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a woman checking her mail considers allowing herself to go without sunscreen

Sunscreen-1, Midlife Crisis-0

The summer of 2019 was–and remains in sweltering southwest Tennessee–a difficult one for this skin cancer patient. I’ve been debating about chalking it up to a seven-year-itch type situation. It’s quite possible that it’s actually more akin to a midlife crisis kind of thing. I’m at year 12 post-tanning, and I think I hit rock bottom this summer. I definitely hope that’s the case anyway.

Two steps back

Putting it simply and throwing it right out there for all to see–I almost caved and went without sunscreen. To put the proverbial icing on the cake, I actually bought this former tanner’s gateway drug–self-tanner. After all the preaching I have done about staying pale and being sun-smart, I came stupidly close to throwing caution to the wind and allowing myself to just get a little color on my pale skin. It has to be a midlife crisis thing, right? Twelve years of taking extra precautions to avoid the sun, hoarding sunscreen, and planning vacations around shady activities has finally taken a toll on my nerves. Turning 45 this spring just couldn’t have played a huge role in my dilemma, now could it?

My inner tanning fiend

I felt it all coming on in the spring right around the time of my birthday. March and April were traditionally the months when my tanning revved into high gear. I can remember thinking as I walked to the mailbox one Saturday afternoon that the sun really felt nice on my arms and face. Follow that up with a sudden moment of panic because I had yet to put on my daily sunscreen. Then, out of nowhere, this tiny but powerful thought began to slowly shove the panic over to the side and whisper, “…but what if you just didn’t wear it? Won’t you be fine? A little tan won’t hurt anything.”

The shame in feeling weak

I am smarter than this…really, I am. Darn midlife crisis. Darn basal cell carcinomas and blasted melanoma. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider storing the sunscreen at least for the spring months and letting what happened happen. I wouldn’t be intentional with the sun exposure, but I wouldn’t exactly prevent it either. I know! I’m shaking my head as I type this. These are not my proudest moments, nor are they my most rational.

Routine wins out

Over the next couple of days, I debated with that little voice, and I wore my sunscreen anyway. It really is just too easy to do when you’ve made it a part of your daily routine. There’s no good reason to go without it, after all. I did, however, find myself wandering into the self-tanner section of Ulta one afternoon following, of all things, an appointment with my dermatologist. Thirty minutes later, I’m sitting in the car looking at a tube of self-tanner–something I hadn’t purchased in over a decade. I stared at the bright orange tube not quite knowing what to make of it. I remembered self-tanner as something that never yielded the results I wanted and as something more than a little difficult to apply evenly. (I was quickly getting over my desire for bronze skin.)

I hung in there, y’all

Fast forward past a weeklong vacation to Disneyworld and a summer of yard work. My skin is still pale, and when I get the least bit chilly in the grocery store, it turns a sickly shade of purple with the oddest white spots. You know what else? That orange tube of self-tanner is still sitting in my bathroom in a basket next to my sunscreen. I never used a drop. I admit I smelled it a time or two just for kicks. It was a difficult summer–the summer of 2019, and it almost got the best of me. For now, I feel safe in saying I won this round with the dreaded midlife crisis. I know for a fact, though, I logged one more victory for sun-safety.

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


  • justcallmepaleface
    3 months ago

    April, I am a Fluor-5 newbie on day 11 and I am already eternally grateful for what you have freely shared of your journey. They say that one’s mind can be a dangerous neighborhood, so don’t go there alone. So comforting to allow us to share your pictures, observations and most importantly inner thoughts.

  • April Pulliam moderator author
    3 months ago

    @justcallmepaleface…thank you so much for your kind words. While sharing those very first photos a few years ago was difficult, I knew I needed to do it for myself and for anyone who hasn’t been warned about tanning and sun worshipping.

    Efudex is a terribly trying road and isn’t usually described fully by doctors. I hope you are moving through it quickly with few side effects. It’s hard to say exactly what to watch for because we are all very different in our reactions.

    Here are couple articles that might come in handy since you’re in the middle of a course of treatment. If you’ve been perusing our site, you may have already come across them.

    I’m keeping you in my thoughts these next few weeks and as you enter the healing phase. Stay strong. It definitely gets better! Don’t hesitate to reach out to us! Please keep us posted on your progress. Hugs, April,, Moderator

  • April Pulliam moderator author
    3 months ago

    @justcallmepaleface…you ask all the questions you like. We are here for all of them.

    I totally get the random Botox thoughts. Efudex will make you reevaluate a lot of life choices without a doubt.

    As far as the crusted patches…from my experience, the entire treated area usually hardens and becomes red and painful. Within that area, however, there are darker patches that scab over first. It’s my understanding that those are the precancerous spots that have been drawn to the surface. They will generally be the first to peel away when your healing begins.

    Some people only experience crustiness in targeted areas and the entire treated area never becomes as sore.

    The first time I treated I did my chest. It was a nightmare. My whole chest was on fire. I did have spots that reacted more severely within that area though. The next year I treated the same area as I had more spots show up in the interim. I had very little reaction overall with a few spots scabbing over and peeling easily after just three weeks.

    It sounds quite possible that you may not have as many precancerous spots on your forehead as the rest of your face. That’s a good thing. Keep being diligent with sunscreen on your face after treatment and you can hopefully minimize further damage.

    If you haven’t already run across the Facebook group for Efudex users, I encourage you to join it. It’s a fabulous place to share and vent. There are so many others out there like us who need support but don’t know where to find it. You can find it by searching on Facebook for “fluorouracil: Also Known as Efudex.”

    Hang in there and don’t think they any question is too random!
    April,, Moderator

  • justcallmepaleface
    3 months ago

    One question if I may… will the crusting and oozing only occur in those spots where the AK exists or will they be fairly uniform over the entire treated area? I ask because most all the AK’s previously frozen were on my forehead. The Efudex has not affected it anywhere near as much as my cheeks.
    PS: Botox my entire face was a reoccurring thought at 2am this morning…lol

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