Love the skin you're in

By: Alison Dunn Jun 15, 2010

I pretty much have a hate-hate relationship with my skin.

I'm pale, I'm freckled, I have an inordinate number of moles and I still don't seem to have outgrown my acne (at age 35!). A peaches and cream complexion it is not.

I also have the dubious distinction of not being able to tan. If I go out in the sun without sunscreen, I burn. Badly. Once I had a sunburn that was so red, complete strangers stopped me on the street to tell me how burnt I was. (Uh, thanks. Like I couldn't have figured THAT out myself.) To top it off, once the burn is gone, I go back to being my usual pasty self - again, so pasty that complete strangers have stopped to tell me about it! (Yes, I'm serious – it has happened.)

But is it really such a bad thing that I can't seem to tan? When I was researching the facts about skin cancer for this week's health feature, "Skin deep," I discovered that when your skin is "tanned," it's actually a sign of sun damage. The more "tanned" you are, the more damaged your skin is – and the higher your risk of skin cancer.

I'm already in the highest risk category for skin cancer. I'm pale and blue-eyed, I have many, many freckles and moles (indicating a great deal of sun damage from when I was a kid), and I have a family history of skin cancer. Even if I could tan, I'm one of the last people in the world who should do so. If I do, I'm almost guaranteed to wind up with some form of skin cancer.

Why, then, do I yearn every summer for a beautiful, golden tan? Why do I take a risk and sit out every year (just once) without sunscreen only to get a sunburn? Why do I insist on thinking that if I had a tan, I'd finally love my skin?

I wonder sometimes if it really is "the media" to blame for showing me images of golden supermodels like Giselle as a standard of beauty? Or is it because I was raised in the late 1970s/early 1980s when nothing was more beautiful than the quintessential Coppertone tan? Or is it because I'm sick and tired of people commenting on my pasty skin?

It's probably all of those things and more, but no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to shake the feeling that I'd be a lot more attractive if I just had a tan.

Then I remember how "attractive" it is to have a lobster red sunburn. And it will be even more attractive to have complete chunks of cancerous skin cells removed, leaving angry red scars. Is that what our standard of "beauty" really means?

Be sun smart. Wear a sunscreen, wear loose-fitting, tightly woven clothes, and wear a wide-brimmed hat whenever you can. Remember that beauty is really not just skin deep – it's really about being healthy and happy. And nothing is healthier than cancer-free skin – no matter what colour.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.