Summer is slowly winding its way down, and although I’m definitely looking forward to fall, my favorite time of year, I will kind of miss the lazy summer days spent with the kids, lounging on the beach or by the pool soaking up all those warm rays of beautiful sunshine. Safely protected by a thick and sticky layer of unpleasantly scented sunscreen, of course. Um … usually.
We all know by now that tanning – indoors or outdoors – is absolutely terrible for us. Not only is it the best way to prematurely age our skin but it can also be downright deadly. Skin cancer, caused primarily by exposure to UV rays, has more cases annually than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, kills almost 10,000 Americans a year, with more than 120,000 new cases diagnosed annually.
With all the information we have today intentional tanning seems like an incredibly foolish decision, especially for folks like me. As a blue-eyed, fair-skinned blonde who is covered in freckles, my skin cancer risk is much higher than most and I’d pretty much have to be an idiot to tempt fate. But yet …
Oh my god, I freaking love the sun! I adore the way it feels to bask under its glorious rays, especially with a cold cocktail nearby. And I love the radiant glow of my skin when I spend time soaking up those deadly, delicious rays. As long as I’m careful not to burn, I look and feel fabulous after a day of sunbathing.
Or at least that’s the way I’ve always remembered it. It’s been quite some time since I last intentionally invited the sun’s ultraviolet rays to mutate my DNA. I was on a sensible and health-conscious roll for many years until the unthinkable happened. I am not proud to say this, but I will end this summer with the first golden tan I’ve had in well over a decade. It’s not the best decision I’ve ever made but at least it started with good intentions.
Aside: One of the coolest things about writing a column that requires neither an accompanying photograph nor public appearances is that I get to share my thoughts with strangers while maintaining complete control over their impressions of what I actually look like in person.
It would probably be pretty weird to come right out and falsely claim I bear a strong resemblance to a Swedish bikini model, but it doesn’t seem like it could really hurt anything to drop subtly misleading hints from time to time suggesting I was far more glamorous and alluring than I really am. Instead, it seems like I’m always complaining about some sort of strange growth or embarrassing fashion disaster or weight loss struggle.
It is perhaps my biggest chance in life to present myself as a supremely hot babe, if only in the minds of oblivious readers. For whatever reason, I seem determined to waste this precious opportunity by revealing so many flaws over the past five years that by now I probably sound like some sort of walking, talking Garbage Pail Kid. (Great, there goes any chance I had to maintain the illusion I might be too young to remember the Garbage Pail Kids.) I guess I’m at it again, because apparently this time I’m about to talk about my psoriasis.
So anyway, yeah, I have psoriasis and it ain’t exactly sexy. Although the autoimmune disease is incurable, fortunately my symptoms have been pretty mild thus far and mostly amount to a small scaly patch on each elbow. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for about 15 years now and of the dozen or so treatments I’ve tried nothing has really made much difference.
I try not to let it bother me too much but it’s hard not to be at least a little self-conscious when someone asks me almost daily what happened to my elbow. I’ve used all sorts of stories ranging from an allergic reaction to an alligator bite to accidentally scraping my elbow against a chest full of pirate treasure while scuba diving in the Caribbean, but it gets old having to explain it all the time. The worst, however, is when people get kind of squeamish and worry (erroneously) that it might be contagious.
The one treatment I’d never really tried, which also happens to be known as one of the most effective, is regular exposure to UV light. Though I’d quit tanning long ago I figured I’d bite the bullet and at least start letting my elbows get some sun. After a few sessions I figured since I was already out there, it couldn’t really hurt THAT much to let the rest of my body get a little color, just this once.
You probably see where this is going. Several weeks later I was golden brown from head to toe and thoroughly enjoying my short but frequent “psoriasis treatments.” The only exception was my face, which was carefully slathered in SPF 70 and covered with three towels. In a rather mortifying testimony to vanity, I know I should be far more afraid of cancer but instead, it is premature face wrinkles that leave me truly shuddering in fear.
Fortunately I snapped back to my senses pretty quickly and I’ve once again turned my back on that most sizzling hot of temptations. I will admit it wasn’t easy and it did not surprise me to read a recent Harvard study suggesting sunshine was as addictive as heroin due to the release of feel-good hormones caused by UV rays.
What the hell was I thinking? Who knows what sort of damage I’ve already done? Oh well. It’s done. Hopefully I’ll still be writing this column in 20 years so I can tell you guys all about my sexy pigmented lesions and mutating moles. Look forward to it.