Burning the Hard Way

We’ve all got skin in the game, so respect the sun



Having arrived in this world with the DNA of a Middle European, I have a quick and easy time of it when it comes to getting a sunburn.

So it was that while in college I had to develop something of a science in order get the ultimate tan without suffering through a series of burn-and-peel episodes. I slowly built my base during the winter months by sunbathing on the south side of my dormitory out of the wind. As the days became warmer, I would slowly increase my exposure time.

It was customary to use baby oil as an accelerant and to employ a reflector. Effectively, I placed myself on a broiler pan, doubling or trebling the burn rate. (If you listened real close, you could hear the sizzle.) Still, with the proper application of moisturizers and a dab of bronzer, one was ready to hit the clubs looking like George Hamilton.

Fast forward 30 years and I found myself at the office of a dermatologist for what I thought would be a routine checkup. This was not a good experience. The gentleman in the white coat looked concerned and tellingly “hmmmed” several times as he examined every square inch of my body that had ever seen the sun, even peeking between my toes.

Next, he produced a silver can and flash froze various spots on my bumpy skin before turning to my face and concluding that there were too many trouble spots there for him to go with the freeze technique. Instead, a cream, used for four weeks, would be the preferred solution. It was a way to avoid scars, and I readily agreed.

After applying the cream daily for a week and a half, I realized I was in deep trouble. I looked like I had spent a week on a raft at sea without shade. My face felt like it had been rubbed raw with sandpaper. It hurt day and night, and I still had two and a half weeks to go. This was easily going to be one of the worst months of my life. People stared, children pointed and finally I decided to spend the last week in hiding. But, when it did heal, my face was smooth again.

The dermatologist advised that I never go out in the sun again, advice I promptly ignored. Five years later, I was faced with a treatment decision again. What was this that I was now hearing about? A blue light treatment. Bottom line, I was told, it amounts to 18 minutes of discomfort and then it’s straight to healing. Four weeks of the cream or an 18-minute treatment? Could there be an easier choice?

I thought not, until they turned on the light. I was surrounded by personnel whose job it was to spritz water on my face while preventing my escape. Eighteen minutes was like 18 days. Imagine 1,000 red ants on your face all biting simultaneously … for 18 minutes. I would spend the next three days in a dark room to facilitate healing. A week later, I was fine.

This time, I got the memo: “Use SPF 50 sunscreen every day and stay out of the sun as much as possible.” Got it. Will do.

These days, I see the dermatologist once a year. I receive a few flash freezes and try to avoid any future need for creams or blue lights.

We live in the greatest state in the country, but we have to respect the possible consequences of being closer to the sun than residents of the other 49.

So, as you enjoy your summer, be ready to SPF up, put on a hat and avoid the outdoors between 11 and 3. Your skin is the body’s biggest organ and you only get one coat, so take care of it.

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