For over a decade I have dutifully gone to the dermatologist at least once a year; I track my moles, their shape and coloring; I carefully note if any new ones show up, even the tiny ones; I wear sunscreen like it’s my damn job. My latest check-up earned me a solid A+, which I’ll admit, made me more than a little proud of myself. My doc was most impressed and legitimately surprised that the top part of my forearm and the underside are the exact same hue, which has a lot less to do with winter than it has to do with my always wearing sunscreen or long sleeves. He was shocked that there was not a single tan line on my back or shoulders, not from last summer, or the one before that, or the one before that. It’s not that my skin can’t take a tan, it’s that I go to extreme lengths to keep it from changing color in any way. In fact, in 15 years I think I’ve only had two or three sunburns, and only one of those was so intense it blistered. I just…I’m really really careful. Always.
Here’s the thing, for me, an A+ is not really an “excellent! superb! you’re a dermatological overachiever!” kind of mark; for me it is essential. Almost 30 years ago the major medical research university here did an enormous study on melanoma and whether or not there was some kind of inherited genetic propensity for the disease. The long and short of it (but really, only the short) is that yes, there is a genetic marker for melanoma and it runs in both my maternal and paternal lines and me and my four siblings all have that marker encoded into our DNA. My oldest brother had an enormous hunk of his back cut out at age 13 because it was teeming with cancerous melanoma, my other brother has had basal cell cut off his face, I’ve had bits of both melanoma and basal cell cut out from head to toe, I have lost track of how many aunts, uncles, and cousins (first cousins, not thrice removed, we’re talking close relationships here) have had the same procedures, two have died from melanoma and one is currently in treatment. So, skin cancer. It’s a big effing deal to me.
So. I have super pale skin*, which is what I naturally came with, but I make sure to keep it that way. I don’t wear shorts, I don’t wear tank tops, I rarely wear a bathing suit and I slather on sunscreen and then a few hours later I do it again. If at all possible, I will be in the shade instead of in the sun.
*Seriously, it’s hard to write about this without coming across as some kind of white supremacist; I am just trying to say that my heaven-sent stock color is 80% albino, and here I am at age 32 and that is still, more or less, the case. And for me, that beached whale-parchment-milk colored-sometimes even a little blueish-white skin is a really, really good thing. If your stock color is pinkish, or yellowish, or tan, or brownish, or blackish, or green or orange or blue orpinkortealorWHATEVERCOLORISFINE!! NO SKIN COLOR IS BETTER OR SUPERIOR THAN ANY OTHER SKIN COLOR!!!
What I was thinking would be a quick, possibly pithy commentary on how pasty and alfredo-like my arms and legs look and how for ONCE I got a gold star for it instead of mockery from the Popular Set has quickly divulged into a freaking mine field of political correctness, attempts not to offend, and generally trying to come across as a good human. My point is that overall the healthiest epidermis is the one that has the least amount of damage, and sun is the primary source of damage of skin cells, so the closer your adult skin is to the relatively less damaged skin of your childhood, the better. The fewer traces of sun discoloration, the better. So, as the summer sun warms everything up (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), remember to protect your skin cells, mmmkay? Your 50-year old future face will thank you for your efforts, I pinky swear*.
*Pinky is a digit on your hand, not some kind of color judgement. For the love, I quit.
I don’t know if I have the genetic marker for melanoma, but I have a hell of a lot of moles and I definitely have sensitive skin that burns fast, so I use high SPF sunscreen religiously and try to avoid direct sun. I don’t care if I am pale. I’d rather be pale, but healthy than tanned and at high risk! I think you’re absolutely doing the right thing (I just wish you would wear shorts and tank tops 🙂 I don’t know how I would survive summer’s in long sleeves here…)
Our summers are as hot as yours, I think. I just don’t go outside unless I’m in the mountains where it’s cooler, or I make sure to stay in the shade…that’s my solution. 🙂
That really bites that your family has been afflicted by melanoma to the extent it has, but you’re a rock star for taking as much control of that stupid disease as you possibly can. Color me (in the palest color possible) very impressed. I was just noting how awful red the skin on my face is – genetics can bite it, can’t they?! Alas, I’m thankful for doctors and specialists who keep an eye on our health and help us ward off disease before it becomes a problem.
Yes, my family has a high percentage of skin cancer, but we don’t have heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. So at least I can eat as much cheese as I want. 🙂