Darn You, Tan Line!
Last updated: March 2023
I’ll cut right to the chase. I have a tan line, and I’m really ticked off about it. Were this 1992 with senior prom and graduation on the horizon, I'd be over the moon. This is 2019. I have had melanoma, basal cell carcinoma three times, and I have used Efudex for precancerous spots for five years now, and I am as mad as the devil at myself. I know better than to let myself get too much sun.
I could come up with excuses and give you the beginning of a captivating story that would rival that of the Tinman trying to explain what brought him to see the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, but I won’t bore you with details or lead you on a wild goose chase for reasons. We won’t find any. I know the reason--it’s a matter of neglect, plain and simple.
Three days in a row, I participated in outdoor activities, none of which were planned to last more than 30 minutes. I applied sunscreen all three days because even a brief stint outdoors can result in sunburn. When I say “applied sunscreen,” we are talking generously applied. I haven’t felt the desire to see my skin redden in the afternoon sun since I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2007. As much as I have read and shared about sun safety, I should have known better than to not take my bottle of 50 SPF and reapply. I did know better--I forgot.
The dreaded tan line
Two of the three days I spent outdoors during peak hours turned into 45-minute stays in the sun. On the third day, I wound up spending over an hour outdoors. On not one of these three days did I reapply sunscreen. (Yes, I should have suspected from the first two days that I might be accumulating sun exposure.) I am a fair-skinned, freckled, green-eyed strawberry blonde who knows that it’s entirely possible to acquire too much sun in less time than the recommended reapplication time frame on a bottle of sunscreen. By day 3, I had a tan line--not a proud moment for this skin cancer advocate.
In the realm of all things bad, a tan line doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. It doesn’t seem so awful until you consider the fact that tanned skin is damaged skin. A little damage goes a long way. My experience with Efudex is a prime example. I haven’t tanned since 2007 and have faithfully used sunscreen, makeup with sunscreen, and even powders that contain at least a 30 SPF.
I haven’t darkened the door of a tanning salon since before my melanoma was excised by my dermatologist leaving me with 12 stitches in my upper left arm. I’ve done everything I know to do, and I am still fighting precancers on my face and chest caused by tanning beginning in the late 80s ending in 2007. I used to fight to get a tan line to appear. Now, well, I’m just fighting mad if I see one.
Using sunscreen responsibly
I said all that to say this: sunscreen is not a be-all end-all. Used properly, sunscreen helps reduce your chances of sunburn thereby reducing your chances of developing skin cancer down the road. Sunscreen applied once during a stay outdoors will only benefit you for a short time and must be reapplied, especially if you are sweating excessively or getting in and out of the water.
Don’t ever assume the recommended reapplication time is a one-size-fits-all deal. Every day is different, and every sunscreen user applies with his/her own level of enthusiasm. While one person might be fairly generous and slap on a thick, almost bluish-white layer of the lotion, the next might wind up with a thin layer covering the skin.
Be like me--use sunscreen. Be better than I was last week--reapply often.
Do you sunscreen in the fall?