For years, no seriously, years — I’ve been covering myself in sunscreen.
Yep, that’s right: I’m a pain in the ass.
Forgive me though: I spent my childhood half naked running around the beaches of Corsica, back when Instagram didn’t exist and the only thing to prove you’d gone on vacation was the Nutella colored tan you brought back with you. Tanning was considered to be a kind of sport. We put on Soleil Noir dark tanning oil. We hurried to the beach in the morning to catch “the noon sun.” Sunscreen, what?! Hahah.
I also spent my summers on the sea, managing my business from my little boat* under the hot Mediterranean sun. One of those summers, I got a tan like no other. I completely changed color. Pretty weird to me, with my skin—pretty fair with freckles, and since I’m prone to getting sunburns, the color I got was really surprising. Even my skin texture was strange—it seemed thicker, it got extremely dry, totally different. I didn’t like at all.
I must have been 22. That same summer, I read an article about sun damage in a magazine and decided I was done roasting in the sun without giving it any thought. I don’t even remember what was in the article, but it totally freaked me out. I imagined my future self all shriveled up and friendless, like an old abandoned apple (probably the image the magazine used to illustrate the irreparable damage) so I told myself no, no, NO.
It was time to fight for my future ME.
And in 20 years, she’d be thanking me. Ah! See where I’m going with this?
So that’s when I started to wear hats and use SPF 50 sunscreen, trying to protect what I had left in solar capital (seriously, I was pretty terrorized). It was the time when everyone started caring more about protecting themselves from the sun, but that didn’t stop my friends from making fun of me and my pasty skin.
But I was happy with it. I thought being pale was chic—it was different, and I never had a problem with tan lines.
The years went by, and other than a few moments of selected exposure (under an umbrella with a hat on and maximum sunscreen that I faithfully reapplied every two hours) when absolutely necessary (just because of life in general – I love being outside and taking photos filled with sunlight is kind of my specialty) and a few accidents where I found myself in the middle of the desert (you can’t imagine how terrified I was) without my sacrosanct sunscreen (oh the horror!!! misery!!!) I continued to protect my skin.
And the good thing is, now after 40 years of living, I can summarize my experiences just for you, hehe.
And in short: I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER.
I swear, damn.
Let me explain.
For the most part, my paranoia about the sun had good results. Honestly, my face hasn’t changed that much. It’s firm, I don’t have a lot of wrinkles (other than expression wrinkles around the eyes) – honestly, my skin is as pretty as ever, because it’s less oily and I rarely get blemishes now. Finally.
And you’re probably going to say: Okay, fine, but how do you know it’s because you protected yourself from the sun? Hmm? Maybe it’s hereditary!
Well, unfortunately, I can prove it.
Because unlike my face, I did mess up. I messed up with my chest area – that treacherous spot we often miss when we’re putting on sunscreen. And I messed up with my hands, because they’re pretty much always exposed, summer and winter. And since we wash our hands several times a day and don’t always reapply sunscreen (who has the time to do that? Seriously?) and since our hands are always out moving around every which way, I’d say it’s almost impossible to really protect them, unless you’re living with gloves on.
Oh yeah, did you know that gel manicures cause the same kind of damage as the sun, by the way? I know, I know, I know…it never ends.
It’s ok, it’s not bad (yet). But my chest has taken on a slightly reddish color and I wasn’t too sure where it came from. It was bothering me a little bit, so a few months ago, I asked my dermatologist:
“I think I have some kind of hypersensitivity there – it’s always red, kind of like a sunburn. What should I do?”
“Ah, we can laser it if you want. It’s from the sun.”
What? But I thought sun damage caused white or brown spots! No?
No. Apparently, sun damage can take on lots of different forms.
Can you imagine my face? Seriously? I didn’t do ENOUGH?
As for my hands, same, it’s not too bad in the winter but this summer—I saw them. As soon as the sun came out, I noticed little spots. They’re trying to pass for freckles, but I know they’re definitely not, cause I didn’t have them before. And they’re light, but there are more of them on my right hand than on my left, which proves that your most active hand, the one that’s most exposed, is the one that will be most affected.
I haven’t gotten laser treatment yet, but I might eventually if someone can show me good, long-lasting results.
Protecting yourself from the sun works. Just look at what happens to the places you don’t protect.
And now, the moral of the story, which I hope is not at all what you were expecting.
The moral is—there is no moral. The moral is that no matter what you do, every moment we live, we are getting older. And of course it’s great to take care of yourself and if protecting yourself from the sun helps you stay fresh, that’s great. I have friends who spent 20 years lounging in the sun and they have a little more sun damage, sure…but they wouldn’t take back those summers for anything in the world!
The moral is also that I know a lot of gorgeous women who look great with their little sun spots. They take good care of themselves, but don’t make a big deal about it. They accept themselves and adapt and live very well with those little marks that are simply proof of a full life.
One of them is an absolutely gorgeous surfer (you know, the gorgeous surfer—my ultimate role model) and honestly, it makes her even more beautiful.
So there you go. I’ll keep you posted about my paranoid saga—to laser or not to laser—and I’ll keep being careful about the sun, but I won’t make a big deal of it.
Especially because as it turns out, most sunscreens are toxic anyway and on top of that they are polluting the oceans and the poor fish who didn’t ask for anything. And so no matter what we do, we’re all going to die.
That’s a lovely perspective, right?
It’s the French version of an American happy ending. Big kiss!
*When I was about 17- 25 years old, I had a small business where we would deliver plain and chocolate croissants to the boats who spent the night in the bay of our village.
Translated by Andrea Perdue