Eighties Dad trying to get his burned feet into his shoes

Sandcastles, Sunburns, and Sermons

Last updated: October 2019

Flashback to the summer of 1985: the Florida sun is bright, the beach is calling, and our family vacation is in full swing. My sister and I are spending the entire day basking in the sun, shell-hunting, and building our own versions of sandcastles. From early morning until late afternoon, we are making the most of our time in the Sunshine State. Unfortunately, we know not what we are doing.

Realizing a little too late

As we gather our gear and head indoors, we begin to feel it--the burn. Our shoulders, our faces, our arms, and the tops of our thighs are bright red, tightening, and stinging with every move we make. Showering is excruciatingly painful and bedtime can’t get here soon enough. When it does, we both realize that finding a comfortable position is almost impossible. The heat from our sunburn warms our pajamas and the sheets beneath us until we begin to feel sweaty as we fight to fall asleep. Throughout the night, we wake periodically attempting to change positions, and the pain hits us over and over like little bolts of lightning.

It was different back then

Did we have sunscreen with us on that family vacation? Yes, we did. Did we use it? Absolutely. Did we reapply often and avoid exposure during the hottest part of the day? Not a chance. It was 1985, suntans were much more common than sunscreen use, and my sister and father and I were fair-skinned beach amateurs. While my sister and I blistered and began to peel before we ever made it home to Tennessee, my father battled to put shoes on his sunburned feet. Swollen and purple, his feet bore the results of having been exposed most of the day just beyond the shade of the umbrella. The rest of our beach time on that summer trip was limited to late evening with lots of sitting and some slow, short walks.

First signs of sun damage

That was my first sunburn, and I was 11 years old at the time. I remember peeling flecks of dead skin from my face and shoulders for weeks following that vacation. In 1985, we weren’t concerned about sunburns. Sunburns led to tans--yeah, right. That one day on the beach left in its wake large patches of freckles covering my shoulders and upper back. It was instant sun damage--damage to which I would continue to contribute until my melanoma diagnosis in 2007.

Evolution of sun damage

I’ve come a long way from the sunburned tween who was more than a little proud to have reddish skin that threatened to turn tan for a couple of days before fading. During junior high, I sought the sun each summer afternoon and used baby oil to help the frying along. As a college student, I turned to tanning beds and remained faithful to the damage they inflicted for 15 years. With an abundance of reasons for my sun damage, I vowed in 2007 to steer clear of the sun when possible. I tossed my suntan lotions and started researching the best sunscreens.

My daughter's turn

Life came full circle this summer. As a mom, I have preached sermons worthy of any mount on the dangers of sunburn. After all, I know whereof I speak. This summer, after my usual speech about reapplying sunscreen and taking breaks in the shade, I saw my 17-year-old daughter off for a day with friends at a local pool. Both of my children have been patient to a fault with my sunscreen talks, and they have never balked when I insist they wear and reapply sunscreen on outings. On this day, however, my daughter met up with her first real sunburn. Did she wear sunscreen? Yes. Did she reapply? Yes, she did. Did she reapply often enough to be effective? No, she didn’t. Like most teenagers, time got away from her, and sunscreen was the last thing on her mind.

A different history

Unlike me, my daughter’s had 16 years of sun-safe behavior behind her. Tanning isn’t on her radar, and sunscreen is part of her vocabulary. Also unlike me, she isn’t at all intrigued by the change in her skin. In fact, she asked for aloe and faithfully applied it to cut the sting and keep her peeling skin moist. Hopefully, this is the one and only sunburn either of my children will endure over the years. It’s rare for me to be able to say that my children fall behind me in any arena these days. I can say, however, that they are far behind me in the sun damage department. For that, I am thankful.

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