Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Sun Isn't What It Was

Or so it appears, according to my right arm, which sustained damage during our recent travels in Yellowstone, because I spent the first day wildlife watching without giving thought to sunscreen even though I was leaning out the window continually for hours in an attempt to get a closer look at bison, elk, coyotes, moose, and antelope in play.

The sun has never been my friend. I was a palid child, a well covered adolescent, and favored a pale-faced look as a twenty-something. The red hair has a lot to do with it, though I have enough color in my skin that I do in fact tan, given the opportunity and careful monitoring to walk the line between burn and pallor. But in my thirties I became more lax, stopped wearing make-up with a high SPF, and spent several summers eschewing makeup entirely and going natural to give my skin a break from the chemical assault. While I avoided full sun and going about during the burning hours (11am to 2pm), I did receive a seemingly "healthy tan" during those summers of maternal activity carting kids to the pool, to friends, on 100 mile walks around town.

When I was forty I could tell that my unguarded thirties were a mistake. Not that I was that damaged, compared to someone living in Florida, Southern California, or Australia, my skin was pure as the driven snow. But I could tell where the sun had permanently left its mark on my upper forehead and the top of my cheekbone below my right eye. I will be watching those areas for growths closely.

But after my burn a week ago, I can already tell my skin cells are rebelling and going nuts. Is it being older or the sun being less blocked by ozone that is making that arm look like it was immersed in a mild acid, still slightly red a week later, and cell eruptions dotting the epidermal landscape?

A doctor unkindly looked at me a decade ago and told me it wasn't a question of if I'd get skin cancer, but when.

I'm so glad to live in the land of rain, cloudy skies, and brief seasons of sun that I can successfully hide from, dragging my kids into the shadows with me.

My skin won't be au naturale this summer. And I bought a hat.

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