a woman looks dubiously at her tan lines while she holds a bottle of sunblock

Darn You, Tan Line!

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.

No excuses

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.

A tan line on a woman's wrist

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.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.