments being said and I’m finding I’m having a very strong reaction to them…so….a blog is born.

A tan is NOT healthy, it is NOT good for you and it is NOT to be envied. Do you know what a tan is? It’s your body’s innate reaction of trying to protect you…your skin… from further damage. So let’s tweak the above statements.  “Oh, you got some sun DAMAGE! Your poor skin!” or “You’re soooo tan. I’m so sorry!”

Yeah, I’m having a little fun with this but I do speak from experience.  You see, when I was a teenager and a young adult, I remember racing home from work so I could lay in the sun, even for a half hour.  I would bake in my early to mid-twenties by applying baby oil or Hawaiian Tropic Tan Accelerator.  Then something changed and I started applying sunSCREEN.  That was also about the same I started washing the make up off of my face at night, but that’s another story.

As a child, I was lucky enough to be at several lakes throughout ND, MN and SD. I used sunscreen, but I don’t remember reapplying.  I loved being in the water, and my pale Norwegian/Austrian/Mutt skin had many, many severe sunburns. I remember one, in particular, that caused me to throw up several times.

In my mid to late twenties, I visited my parents while they wintered in Arizona.  It was a cloudy day but I was in Arizona and I wanted to get a suntan, dang it!  Oh my LORD! I’d been warned that the Arizona sun was much different than the North Dakota sun but I didn’t listen. Sans sunscreen, my face became so badly burned that my eyelids swelled shut.

When I was in my late thirties, I worked at a skin and laser clinic.  I learned much about our skin and how to take better care of mine. I also learned that the cosmetic industry was capitalizing on the fact that women were willing to pay big bucks in order to reverse the damaging effects of their days of fun in the sun.

My oldest niece (she was 38 at the time) was diagnosed with Melanoma. For those of you who don’t know, Melanoma is the mack daddy of skin cancers. It is scary stuff and it takes lives. Based on my childhood/early adult sun life, I’m a prime candidate for melanoma, as well.

So how did we get our love for tanning?  Here’s a little tanning history; back in the olden days, you were considered ‘lower class’ if you had a tan because that meant you had to work outdoors.  Conversely, those without a tan were considered ‘upper class’ because they didn’t have to work in the sun.

Then, in the 1920’s the designer, Coco Channel, became sunburned while on vacation and well, that was the start of our sun tanning love affair1.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to get your tan on from a tanning bed or the sun; both give off UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) radiation. In fact, tanning beds emit concentrated doses. I can usually spot a tanning bed user as they tend to give off a weird glow, kind of like a neon bulb.

And don’t think you can’t get burned on a cloudy day. I asked my 14 year old bonus son to apply sunscreen the other day and he looked at me like I was spouting a second head (he IS a teenager, after all!). He said, ‘It’s cloudy outside! You can’t get burned when it’s cloudy!!”  Ohhhhh…chil’….I have the same argument with your dad.  YES, yes you can. The sun’s rays penetrate through the clouds.

When I was younger, I didn’t take aging very seriously. Who does?! Back then my attitude was ‘get a bronzing tan today, feel/look good and don’t worry about tomorrow.’  As a teenager/young adult, you never think about your own mortality because you are invincible. Plus you know more than your parents, right?

Now that I am older, I am trying to reverse the damage. I’m fighting the odds of skin cancer and aging. I am proud to be pale. You’ll not hear me apologizing for being un-tanned either, as that would be like me apologizing for trying to stay healthy. “I hope my white legs don’t blind you. I’m trying to remain cancer-free.”

So here I am, years later and much wiser, a self-proclaimed ‘sun-safety girl.’  I wear sunscreen almost all of the time (I’m not perfect!) and I wear hats. I seek shade whenever possible, I wear UVA/UVB protective sun glasses and I am rarely out during the hottest part of the day. I watch my moles and have my doctor check them once a year.

I hope this blog causes you to rethink, even for a moment, how we aggrandize a tan. It is nothing more than our body trying to protect ourselves from harm. The rays, whether they are from the sun or a UV lamp, are NOT healthy; they CAUSE CANCER.