I was pale, vulnerable, innocent. He made me feel warm, happy, carefree. I couldn’t get enough of him: I wanted more and more and even when I held back I was thinking of him, yearning for him. He covered me in light-filled caresses; I thought I was in heaven. Then one day, suddenly – or so I thought – he became nasty. He burned me, again and again. Over time I thought I had toughened up, that I could cope and still be in love and he would love me back and care for me forever. But this did not happen. It was a violent and ultimately unrequited love. He did not love me the way I wanted or needed…
I have always been a sun lover. Not the kind who oils up with Reef oil and lies naked in the backyard, rotating periodically like a spit roast, but the kind who really loves the feeling of being in the sun. Outdoors, having fun, feeling warm and happy. Unfortunately having a familial heritage which encompasses Irish, Dutch and Danish blood does not make for a skin that the sun loves in return. I am not porcelain but I am very fair and, in the Australian sun, very vulnerable. This vulnerability recently morphed into something potentially more sinister. Well when I say ‘recently’ it all began in 2006 … or most probably it began when I was a teenager at school, rolling my school-dress to my thighs at lunchtime to tan my legs, unbuttoning my top buttons to bronze my adolescent décolleté. This very same décolleté developed a skin cancer at the mere age of 26. A Basal Cell Carcinoma, it is considered the ‘garden variety’ (to use my doctor’s words) of skin cancers as it is the most common and least dangerous of all the skin cancers.
And yet. I had the cancer surgically removed with a local anaesthetic: after the stitches came out it scarred badly, but I was happy it was gone. The idea of having a cancer, no matter how harmless, was an unsettling one and at night I could almost tangibly feel it sitting there and not belonging there, eating away at my skin as BCCs (Basal Cell Carcinomas) are want to do.
Little did I know that the BCC grew back almost immediately: I did not notice at first (well for almost four years to be honest) because of the uneven keloid scar. I thought the small changes to the appearance of the skin (a pearlescent, slightly dimpled sheen) were simply due to the scar tissue. I only went to the doctor about it after it started bleeding and scabbing without fully healing – even then I thought it was because the scar had reacted badly to the retinol-infused moisturiser I was using over the area at the time. However I was not at all surprised when the doctor told me my unfortunate friend the BCC had returned and in fact was not more than twice the size of the original. To be honest, deep down, I knew; I had known all along. Beauties, please take note here – listen to and trust your gut instinct!
So, now I am booked in for surgery again, but this time it is under a general anaesthetic and I need a skin graft because the area they need to cut out is almost a perfect, large circle and cannot be stitched together like a neat zip, unlike last time. The size of the skin in need of grafting (from my fleshy thigh, bottom or groin) is about 3-4cm in diametre, so it is not petite. The funny thing is, even though it is a garden variety skin cancer, even though it cannot kill or spread like grassfire through your nodes, I am feeling very nervous. Just like in 2006 I can feel it sitting there, living off my skin. Sometimes I want to reach in and just scratch it right out myself – I cannot stand having it there.
I am also certain now that my prolonged silliness – in regards to applying sunscreen religiously to my face and neck but not my oft-revealed chest – has come back to haunt me. The vain side of me has sadly kicked in too – I should be worried about my health, glad that this is being dealt with. Yet I seem to be equally worried about the scar from the graft. On my nowhere-to-hide décolleté, and on my swimsuit-in-summer thigh. I keep thinking, sheesh, here I am, only just 30 years old and already my body is failing me! Or to be more precise, I am failing it. Dear Body, I am so sorry!
I am lucky – touch wood but there are no melanomas or similarly scary skin cancers. And yet. I feel so young but my unrequited love for the sun is harassing me now more than ever. The point of this story is not that I am having a woe-me moment (though I confess there may be a little bit of that). The point is that we should be wearing high-quality sunscreens AND staying out of the sun. I don’t mean never go into the sun. I mean if you are outdoors for hours on end or even one hour, wear a hat, wear long-sleeves, sit under a tree or umbrella. I mean wear sunscreen every single day on the parts of you that do peep out and tease that seductive sun on a regular basis: the décolleté, the neck, the backs of hands and wrists, and of course the face. And I mean pick a good sunscreen – not all sunscreens are created equal. Use a reputable brand or one supported by your local skin cancer council. Pick one whose active ingredients are a combination of chemical and physical (zinc and titanium dioxide) sunscreens and which is spf 30 or higher.
For more information have a look at the informative write-up on Life.Beauty.Laughter and visit Cancer Council Australia. Also note that the Cancer Council recommends that you apply the equivalent of at least a teaspoon of sunscreen for each limb, front and back of the body and half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears.
Now, I might not be the best advocate for sunscreen, considering what I just wrote. But here are a few sunscreens I use and trust. Just remember that a sunscreen is not a get out of jail free card – be practical and think about the strength of the sun, in Australia particularly, and know that sunscreen helps, but is not the be all and end all. Did I mention hats are super stylish and sexy?
Becca Mineral SPF 30+ Primer. An all-zinc (physical blocker) sunscreen for the face. sunscreens composed of all zinc and/or all titanium dioxide are great if you are allergic or sensitive to chemical sunscreens. For example I cannot wear many chemical sunscreens on my face as they irritate my eyes, even if not applied directly underneath them. From Adore Beauty and Becca.
Invisible Zinc ESP Environmental Skin Protector SPF 30+ and Tinted Daywear Anti-Aging Facial Moisturising Sunscreen SPF 30+. Two more sunscreens for the face which use zinc as the only sunscreen ingredient. The Tinted Daywear applies thickly but protects and nourishes beautifully and does not clog pores if removed properly. The Environmental Skin Protector is thinner in consistency and colour-free. From Adore Beauty, Invisible Zinc and most pharmacies and department stores.
Ultraceuticals Protective Moisturiser SPF 30+. A mix of physical and chemical sunscreens this facial product is beautifully hydrating without being too cloying, and applies evenly. From Adore Beauty and David Jones stores.
Hamilton Quadblock SPF 30+ Sunscreen Lotion. This mega sunscreen is for those long days picnicking in the park, cooling off at the beach, sipping G&Ts on a yacht. I grew up with Hamilton – my mother always used the green-packaged Family Sunscreen range. Hamilton is an innovative, trusted company which specialises in sunscreen protection; for more information see the Hamilton website. From most pharmacies.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Spray SPF 30+. This is a new addition to my sunscreen arsenal. It is surprising how it is often the little things which stop you from applying sunscreen when you should. For me it is a dislike for rubbing in thick white creams after dressing as I end up with cream-tainted should straps and necklines. This product makes it so easy – just spray on evenly (make sure you apply enough), wait the obligatory 20 minute before meeting the sun and you’re set. It also leaves a sexy sheen to the skin. See the Neutrogena site for more information. From most supermarkets and pharmacies.
PS my surgery is booked for late next week; I’ll write about it soon after no doubt. x