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The Dangers of Sunburn and Why I won't Give up the Sun

By HERWriter Guide
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 sunburns can be dangerous still I won't give up sun Hemera/Thinkstock

When I was a teen in the 80s, not only did we not use sunscreen, we put cooking oil on us to encourage the skin to tan! Mothers applied it to their daughters!

I had no idea of the dangers. A group of us -- all teen girls raised in Ireland -- would race out to the sun as soon as it came out (it did at times, but often quickly went back in again).

One warm summer we slathered ourselves with a Crisco oil equivalent and lay out, hoping to cook all day. I'm surprised the neighborhood didn't smell like chicken!

The majority of us have been sunburned at least once, either while innocently gardening, playing sports, or having jobs that require outdoor work or by laying out in the sun for too long without adequate sunscreen.

Sunburn can range from uncomfortable (a light burn) to excruciatingly painful and dangerous, to the point of needing hospitalization. Sunburn can damage the skin like any kind of burn by fire, including wounds, blisters, and permanent scarring.

But unlike other burns, sunburn is directly linked to skin cancer, something that 75,000 Americans will be diagnosed with this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

It also must be noted that one can suffer skin damage through cars, on cloudy days, while active in winter sports and while wearing clothing that appears to cover the skin up. And we haven't even started on the premature aging -- who wants to look like a vintage leather purse at only 60?

The worst burn I can remember is in my mid-20s. I headed to the park to brush up on my tan before attending a wedding reception that evening and didn't use sunscreen at all.

The temperature was well into the 80s with full sun and I lay out or swam for about four hours. A few hours later I was lying in a bath of cold water, the pain was so bad from the burns.

The heat radiating from my body was almost disturbing, it felt like I was burning on the inside too. I got out of the bath after about an hour and water had turned warm -- due to the heat from the all-over sunburn.

I attended the wedding that night, barely able to sit, as the back of my thighs were deep red. My entire body remained deep red for days.

I was lucky I didn't blister or scar but I do know this incident (one of sevreal in my youth, unfortunately) has raised my risk for cancer. Never again.

This behavior has stopped and I use Factor 30-50 daily. But I still get a tan.

No matter what I do, I tan in summer. I swim and play competitive tennis (sometimes in searing heat) and while I reapply every 90 minutes or so, I still get that summer tan. So do my children.

I had my questions about this answered by an expert on NPR last summer and she said ultimately, most people will tan in summer if they are outdoors (and not just sitting in shade) being active. It's how the sun and our bodies work.

We can give up our outdoors activities and opt to wear a large hat in the shade or face the fact that we will tan (even lightly) and any tan is a sign of sun damage.

My skin is still very good, fortunately, and I live in a climate of bitter cold seven months a year (and still use sunscreen on my face during those months) so I won't opt to give up my tennis or lap swimming.

A lot of my friends are pale. They hit indoor gyms or don't spend much time outdoors. But giving up my water and the courts would take away so much from me, I just won't do it.

The vitamin D from the sun helps with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The sun warms my body and soul. It allows me to do things the bitter cold and snow won't.

I suppose it's a calculated risk I take, while being as cautious as I can to avoid as much sun exposure as I can.

There is no active sun tanning and certainly no burning as I cover myself in sunscreen even for 8.a.m matches.

Those reckless days are long over! Hats and sunglasses rule!

But yes, like all the runners, sports people, gardeners and outdoorsy types, I am carefully out in the sun several months a year -- and loving every minute of it.

Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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