… Sunscreen

It’s December and it’s -5 outside. As snowflakes slop against the window, it’s only natural that my thoughts turn to sunnier and warmer climes. I imagine myself, richly bronzed, sprawled on pure white sand, stuffing freshly machete-ed coconut chunks into my mouth, drinking cocktails and gazing longingly at crystal clear water…

… and then I remember what really happened to me last time I was actually sitting on a Caribbean beach. I wasn’t bronzed. I was red, roasting, my flesh the colour of freshly boiled lobster. And I wasn’t eating coconuts and drinking cocktails either. I was drinking 20-cent rum from a carton and slapping the sand flies away from my ankles with ferocious whacks. But that’s another story.

When you’ve had the misfortune to be born with pasty, white English skin, you get to become good friends with sunscreen. Holidays to me mean walking around looking like I’ve dipped myself in lard, smelling of toxic coconut and creating an oil slick reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez disaster every time I shower.

Sunscreen has been around in some form or other since ancient times. The Egyptians thought that pale was beautiful and went to great lengths to protect themselves from the sun, lathering themselves in rice bran extracts and jasmine extracts. Today’s sunscreens are a complex mix of nasty chemicals and contain compounds that absorb ultraviolet (UV) light and particles that reflect and scatter it. They work by absorbing and dissipating the sun’s harmful UV rays so your skin doesn’t have to.

Liesbeth van Amsterdammer begins to ponder if it was a good idea to buy that lifetime discount card for the local tanning salon…

It wasn’t until the late 1930s that sunscreen became commercially available. The first widely used product, Red Vet Pet, was a red, sticky substance that didn’t work very well. Sales boomed when Coppertone acquired the patent and improved the product in the early 1950s. In 1962, the concept of sun protection factor (SPF) was introduced and became a worldwide standard for measuring the effectiveness of sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the more protection a sunscreen offers. Using a SPF 50 sunscreen means, in theory, your skin will not burn until it has been exposed to 50 times the amount of solar energy that would normally cause it to burn. There’s much debate of the safety of sunscreen and their toxic elements as there are no studies on the effects on long term use. However, most people are of the opinion that using sunscreens outweigh the dangers of the sun.

With that, I’ll go back to dreaming of the Caribbean …

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