A sunburn is not a badge of honor.

Once it starts to get warm in the south, those tell-tale white lines start popping up all over. It’s almost as if by proudly displaying a sunburn, you’re proclaiming to the world, “Yes, I’ve been to the beach, I stood outside for that cool concert, I layed out tanning all day at my pool.” People compare redness and peeling and bemoan the burn, but they keep on doing what they’re doing.

And I maintain that your red skin is not a badge of honor.

Look, I like being tan as much as the next girl, and maybe even more. I was a competitive swimmer, for crying out loud, and I spent at least 4 hours every day every summer in a swimsuit in the pool. I had perpetual Speedo lines tanned onto my back that literally took years to fade after I quit swimming (not to mention goggle strap lines and a swim cap line across my forehead). And, to be honest, I sort of missed those lines and what they stood for.

I’m not sure I ever put on sunscreen once for a routine swim practice. I’d put it on at the beach (I think), but I still accumulated hours and hours of sun exposure.

Lucky for me, I guess you could say, I have a rather olive complexion that doesn’t burn easily, and I can only remember one time in my childhood and adolescence when I really had a bad sunburn. (I got the occasional pinkness, I’m sure, but as far as an all-out burn, only the once.)

I took a brief foray into the land of the tanning bed before my senior prom. I think I went a total of three times. And let me tell you, that shit is addicting. It’s so warm and relaxing in those beds. Which is exactly why I stopped doing it, because I knew just how bad it was for me despite feeling so good.

When I went to the Galapagos Islands in college my ears got sunburned. We spent all day on one of the islands with a desert climate. That night on our boat I was trying to watch a movie and I got desperately seasick. It was one of the rare nights of my life where I skipped dinner and I fell into a deep fitful sleep. The next morning I woke up feeling weird and my ears were hurting. When I went to look in the mirror, I had literal blisters on the tops of my ears. Blisters! I had never even once considered putting sunscreen on my ears–serves me right. I fashioned myself a goofy bandana + hat combo that I wore for the rest of the trip, and every since then I’m anal about putting sunscreen on my ears.

According to skincancer.org, that kind of brief, intense exposure to the sun is the sun exposure pattern that is believed to lead to melanoma. And it’s not like other exposure is good–the two most common non-melanoma types of skin cancer are directly correlated with sun exposure over many years.

Clearly I’m in great shape.

In fact, last summer my doctor referred me to a dermatologist over a mole on my back, which it turns out did have some abnormal cells. The dermatologist removed it, and it was not a melanoma, but it’s still not a good thing! (I like to joke with Andy that now all my abnormalities have been removed, so I am completely normal..right…)

So I wear sunscreen now. I switch to an everyday moisturizer with SPF in it for the summer and make sure that anything I use on my face has it, too. I reapply like crazy when I do go to the pool. I’m sure I could take still more precautions; the CDC recommends wearing sunscreen, covering up, AND seeking shade. (I do at least usually wear a hat, and I don’t stay out at the pool for ridiculously long amounts of time.)

Incidental sun exposure adds up. Sitting in traffic with your windows down puts a lot of rays on your left side. Over the past two weeks I’ve been walking to the MARTA station most days to get to work, and I’ve noticed I’ve picked up some tan from that. Everyday protection matters too.

But what’s really the worst is getting a sunburn. There are some good sunscreens out there these days. There are dry touch ones that don’t feel greasy, there are formulas for your face to keep you from breaking out, there are spray versions for when you’re at the pool alone and can’t ask someone to rub it on your back. I don’t really see an excuse for letting yourself burn, and when I see people with lobster shoulders it just makes me sad.

Because your sunburn is not a badge of honor.

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman