A friend of mine who is a plastic surgeon once told me that there are really only three things you need to know about antiaging skincare:
(Thanks Doc—you know who you are!)
How I would have scoffed at this tongue-in-cheek joke in the 1980s and 90s! As a teen and young adult I sought the sun like those big iguanas you see in Mexico or Jamaica—always wanted to warm myself and thought it was required for my existence. Admittedly, I took sun worshipping way too far:
All of this was pretty great until I was about 17, and a shiny weird bump popped up on my arm, near my left elbow. My doctor said something to the effect of “you’re young, it’ll probably go away.” I had it for years, and it changed. It got a little flatter, with a little bit of a brown margin around the edge.
In my early thirties I saw a dermatologist for the first time, for a completely different reason. He saw that bump and immediately said—“that’s gotta come off. We need to biopsy it.” Part of his reaction was because on my new patient paperwork, I’d divulged that my father had had melanoma, also known as skin cancer. The melanoma was surgically removed from his face and neck…twice. Due to that family history, I got a special sticker on my file folder at the derm’s office, and anything suspicious was treated with exceptional scrutiny. Needless to say, I was immensely relieved when that biopsy came back negative—meaning that it was a squamous cell tumor but it was benign.
After that I got real serious about sunscreen every day of the year and doing other things like wearing hats to shade my face, and sometimes a long-sleeved white shirt when I was outside. I still have a lot of fun in the sun in short bursts (bike rides, dog walks, a short walk on the beach here or there).
However, in the same way that I try to put better food in my body than I did as a teenager, I now put better products on my skin. Baby oil and SPF 4 have given way to Cyantific Skin Care and SPF 30 in the same way that triple fudge brownies and pizza have given way to bananas and kale for me. There are definitely some effects from my sun goddess days that I won’t be able to undo (freckles on my back and shoulders, wrinkles, etc.). But just like healthy eating, it’s never too late to start protecting your skin from the sun, using sunscreen and whatever other measures make sense. The benefits are immediate.Or, you can just learn to love the shade.