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A woman sits happily under her umbrella with her friend Sunscreen, while SunTan lotion stands angrily in the sun

Sunscreen vs. Suntan Lotion: No Contest

It’s here again! Spring came! Along with it came the burning desire (no pun intended) to seek out the sun’s rays while enjoying time at the beach, backyard barbeques, and lounging poolside. If you’re anything like the old me, you are using every excuse to pull up the sleeves on your short sleeve shirts to let the sun’s light bathe your wintry pale shoulders. When you find yourself sitting outside for a few minutes, you might even be hiking up your pants legs to allow your legs and the sun to get reacquainted after their long separation. Pretty soon, if it hasn’t already happened, suntan lotion will be on your mind.

Let me stop you right there.

The old me and my love of suntan lotion

The old me would be standing right beside you in Wal-mart perusing the suntan lotion display while trying to decide between “dark” and “ultra-dark” or “intensifiers” and “enhancers.” Together we would go for the darkest one–and why not? Go big or go home, right? We would be all set for weekends spent outdoors and vacations in the glaring sun as we encouraged those ultraviolet rays to do their thing.

That was the old me, though. The new me has her sights set on a new lotion–sunscreen.

The new me is focused on sunscreen and prevention

The new me is battling skin cancer due to the decisions made by the old me. The new me reaches for sunscreen–not suntan lotion. The only thing I am intensifying is my desire to lower my chances of having more biopsies, more cryosurgery, and more rounds of Efudex. Likewise, I’m enhancing my life by cutting my risk for developing more skin cancers. As for the “dark” or “ultra-dark” question? Well, that’s a no-brainer at this point. The new me is much more worried about whether or not my skin is healthy.

The mistakes of my past

Prior to 2007, when I was diagnosed with melanoma, I only knew of one sun-related lotion. I was well-versed in any lotion that boasted it yielded the deepest and darkest tans. I knew the brands, the scents, and precisely the ones that would make me really feel the burn. (Gosh, that sounds idiotic to me now.) Making sure I tried each and every one was at the top of my list. My local tanning salon offered samples for just a dollar, and I was hellbent to try them all. Those were suntan lotions–not to be confused in any way with sunscreens. I have heard more people than I care to count refer to sunscreen as suntan lotion, but the two products couldn’t be more different.

Look at all the options!

Sunscreens on the shelf

Looking at the array of lotions available when spring rolls around, I can completely see where confusion might occur. Both suntan lotions and sunscreens are sold together on the same shelves in many stores. (You have to wonder if that’s the wisest decision.) I have to sort my way through countless bottles of accelerators to find blockers. Not only can this cause confusion for some folks, but for people like me who were full-on addicted to tanning, sifting past the enticing, tropical-scented suntan lotions can be frustrating and awfully tempting. Don’t get me wrong, I always opt for the sunscreen now, but it never really gets any easier to grab a bottle of 50 SPF over the bottle of coconut-scented suntan lotion that’s ever-so-gently whispering my name.

Nope. I’ll let the old me have the suntan lotion. It’s going to be sunscreen every time for the new me.

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.

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