As the daughter of a physician, I learned early the hazards of a sunburn.
Family trips to the beach started off with my father’s squeezing half a bottle of coconut-scented SPF 15 into his palm then slathering it all over my face and shoulders, then my little brother’s, as we reluctantly stood still for the application, eyes closed tight. Then we would grab our boogie boards and fly into the ocean, goop-covered goblins.
I should have known better, then, that sunning in a thin coat of baby oil was, well, stupid. Still, I must have done it at least a dozen times, probably more, when I was a teenage tan-monger. My friend Melissa and I would crank up the XTC, maybe Cheap Trick or ABBA, and burn until crisp, like Zankou chickens.
We liked the results. White T-shirts looked so much better against bronzed skin. So did the slightly frosted, light-pink lipstick we were fond of wearing. Never mind the days of unattractive peeling that followed, leaving us two- or three-toned. There were times when slipping on a bra or a pair of shorts was like torture, and no amount of lotion would help.
The only option was to lie in bed on the cool sheets or park on the living room couch and move as little as possible. My fair skin had turned to this spring’s must-have shade of pink. A Hawaiian Tropic model I am not. Maybe I was just born in the wrong century.
According to Vicki Rapaport, a dermatologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, “one sunburn is fine, but multiple sunburns can cause aging and skin cancer.” California and Florida, she adds, are the skin cancer capitals of the country.
So what can you do if that midafternoon garden project or trip to the Venice boardwalk leaves your skin scorched? I always found standing in front of an open freezer and letting the frosty air envelop me therapeutic, but my mom never appreciated this particular energy-zapping method.
Vera Kantor, owner of Vera Bella Skin Therapy in Beverly Hills, recommends aloe vera gel for her clients’ mild sunburns. “It’s been known for centuries that aloe vera can really reduce the burn,” she says. “It’s the cold effect. I also recommend cold yogurt, plain yogurt or kefir. A lot of Iranian or Armenian places have it. Or plain cold Yoplait, that reduces it too.” Note: That’s a topical application, not an oral dose.
The World Wide Web is rich in home remedies. One site suggests potato juice or an oatmeal pack; just cook some oatmeal, cool it in the fridge and slap it on the affected area. Kinky, and high in fiber.
Another suggests gently rubbing white vinegar over the burn or a whipped egg white combined with a teaspoon of castor oil. You’ll stink so much you’ll forget about the pain.
Indeed, distraction might be the most effective treatment. Watch a chilly flick: “The Ice Storm,” “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” “Nanook of the North,” “The Big Chill,” “Cool Runnings,” “Snow White,” “Doctor Zhivago” or “Ice Station Zebra.”
Trot out the Christmas albums. Nothing spells relief like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
How about planning a fall trip to Reykjavik, Iceland? In October, the city gets an average of two hours of sun each day. November, the number drops to one. Pretty hard to do more dermatological damage there. Who needs the Mauna Kea when there’s the Fosshotel Hofdi or the Center Hotel Klopp.
Of course, there’s always my freezer technique. Just be sure to look nonchalant, as if you’re debating between a Fudgsicle and an Otter Pop, when Mom appears.
Their place in the sun
Sharon Lawrence, actress
My worst sunburn happened when I was working on a cruise ship, right out of college. I was singing and dancing and didn’t spend a lot of time on deck. Still, I was around the sun more than I was used to. Another time I was on a catamaran. I burned the tops of my legs. Some of the freckles I have on my knees are from that burn. Fortunately, I don’t have too many sunburn stories. I grew up with zinc oxide all over my shoulders, nose and cheeks.
Monty Hall, game show host
I was sunburned as a youth. There was no such thing as sun block. We’d run off to Florida and put on pounds of cocoa butter, and when we blistered we wondered why. Now I wear sun block and a wide-brimmed hat when I play golf or tennis. I don’t understand people lying out on the beach saying to the sun, “Come get me.” Sometimes the sun does get you.
Melissa Rivers, actress
Back in the old days when I was an aggressive tanner, I looked forward to those peak tanning hours. I was one of those teenagers who laid out using baby oil. You think back and go, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ Now I wear 30 sunscreen and a big hat. I remember once burning the back of my legs. Everyone said to me: aloe, aloe, aloe. I had a girlfriend once who fell asleep with her hand on her stomach and got burnt. It left the perfect outline of a hand.
Leslee Komaiko can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.