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Teens And Tanning: A Mom’s Story About the Risks of Tanning

Today my face is puffy, red, and molting.  Since I can’t join the others in the sun while in this less-than-ideal state, I’m indoors reflecting on how I got here.

During this past decade, my conversations with friends have deteriorated into boasting sessions of past sun-worshipping exploits such as “I used to lie on a lounge chair and construct aluminum foil reflectors around myself.” I would chime in with my usual line of, “I used to lie directly on the Equator for a month every year,” and the boasting ceased.

Then we’d all chorus solemnly: “We didn’t know it was bad for us.” This refrain sounded alarmingly similar to my parents’ explanation for their cigarette habit.

Okay, I embellished a bit. Peru is not exactly on the equator. Each year, my family would leave the chill of Ohio winters and the dreariness of school for a month-long reunion of my American and Peruvian relatives. Our responsibilities were few, with only one activity on our daily agenda: Yes, life was a beach!

Each day our large clan headed out to our favorite ocean destination. From our respectable plot of sandy real estate, I’d mentally schedule my allotment of two ice creams per day as I watched the ice cream men carry shoulder bag coolers up and down the shore. Under these “difficult” circumstances, I worked on my tan.

We followed our beach excursions with a leisurely lunch banquet on my grandmother’s patio that overlooked her garden. From here, I put on a light “second coat” to my tan. The cycle of burning, peeling, freckling and tanning had begun. Such was my life for the next 30 days, culminating in my own personal holiday, which I affectionately refer to as “Re-Entry Day.”

Re-Entry Day was held annually. This was the day when I returned to school with highlighted hair and light clothing to accent my tan. Teachers and students stared in awe.

“Did you go to Florida?” the new kids would inevitably ask.

“No, Peru — I go every year,” I’d answer nonchalantly.

The attention was intoxicating. I could swear at the time that my sun-deprived friends were throwing confetti to celebrate my return and my new look.

Unfortunately, I realized too late the heavy price for all of those Re-Entry Days. My mother and brother have had melanoma and basal cell carcinoma, respectively. Both cases were thankfully caught early. My diligent preparation for Re-Entry Day and family history render me at high-risk for skin cancer. No doubt my skin is less firm, less even-toned and more wrinkled because of my annual pilgrimages.

I began to repent, and I did what any converted sinner does: I turned to my daughters to make it right.

My kids know that a beach day is a sunscreen day. For years, I beamed with pride as I returned from family vacations with my four pale daughters. Still, I was convinced that they could do even better. I shared with them skin cancer findings, our family history, and the beauty advantages of wearing sunscreen every day. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t close the sale.

My teenagers are not afraid of skin cancer, and they are certainly not interested in a prescription for looking younger. They remain occasional sun-screeners at best, so I instituted an important precaution — annual visits to the dermatologist for a total body check.

Then, as part of my personal repentance, I turned to science. Today my face is puffy, red, and molting, but I am not sunburned. I’ve just had Fraxel Laser Treatment to lighten my sun spots, decrease the appearance of wrinkles, and possibly reduce the risk of skin cancer. The subtle results should be clear when I return for my follow-up appointment at the dermatologist’s office in a month. In 30 days, I will experience a new kind of Re-Entry Day. Certainly, I am hopeful that the treatment will meet my expectations, but I don’t imagine that the nurses will be throwing any confetti!

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