I am sitting next to a beautiful swimming pool in an agrotouristic farm, hidden somewhere among the hills of Tuscany and I savor the moment. The silence around me… I can only hear the birds singing and cicadas chirping in the fields. I have my favorite book in my hand and I bathe in sun, which brings the feeling of bliss and laziness.
It’s the perfect place to distance myself from the world and only be right here, right now. For me, holidays in Italy are the substance of summer. After my trip to Nepal I needed such a brake and a moment to charge my batteries.
I love that feeling, I love the sun, the summer and when it’s almost too hot to bear. I feel then that I’m alive and that everything is like it should be. I am definitely a “sunny girl”, although – what an irony – all signs on heaven and Earth indicate that I should stay away from the sun.
I’ve recently written for you an article about health during trips but there is one topic that is particularly close to me – safe sunbathing. Everyone talks about it but most of the listeners do not know why and what for… and most of them don’t stick to the rules.
My history with melanoma
Why this topic is so close for me? Well, I felt on my own skin – literally – what sun threats mean. As a teenager I had a tiny birthmark on my cleavage that with the time got darker and darker. My mother took me to a dermatologist who decided that this birthmark should be surgically removed. And as it turned out later – the dermatologist was right not to hesitate even a little bit – because the birthmark was a melanoma, a very dangerous sort of skin cancer. I was only 15 then and it sounded like a sentence. I heard that I should avoid the sun like a plague, I should give wide berth to all the countries where the sun is exceptionally strong and even if I go there, I should always wear long trousers and sleeves, sunglasses and a huge hat. For a teenager it sounded like an end of any normal activity and becoming a prisoner of my own body and life. Of course, there were too many emotions from my side and too much extremity in the doctors’ opinions. I was very young and theoretically I did not fit the statistical typical group suffering from melanoma. But well, it happened.
I am writing about this to make you more sensitive and think that regardless of your age and sex, you should care about your health, because we only have one, for life. Especially that, accordingly to recent studies, 65% of melanoma cases are not connected to having a birthmark before. It means that you should be vigilant all the time, despite the feeling that nothing bad would happen to us.
How do I take care of my skin every day and during my trips?
As the time passed, I learned how to take care of my skin and health and in the same time enjoy the sun in the way that does not influence my lifestyle and journeys.
Fifteen years on the road taught me a lot about sun and preventing its bad effects. Especially when it comes to people who – like me – spend a lot of time outdoors, do sports outside and are continuously vulnerable to constant changes of insolation – from Australian outback to glacier in Argentinian Patagonia – safe sunbathing is an absolute must. Those rules apply to all of us, regardless of place, because the sun shines every day and everywhere and it can surprise us with its power when we least expect it.
It doesn’t matter if you are going trekking in Nepal, go for a summer weekend in Mazuria or you bask in the sun in Italy somewhere in Tuscany, like I am doing right now. The sun gives us lots of living energy but it can also become our enemy.
Using sun protection is usually associated with summer vacations and this might be very illusive, because the ultraviolet light is there all the time – doesn’t matter what part of year it is, where you are and what the degree of cloudiness is (so the argument: “it’s cloudy today, so I won’t put the sun block” is totally invalid).
Besides the fact that the “side effect” of the sun is beautiful tan (sometimes, because most of the people do not know how to sunbathe properly and they get sun burns and flaking skin), sunlight may penetrate your skin and can cause irreversible changes in your body. It also affects how fast your skin gets old and I think that everyone would like to stay young as long as possible!
ABC of safe sunbathing
My approach to taking care of myself and prevention, regarding the sun too, changed radically. Well, we learn mostly on our own experiences but if it’s possible you should avoid such experiences and learn from others’ mistakes too.
I’ve followed some rules for many years, rules that do not limit myself (because of my closer acquaintance with the melanoma) and I can enjoy the sun the way I like it.
A – updating
First things first: for 15 years, regularly once a year, I see a dermatologist to do, so called, skin map. That means that the doctor checks any mark on my skin with professional equipment and is able to examine all of them enlarged and find any disturbing changes.
B – safety
The second part is the most important. Preventive measures. The “A” element is simply keeping my finger on the pulse but the real protection is taking those small steps that you should also do if you go out. They may seem bothersome but those are only appearances, nowadays the technology of the cosmetics, that we can buy in the stores, has nothing in common with the old, greasy, white creams, sticking to anything.
For years, I’ve been choosing tested and experimentally tested cosmetics and I avoid drug-store olives, creams and tan accelerators (they do not protect us from the damaging effects of the sun!). In my recent trips I had a wide variety of Anthelios La Roche-Posay sunscreen, that I’ve tested at Polish sea, during trekking in Nepal and now, in the sun of Tuscany. In every trip I needed another product, that suited the character of the trip.
For a weekend excursion at the Baltic Sea I chose the inodorous Anthelios Ultra 50SPF face cream, which is resistant to sweat and most important of all, it does not irritate the sensitive skin around the eyes – what is particularly important to me, because I use contact lenses on the daily basis.
In Nepal, during trekking, rafting and driving a motorcycle I always had a small container of 50SPF anti-glitter skin mist, which allowed me to refresh my face, hands and cleavage skin quickly and in any conditions, especially that I had no time or possibility to use creams. The mist is my absolute favorite! You can spray it directly on your makeup and it does not make your skin glitter.
In Tuscany I am not limited with my luggage and I am oriented to relaxing at the swimming pool, so in my straw bag I always carry 50SPF body lotion, that perfectly moisturizes my dry skin and is more than enough for both me and my man (Yes, girls! For years I’ve been bashing into his head the necessity to put a sunscreen on and now he not only remembers about it himself but also keeps reminding that to me :) ).
I am really picky when it comes to cosmetics and I have to feel that they protect my skin and have properly high filter – at least 30SPF (let’s bust the myth – the high filter does not make you tan less, it would only protect you better).
Moreover, I have a really sensitive skin, so all the scented cosmetics are totally off.
And I have to admit – even as a little kid I hated greasy creams and putting them on my face (maybe because my parents put a lot of that cream on me, particularly after the melanoma story). Especially when I do sports or am on a trip I really want my skin to absorb the cosmetics quickly and so that they do not run down with sweat or leave white smears on my skin.
Moreover, during my intense trips to the edge of the world and putting my skin to other harsh conditions like water, temperature, pollution etc. I need to have cosmetics that are hypoallergic and do not irritate my skin after sun contact, because it’s the last thing I need on my trips.
Except the UV filter cosmetics I follow few other rules of safe sunbathing:
- I avoid excessive exposition to sun between 11 AM and 3 PM;
- I remember to put on a new layer of cream after a longer bath in the sea or a swimming pool, or after a training outdoors;
- I wear headgear (both in the mountains and at the beach) and sunglasses with UV filter;
- I drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration.
C – Yearlong prevention
And lastly, I learned that I should carefully watch my skin all year long. Any departure from the rule, any oddly looking, enlarged, darker in the middle, irregular in shape or reddened moles or marks light a red alarm light in my head and are a clear sign that I should go to the doctor. Really, I never delay it “for tomorrow” or “when I will have more spare time”. I am writing about this because I became vigilant about my closest and friends (I admit, I forced few of them to go to a dermatologist). You don’t even know, how many of them I had to encourage despite the fact that their skin marks looked really alarming. Don’t leave it to the last minute, time is the factor. As many as 50-70% melanoma cases are connected to an excessive exposure to the sun and UVA and UVB light.
It might seem trivial and apparent but when I asked you some time ago at Insta Stories “do you use any sunscreens?”, 30% of you answered that you use them “If you remember about them”! So, it seems that everyone knows it but let’s be honest and say how many of us take it seriously. I can sound like a watchman or Mrs. Know-It-All but before my melanoma case I also didn’t like using the sunscreen cream.
Just remember that your appearance is not what matters most and sun is no joker in that matter. Let’s protect ourselves and those who we love! There is so much to see and discover, why to bring on yourself anything that would keep you away from such pleasures?
And now I dash away to savor the Tuscany silence and a huge plate of (not fit) tiramisu! :D