I *Really* Hate Wearing Sunblock (But I Also Really Hate Skin Cancer)
Life's full of tough choices, innit?
There is nothing I hate more than the feeling of sunblock on my skin. It always seems so goopy, especially if I use the massive “shot glass” amount they always recommend. It’s bad enough to feel like I’m swathed in grease; I also always feel sticky, like I’m suddenly attracting all the grit and grime of the world.
No, wait, there is one thing I hate more than the feeling of sunblock:
Skin cancer, which is what I would probably have if I didn’t wear sunscreen religiously.
I’ve always had very fair skin. In fact, back when I still had hair, it was red — well, it was really more of a cool auburn color. A boyfriend once romantically said it was the color of autumn leaves.
All through my teens and early twenties, I was also a lifeguard. And this was back in the era when sunblock was called “suntan lotion.” It was just as annoying on your skin, it killed coral reefs, and it barely blocked any sun.
In other words, I’m at a high risk for skin cancer — or at least I was before I started smearing myself with greasy concoctions every time I ventured tentatively out, Dracula-like, into the deadly waiting sun.
These days, the labels on sunscreens always say, “Non-greasy!” And, “Doesn’t clog pores!” And, “Won’t burn your eyes!”
None of this is ever remotely true, especially if you reapply it every three hours like they also recommend.
Clearly, the day I was born, an evil fairy declared, “This child shall never tan, and shall burn even in the glare of a high-wattage light bulb! But he shall also live in a time when the labels of all American sunscreen brands massively over-promise on what they actually deliver.”
At this, I suspect even the other evil fairies shifted awkwardly, and one leaned in to say to the first fairy, “Dude. Really?”
And at this, that first evil fairy scowled and said, “Oh, you think that’s too much, do you? Well, now he’s also going to start losing his cool auburn hair at the age of twenty-one! Now are we done here, or am I going to have to curse him to want to become a writer too?”
But at some point, a good fairy lingering nearby must have taken mercy on me and muttered under her breath, “But let him live in an era where apricot facial scrub is cheap and widely available.”
Seriously, those facial scrubs are the only thing that ever gives me any relief at the end of the day. The one part of the sunblock label that really is accurate is when they say the stuff is waterproof — even in the shower.
And the spray-on sunblock isn't quite as awful as the goopy stuff, so sometimes I wear that instead. They say it doesn’t work as well, but hey, the “best” sunscreen is the stuff you actually use, right? (No, I don’t inhale the fumes.)
There are certain ideas about sunscreen that make me ninety percent certain that the whole thing is a scam — even apart from those infuriating directives about needing to wear a whole shot glass full of sunblock, and having to reapply the damn stuff every three hours.
For example, they tell us:
A sunblock with an SPF 15 blocks 93% of the ultraviolet radiation, and a SPF 100 blocks 99% of the radiation, and yeah, this math makes total sense.
You need to wear sunblock all the time, even late in the afternoon, even in winter, as the curvature of the Earth doesn’t block the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
You also need to wear sunblock even when it’s cloudy as clouds do not block the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
There are two kinds of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, and if your sunblock is only blocking one of them, you’re screwed, but in different ways. Oh, and the damage from one of these rays is invisible, and you won’t even know you have it until decades later. Booyah!
Since I wrote the above sentence, I have learned there is actually a third kind of ultraviolet radiation, UVC. And once we find a way to block that, we’ll probably quickly discover a fourth ultraviolet radiation, QVC, which, yes, does age you prematurely, but it also allows you to divide the payment for your treatment into five EasyPay™ payments.
You need to wear a full shot glass of sunblock, reapplied every three hours, but you also need to cover all exposed skin with at least three other layers of protection from the sun. In other words, if you really want to avoid skin cancer, you have no choice but to end up like poor Edith from Downton Abbey.
It’s like the sunblock industrial complex is just daring us to say, “Oh, come on. You really expect us to believe all this nonsense?”
On the other hand, there are a couple things I know for sure:
I used to get really bad sunburns, and now that I wear sunscreen religiously, I don’t.
Michael lived in sun-stricken Australia in his early twenties, he didn’t wear sunblock, and in his fifties, he got skin cancer — not melanoma, thank God, but still.
So there you have it. As much as I absolutely hate wearing sunblock, I am fairly certain I would hate skin cancer even more.
But until the day I die, a small part of me will never stop thinking that all the stuff about SPF-whatever, and shot glasses full of sunblock, and getting sunburns even on cloudy days, is still total bullshit.
Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author. Check out my new newsletter about my books and movies at www.BrentHartinger.com.