Safe Sun

HAPPY 100TH POST TO ME! Thank y'all for reading my ramblings and making this blog such a success for me (in that I'm writing more often than I have in years and actually look forward to it). Wouldn't be the same without my wonderful readers. Mwah!

Fair warning: I'm about to get all soapboxy and naggy on you. You'd think I would do something fun for my 100th post, but, well, you'd be wrong. I am, by nature, a Lil Missy Bossy (I get it from my sassy, hand-on-hip-while-shaking-her-finger mama), so really this isn't too out of character. Moving on.

It's that time of year again: the sun is shining, temperatures are rising, and flip flops and sundresses are back in full effect! Lovely, right? Yes, yes it is lovely.

However, one item that a lot of people forget to throw in the mix once spring and summer hit: sun protection! "But, Natalie," you say, "that's not fun in the sun. Sunscreen is greasy and smelly and makes me sweat like a piggy." To you I say, "All good points. But you're wrong. And I love you."

Sunscreen isn't what it used to be, y'all. There are many awesome, effective formulations you can get over-the-counter that will do the trick. But, even better, there are many fantastic sunscreens you can get from your local dermatologist, family practitioner, plastic surgeon, etc. that are reasonably priced and don't have any of the typical sunscreen pitfalls: they're cosmetically elegant, they don't smell terrible, they're oil-free (so you don't feel like you're about to be sauteed post-application), and you won't even cringe to apply these gems to your face...which you must.

Few quick tips for getting through these sunny months without hating life...now, and ten years from now:

~ Make sure your sunscreen is at least an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. I know some of y'all complain about using an SPF this high because you do want to get some color, but regardless of your natural skin tone, damaging sun rays penetrate your skin and mess with your skin cells' DNA. Not cool.

~ Double check that your sunscreen has both UVA and UVB protection. Even if you're not running amuck on the beach, damaging UVA rays are present every day (regardless of weather), so you might as well get an all-in-one sunscreen that protects you from all the ultraviolet badness out there.

~ Get a mole check from a dermatologist every year. It's a simple office visit. (I joke about it, but it really is a necessity.) Just friggin' go. This is a great time of year to go, by the way! If your doc needs to freeze or biopsy any spots, you still have plenty of time for it to heal before swimsuit/bridesmaid/strapless/reunion season hits.

~ Don't forget your ears, yo! This also goes for your neck, chest, hands, eyelids, and lips. Basically, don't be stingy! Make sure you cover any surface of your skin that is in the first line of attack. And why not shell out an extra $2 for chapstick that also contains an SPF? Plus, there are many great beauty/makeup products that provide additional sun protection assistance. (You can check out some of my faves here and here.)

~ Wear it EVERY DAY. Don't skimp just because you're "only going to work and back" or because "it's cloudy." (Did you not see my note earlier about UVA rays?! And yes, I'm yelling.) The sun's rays are present every day; ergo, you must protect your skin every day. You should definitely change your plan of attack depending on what fun-in-the-sun activities in which you plan on participating (i.e. higher SPF and water-resistant protection if you're going to the beach, plus a sassy, floppy hat), but sunscreen should never be a summer-only product.

Quick little anecdote: for years I worked for a plastic surgeon who did Mohs reconstructions for patients with skin cancer. We're talking folks who lost half their noses, lips, ears, etc. The majority of them were older and grew up in a time when they just didn't look at sun damage the way we do now. However, a growing percentage of our patients were men and women in their late-20s and early-30s who simply spent summers in the sun sans SPF. (Did you catch that alliteration? Zing!) Can you imagine how devastating it would be to be going through a painful, expensive, mildly disfiguring process just to save yourself from the further damage that this cancer would cause if left to proliferate?

Now I'm not advocating becoming a hermit or investing in mumus instead of swimsuits; in fact, I love me some basking in the sun like a fat, fuzzy house cat. But just be smart about it. There are too many affordable, effective sunscreens and sunless tanning alternatives available to not be smart about it. Don't be cavalier about your health. I mean, I used to hop into tanning beds on a regular basis (which, for this naturally uber-pale lil lady, is one of the more idiotic moves I've made), figuring I'd just deal with the consequences "later on." Well, I'm 28 years old and have barnacled, freckly skin that is forever having to be excised or burned because of another new pre-cancerous spot. Let me just tell you, those years of being a tan little college chick? Sooooo not worth the trade off.

Happy smart sunning, y'all!


  1. YEA!!! KUDOS!!! Every summer I get teased about my pasty white skin (I prefer to call it "glowing alabaster") by my friends. I do enough bad things to my body not to take care of the money maker- my skin. It's what keeps us looking young and vibrant!

    May I make an addition: Reapply! There's no such thing as water proof, but even water resistant sunscreens eventually wear down and need to be reapplied. A good rule of thumb- every time you get out of the water, reapply. Every time you towel yourself off, reapply. If you notice you're getting a little pink, reapply and hang out in the shade for a bit.

    One of my biggest naysayers to my sun routine recently had cancerous cells removed from his ear (and he's not yet 30). It looked horrible but he was lucky it was only an ear, not the nose or scalp. He never let me hug him at the pool for fear of my sunscreen. Now, we're sunscreen buddies- the higher the better- and I know his skin will be healthy and stay put for a long time!

  2. I loved the neutrogena sunscreen we talked about!

  3. @Graygrrrl, Great addition! I didn't even go into how important is sun protection in terms of retaining one's youthful appearance, but I figured I yammer on enough about anti-aging that it should be a given as motivation to be sun safe. Looking very forward to being sunscreen buddies right there with ya this summer, lady!

    @Debbie, Yay! So glad you like it. We fair ladies must stick together. :)

  4. I have a friend who got really puzzled as to why she got sunburnt when it was overcast. um... duh? Amazes me how dim some people are about suncare. I use at least 65 SPF.

  5. So glad you wrote this post. I used to be the type used oil to bake my skin into a deep bronze color. About three years ago I had to have a mole removed, which was precancerous. They had to go in and take more skin from the area after the biopsy came back positive. I've been wearing sunscreen ever since.


  6. I got crispy in Texas! I need to remember my sun block rain or shine. Thanks Dr. Nat!

  7. kendralyn cornwallSunday, April 11, 2010

    Thank you for your message Natalie. Too many people think that Skin Cancer is the removable, un-lethal cancer. My best friend went every year for a mole check and soon after turning 27, and newly wed, her annual check showed something a little suspicious. By the time they had found it and diagnosed her, the spot had metastasized and spread to her bones and brain. She died a short time later.
    This message is one that can not be spread enough!!

  8. Sunscreen is soo important, I learned this only a few year ago when I went to the dermotologist for an skin allergy and they say all 100 spots need to be biopsied. They didn't do them all but they usually take more than 3 off a visit.

    Now I make sure before me and my daughter go outside I spray an Aveeno sunscreen I picked up at CVS. It's SPF 80. And I have softlips chapstick.

    The only scary thing is that my daughter, who is 4, already has about 4 freckles on her face and has 3 or more on both arms.

  9. @PurpleCuts, Definitely. I can't over how many people still buy into the silly myths out there, but we humans tend to justify a lot just to do what we want. :)

    @Snafu, I hear ya! That sounds like me every six months. Ugh. Not fun.

    @Chicken, Indeed, missy! Better get in that habit before you've got baby chicks running amuck. You know they're going to be pale little lads and lasses. :)

    @Kendra, Absolutely! This is a very important message for me to get out there (as my friends know...groan, haha), but your post the other day on FB definitely inspired me to get this out there the moment the seasons shifted. Thank you for sharing Missy's story, hun.

    @NB, Oh my gosh, that's terrible! What an ordeal, you poor thing. Thank you for sharing your story; it's important for people to realize how common are these stories...and so devestating, as well. For what it's worth re: your little one, I ALWAYS had heaps of freckles growing up, which means Mom just had to be extra diligent about my sunscreen, but most of my real damage was self-induced during my twenties (like most consequences we suffer as adults, haha), so hopefully she'll just be a fair, healty little lady. :)

  10. Thank you for thoroughly scaring the crap out of me...and forcing me to make VERY good use of my "fun in the sun" category this year. I even have enough to bring extras to the pool! I'll just print this and make everyone read it. See if they don't use the sunscreen after a little light reading.

  11. Smart post, Nat. We think we're invinsible when we're teens and just broil ourselves. It finally came back to bite me! I'm now one of those 20-somethings with having Mohs and other surgeries to remove my melanoma. It is definitely no joke! Here's my post about my skin cancer ordeal: http://threemuttsandababy.blogspot.com/2010/03/million-dollar-mama.html

  12. I don't know when it happened. I used to go out, barely put on sunscreen, burn the hell out of myself, not really pay attention. And then...I got older. And now? I am the SUNSCREEN NAZI.

    And it's not that I don't LIKE to be tan (April, I'm looking at you and your tanning bed, here), it's just that I'd rather be, ya know, alive and cancer free. Pale doesn't even bother me any more. Though I will admit that most of my fat does look less frightening with a bit of color.