Why I Need Sunscreen School

Sunburns are my ongoing skin disaster

Illustration by Breanna Cooke

This past weekend was my first brush with the summer sun. My indoor-stabilized form, otherwise shrouded in layers of clothing to offset the fierce air conditioning blowing through every indoor space in Texas, was exposed to daylight for the first time in months. Immediately apparent: Why I need sunscreen school.

The victim this time? My legs. Now a tie-dye mix of cherry Kool-Aid and born-again virgin skin. Red and white, ready for the upcoming July 4 holiday. Already my shoes have jumped above my socks and attempted to rub raw my burnt ankles. And I must contend with that place where your leg and hip-bone connect. Ouch. It’s exacerbated by the crease in my skin — do you only get that when you have chub that rubs? — which the sun inundated with laser-like precision.

This Isn’t My First Sunburn

Here’s the rub. This isn’t a first-time occurrence. It’s an ongoing skin disaster, dating back to my childhood. Each time my body is exposed to the outdoor elements after a period of hibernation, it reacts.

My continued failure has me fully prepared to send myself to sunscreen school, ideally in a camp-like atmosphere with lots of activities. It needs to include a daily workout led by a quality instructor, low-carb eats and a healthy dose of arts and crafts. Time to read and relax will be balanced with evening lectures and delightful films. All to offset the painful truth that I am an alleged adult who is incapable of correctly applying sunscreen.

As a kid, my sunburned nose brought on brown spots so I got compared to our Brittany Spaniel, Taggy. Winter holidays were an escape from the brutal Midwest winters, often to a tropical location. While my family developed lovely layers of tan, my brother off making new friends, I was safer in the arcade in the dark working on my Ms. Pac-Man skills. Alone.

Part of My Girl Code is Missing

That initial exposure to the sun was yet another way where I don’t fit in. Like my first boy-girl swim party, where I showed up as the only girl wearing a one-piece swimsuit. All the other girls had on a bikini. My mother wouldn’t have let me leave the house that way even if I did own a two-piece suit. “Those don’t look nice on you — take it off,” she ordered in the dressing room, where my mismatched body was on display.

A trip to Jamaica during Spring Break from college in Chicago was a real doozy. I missed a swath of my forehead with sunscreen, resulting in a solid red stripe across the top of my head. How convenient that the local beer, Red Stripe, was all we drank and my nickname the rest of the trip. While the other girls were so concerned with tans lines — making sure they didn’t have any, rotating and twisting about at the perfect interval — I couldn’t even apply the damn stuff in a way to keep me pain-free. Just another part of life where I feel like part of my girl code is missing.

After a number of vacations that resulted in suffering from my skin’s reaction to the sun, various tests were performed. It was concluded I have some sort of sun allergy. But it’s not like that information gives you any remedy other than to never go outside again. No waterskiing or swimming. No sun. No thank you.

Which brings me to my weekend visit to the lake with boyfriend. This year I opted for the sprayon can, figuring spritz and go. Nope. The stuff is nasty. It’s impossible not to breath it into your lungs. Plus it leaks, so your hands get slippery and the nozzle starts to swivel itself shut. Me? Huge swaths of skin unadorned with protection.

This week, my legs will remain hidden. I’m too embarrassed to explain the redness. I also missed the spots where fat has started to gather on the sides under my arms. No tank tops, either.

But — in my pain — a solution became clear. An end to my problem.

From now on, boyfriend will be my sunscreen police. He can be my enforcement. I’ll eliminate the problem — me — and put him in charge. He can apply my sunscreen. Unless, of course, I find a proper sunscreen school. Because then I’m outta here.

Katy Trail Weekly originally published "Serious need for suncreen school."
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