I don’t do well in the sun. This is because my Nordic heritage makes me one step removed from being declared an albino. I don’t tan, never have. Instead I turn different shades of a hue I like to call fish-belly white.
Most of the time my fair skin isn’t a problem. I wear a hat and long sleeves and largely stay out of the sun. During a summer like this one, though, with day after day of sunny hot weather, it’s a challenge.
Sunscreen you say? Here’s the rub. I developed an allergy to most sunscreen products a few years ago. Every year I try a different one, only to develop yet another rash that takes days to clear up. So I’m left to don a shirt and hat even when I’m at a water park with my granddaughter or kayaking on Whitefish Lake.
When the conversation in the newsroom turned to SPF (sun protection factor) the other day and how much is enough, it brought back painful memories of my younger years. These days parents slather up their kids with waterproof sunscreen with 50-plus SPF and turn them loose.
Sunscreen was commercially available when I was a kid. Coppertone was the go-to sunscreen starting in the early 1950s, but it wasn’t something my mother ever bought. If we were going to sit out on the tractor all day, we were advised to wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and a hat.
My fair-skinned brothers and I were prone to sunburn and inevitably we’d turn lobster-red after a summer afternoon spent bike-riding or swimming. My mother’s only remedy was to treat our pink skin with a vinegar rub, which made it sting even more.
I was a complete idiot in college when I decided one day to sunbathe with one of my roommates who already was sporting quite a tan. We laid out in the sun for close to two hours on one of those aluminum foil reflectors popular in the mid-’70s. All we need is some baby oil, my roommate assured me.
Afterward, I began suffering symptoms of a heat stroke and became disoriented when I was talking on the phone to my mom. To her credit, she recognized my distress and quickly drove the 30 miles to pick me up and haul me to the ER. My back blistered and I was in pain. To make matters worse, I hopped on a plane to Europe a couple of days later and was miserable during the entire flight.
It was a lesson learned the hard way.
These days there doesn’t seem to be as much pressure to get the perfect tan, though tanning beds are still popular and self-tanning sprays can give a person an impromptu bronzed appearance.
I ran across a Popular Science article that detailed some of the earliest means of achieving a tan. In 1938 sunbathers at Willow Lake, California, sprayed milk on themselves to expedite the tanning process, using a motor-driven atomizer to spritz the milk concoction, the article said. That same year Popular Science wrote about a rotating tent that let sunbathers follow the sun’s movement.
The coin-operated tanning lamp was introduced by General Electric in 1950 so you could “toast your face while you waited at the doctor’s office, at restaurants and even at railroad stations,” the magazine noted.
By 1970 sun worshipers could buy a do-it-your-self kit to make an aluminum bowl big enough for the entire family! And here’s one more interesting tidbit: the earliest sunscreen had an SPF of only 2.
Sunshine is a glorious thing. There’s no better feeling than tipping your face upward and soaking up the warmth and light. It’s good for the soul, so I sneak in a ray or two. But most of the time, you’ll find me in the shade.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.