A woman with a worried expression puts her hand on her arm.

"You're So Tan" No Longer a Compliment

“You’re so tan,” said a friend who hadn’t seen me for a while. “Thanks,” I answered, “but I’m not supposed to be this way.” Her words would have been a compliment back in the days when I spent hours at the beach, turning myself over and over to try to even out my front and back. But I now know that being tan means I did something wrong.

I protect myself, but I still get tan

Since I actually protect myself in the right ways, by applying sunscreen and wearing clothes that cover me, the answer lies in the time I spend outside. It’s so hard though, especially in light of the novel coronavirus. Exercise makes me feel good, and the outdoors is the only place I can do it safely. I like running, tennis, biking, and walking so much that it’s hard to cut back. Summer is nearing its end, so the problem is going to solve itself. But there are, I'm sure, still, some warm days left and I’m going to have to change a few things.

So let's talk about tanning

I could tell you off the top of my head (where I actually had skin cancer) what is wrong with tanning. But to be official, here is what the Skin Cancer Foundation says: “While often associated with good health, the ‘glow’ of a tan is the very opposite of healthy; it’s evidence of DNA injury to your skin. Tanning damages your skin cells and speeds up visible signs of aging. Worst of all, tanning can lead to skin cancer.”

I try my best to protect myself

After having skin cancer so many times – one basal and the rest squamous cell – I almost always put on sunscreen. Occasionally I go out without it, but if I do, it’s for a short time. I wear UPF clothing, but obviously, that doesn’t cover my face. On super hot summer days, I did decide to alternate covering either my arms or legs. That’s because when I wore long leggings and a long-sleeved shirt, I was sweltering. So on one day for tennis, I might wear long pants and a short-sleeved shirt, while on another day I would wear a long-sleeved shirt and a tennis skirt with no long pants under it.

Covering can be key

The stiffer fabric on my short-sleeved polo shirt actually works better for covering my neck than that made for sun protection. The collar stands up as opposed to flopping down like the one on the Solbari shirts that I wear. I got those two short-sleeved shirts a while back at one of the department stores. They were inexpensive and nothing fancy. Think LaCoste, minus the alligator.

How did I get tan?

If I’ve been so careful, how did I get so tan? First of all, you’re supposed to exercise either early or later in the day. But some of my tennis groups start at 9 or 9:30, and we play for an hour and a half or two. I go to a tennis clinic, or group lesson, that sometimes lasts until 1. I could leave early, but I hardly ever do.

Finding ways to make it work

Today I figured out one thing to do, or rather, not to do. I’m a crazy exerciser and sometimes go from my morning game to the tennis clinic about 30 miles away. The doubles is fun but not always a lot of exercise. The clinic started at 10:30 but people wander in, and I thought of going. Yet I held myself back.

I made an accommodation

I ended up getting even more sun when I went home and walked the dog. But at least I was wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and at least part of the walk was in the shade around a lake. We all have to make accommodations to be sure that we're well-protected from the sun, but we can't let it stop us from doing the things we love.

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