Adventures in SPF

My family went on summer vacation every year, or at least every year that I can remember, to a lake in the mountains of Vermont.  We are lake people, and mountain people.  We set up chairs by the dock under the shade of overhanging trees, and swam in t-shirts to protect freckled shoulders.  My father’s ancestors hail from Scotland and Germany, while my mother’s side long long ago came from Holland, and Scotland also.   Sunscreen is a topic of conversation for us.

As a kid, I balked against the gloopy lotion, but daily spf is now part of my routine.  It is pretty easy these days with many lotions and makeups already containing some level of protection.  However, as a person of pale complexion, it is amazing how many events involve sunscreen…

As a high school student, I lived in Germany for several months as part of language exchange program.  One afternoon while heading out for a day of volleyball in a local park, some friends noticed me putting on sunscreen.  I was vigorously applying SPF sport “50.”  50?! they questioned me, why is the number so high?  I tried to explain in my basic German, but at that point I had not yet learned the words for “pale” or “trying to avoid blistering sunburn.”  So when they finally supplied an explanation – that Americans use fahrenheit, and Europeans use celsius – I just went with it.

Recently in preparation for my outdoor wedding, I went to Sephora in search of the perfect primer/foundation/powder finish for the big day.  The sales associate began telling me that my usual foundation contained a stronger spf that some people think can look odd in flash photos.  I stopped her right there, and told her that no matter what the result of the photos, standing outside for several hours naked-faced was not an option.

As annoying as it is to be that person hidden behind the big floppy hat, or wandering the beach sunscreen in hand, asking “can you just get my back?” it is worth it to avoid the short-term burns and long-term damage from sun.  My sister, back from a recent trip, lamented that she had not been prepared for so much beach action.  We commiserated, that indeed, it requires some warning to take on a serious multi day beach stay.  You have to pack enough sunscreen, and a hat, and some cute shirts to wear at the beach.  When I met my  now-husband, a beach devotee, I got serious and purchased a beach umbrella.

The best way to avoid burns, at least the method that has worked for me over the past few years, is reapplying sunscreen over and over (and over) again while outdoors. I’ve heard a rumor that anything over 30 spf  does not actually provide much more protection.  It may be true, it may not.  I’m still drawn to the 50 or even the new 95 spf that beckons with the promise of sand and waves from the pharmacy shelves.  Because, why even take the chance?

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