Well, the topic's supposed to be "The Sun", but when I think of the sun I always flinch and look over my shoulder to make sure it's not glaring at me, so I think my title's pretty darned appropriate. Yeah, I know. It's a golden G-type star within the life-sustaining zone of Sol III, and if it didn't exist, we hairless bipedal beach apes wouldn't, either. But the sun and I are not friends. We have never been friends. We will never be friends.
This goes back a long, long way, back when I was just a cute cuddly toddler splashing around in the waters of Lake Metigoshe (Bottineau County, North Dakota; Where Vacation Land Begins!) Okay, it was the early Seventies and it's not like the whole concept of sunscreen had exactly caught on, but my folks were about to find out that I, like my dad, could sunburn in less than ten minutes simply by sitting there. Put me in a bathing suit and drop me in the water and it takes even less time. The glare of the sunlight off the water, probably. And lest you think there can't possibly be enough sun in North Dakota to burn anything, brother, you have not been there during the dog days of August. No air conditioning, either. We used to run off the dock in our pajamas, climb into bed soaking wet, and sort of sleep, kind of, until morning.
And I shouldn't even be complaining, really, because I have a sister and she has it worse than I do. I'm pale. She's a whiter shade of pale. (In fact, that was my ringtone for her, with my old phone. Now it's "Viva Las Vegas." I'm getting more classic-rocky in my old age.) She wears a hat and glasses everywhere, never leaves the house without sunscreen and wears fake sleeves and gloves when she drives her car. (It looks kinda classy, actually. Very Grace Kelly.) In short, she does all the stuff I'm supposed to do. Though I'm getting better at it. Really, I am.
Sunburns? Oh, honey, we can talk sunburns. My mom was hypervigilant with the sunscreen and kept us in during the brightest part of the day, but the sunburns happened anyway. I read somewhere that just one severe sunburn in childhood -- just one -- predisposes you to skin cancer. I think about all the severe sunburns I had and wonder why I'm not already dead. (I'fact, if we lived long enough, we'd all die of skin cancer, says my doc. The sun is nobody's friend, in that respect. But we'd have to live an awfully long time.)
About six months ago, I noticed a red spot on my nose. It had been there quite a while, but it seemed to be getting bigger. When it sort of failed to act normal, I went to my doc and showed it to her. She made some "Hmm" noises and said I'd probably better see a dermatologist. So I went to see the dermatologist, who also made "Hmm" noises. And then took out a can with a long nozzle on it and zapped my nose with it. Liquid nitrogen. She zapped a few other spots that I hadn't been aware of; one next to my chin and another one up by my left eyebrow. Not to worry, she said; they'd fall off by themselves. Er, what are they? I wanted to know. "Squamous cell carcinoma," she said, as though it was the least interesting thing in the world. "But don't worry. They don't have roots or anything."
Uh, last time I checked, words that rhymed with Oklahoma were bad in a medical context. And what's this having roots business? That was all I needed; something sprouting on top of my nose, putting roots down through my nostril and into the roof of my mouth. Ew. Double ew. Anyway, I have to go back once a year for rechecks; once a squamous cell carcinoma, always a--yeah. So now my big adventure is to find a sunscreen that f____ works.
Well, that is to say, that both works and doesn't make me break out in hives. I've been using a Coppertone "sweatproof" 36 SPF thingy in a blue bottle. It has two major disadvantages; it fails in less than an hour and it's really thick and greasy. I've worn it twice to two different outdoor swims and both times I've ended up with a light burn across my back and shoulders. Either the waterproofing doesn't last the requisite 90 minutes, or 36 SPF means the sun burns right through it in 36 minutes, meaning it has another 24 minutes to cook me before I get out of the water. Either way, it's not doing the job. So I'm on a quest to discover a sunscreen that will do the job. Talk about your uphill battles.
No doubt you've heard of Neutrogena, the company that makes high-end skin products. Soaps, lotions, body washes, makeup. Well, they also make sunscreens, and my sister likes them. So I tried one; 100 SPF, guaranteed waterproof (though the "guaranteed waterproof" label is going away; seems that the government caught the sunscreen industry out and made them admit that, in fact, there's really no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen). I didn't get to try it in the water. On the second day I broke out in hives all over my arms, neck, chest and face. I was coating myself with Caladryl lotion and not wearing makeup; I looked like my face was peeling off (very George Romero). So I gave the $11.00 bottle of sunscreen to Joan and tried another one.
This one should have been perfect. 60 SPF, "sensitive skin" formula, hypoallergenic, blah blah blah. Hypoallergenic, my foot. Used it once. More hives. So I'm back to the Coppertone, and temporarily looking like a zombie. Fortunately, my cow-orkers have a good sense of humor.
In reality, I doubt there's a sunscreen made that can withstand the Texas sun for more than an hour, so if I do any of the open-water swims or Hurricane Harbor wave simulations I'm gonna have to break out the Muslim bathing suit. Which is fine. I feel very safe in that suit. The ol' devil Sun can't get me. Well, except on the very tip of my nose.
Where a squamous cell carcinoma used to be.