Anyone planning to move Perth and pass their days rotating slowly on a beach towel like a rotisserie chicken should think again. Forget the myths about safe tanning – the sun is not your friend.
Over exposing your pale and vulnerable flesh to the harsh Australian sun, can and will leave you burnt to a crisp, not unlike a piece of blackened rump steak on the barbie. And just as that burnt steak can be a carcinogenic, so too can obsessive sun worshiping fast track you straight into the nearest oncology department.
Sunbathing here can equal baking – in a 40 degree fan forced oven. So unless you fancy looking like a Sunday joint in a roasting tin, then I’d suggest you think more along the lines of spray tans and bronzing balls, than lapping up the UV rays in your bikini.
Admittedly it does seem odd that in a country famed for it’s buffed lifeguards and beach life image, many people choose to stay away from beaches during the summer months. Unlike Brighton or Bournemouth on an August Bank Holiday, where pink flesh is laid out row after row, on a public holiday here many of the beaches are virtually deserted. As a socially phobic beach goer who doesn’t like having to suck my stomach in for long periods of time or listening to someone else’s music, I see this as a bonus.
There are some who will always buck this trend and lay out in the sun, regardless of how high the temperature gets. These include dogs and cats, tourists (who have limited time to achieve their holiday tan) and the older, die hard sunbathing fanatics. These in particular are easily distinguished by their rhino hide skin and the overpowering aroma of pork crackling that surrounds them.
It is not until you experience the sheer heat of the midday sun (particularly in the summer months) that you realise sun cream should never be just an after thought or something that you put on if you find the time. Sun cream is something you put on every time you come into contact with fresh air – whether you’re going for a walk, spending a morning at the beach or just mooching around in your own backyard.
Actually from painful experience I have learnt the hard way that your own garden is possibly the easiest place of all to get burnt. This can happen when you pop outside ‘just for 5 mintues’ to tidy up something in the garden. 6 hours later, after an impromptu full scale pruning operation, you look in the mirror and find yourself to be the same vibrant shade as Elmo and limited to loose, bag shaped clothes for the rest of the week.
The sheer size of the hole in the Ozone right above our heads is reflected in both the human and financial toll that it is taking on society. Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, accounting for around 80% of all new cancers diagnosed each year. Australians are four times more likely to develop a common skin cancer than any other form of cancer, a fact reflected in the 380,000 people treated everyday – over 1,000 people a day, and the 1,600 deaths that are a result of this. Skin cancer also costs the health system around $300 million annually, the highest cost of all cancers.
Such high numbers indicate the extreme severity of this problem – a problem that the Australian government does not take lighty. As well as the gruesome shock tactics press and TV ads that appear during the summer months, the ‘Slip, Slap, Slosh’ sun wise campaign is promoted everywhere that you turn.
This highlights the recommended methods of protection – SLIP on a top, SLAP on a hat and SLOSH on some cream. In addition, it is also recommended to wear wrap around glasses and stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
Keeping children creamed and covered up is especially important. Exposure to the sun in childhood and adolescence is an important factor in the development of skin cancer later in life. For children here, learning to put on cream is just a way of life and if they don’t have their hat at schools, they won’t be allowed to play outside. New born babies in particular shouldn’t be out in the sun at all. Most people use black UV nets over their prams – also good for keeping pesky flies away.
So if the dangers of sunbathing are so high, why has having a tan long been associated with wealth, health and superficial good looks?
Long before the Hiltons, Lohans and Jordons of this world began worshiping at the temple of St. Tropez, people believed that having a tan indicated good breeding and class – and the money to be able to travel.
A recent onslaught of budget airlines allowing anyone with a passport and an overdraft limit to fly, has well and truly knocked that perception on the head. On the contrary now, being a similar shade to an Umpa Lumpa is now a trait associated with the countless wannabe stars of the tabloids and celebrity magazines.
The perception that a ‘tan = wealth’ has however always been one reserved solely for the Western word. In Asia, it is a pale skin that is deemed more beautiful, with ‘whitening’ not self tanning creams in hot demand.
Unfortunately with so many models still promoting a sun kissed ‘healthy’ glow on the pages of glossy women’s magazines, the use of a tan remains a fashion accessory. An accessory that destroys your skin. How ironic that whilst tanning may give you an outer appearance of good health, it can also kill.
Not wanting to be seen to be promoting this health risk, many beauty companies do go into overdrive in the summer months, with their ‘responsible’ advertising of their safer, self tanning products. But don’t these just further enforce the idea that brown is still best? If big cosmetic companies really wanted to save people’s skins, then like on cigarette packets, they would advertise the terrible risks of sunbathing with hard hitting photos of melanomas, along side the sun creams they sell. But I’m guessing that stomach churning imagery doesn’t really help to shift beauty products of the shelves.
Having grown up in a succession of sunny climates, I know I have already fried my way through countless layers of skin, in the search of the perfect tan. Back in my teens and early 20’s, the mission was to get as brown as humanly possible, without actually having to undergo an ethnic transplant. Whether that meant dousing myself in Hawaiian Tropic or laying in a pool of my own sweat on a human griddle for half an hour at time, there was nothing I was not naively prepared to do. Back then, being pale did not equate to being beautiful, it simply meant you were coming down with the flu.
It has taken me a long, long time to finally get it into my head that having that ‘oh another half an hour won’t kill me’ mentality is really just playing Russian roulette with your health. The older I get and the more rigorous I am with the L’Oreal Wrinkle Decrease every night (which incidentally does exactly what it says on the tin), the more stupid it seems to then go out the next morning and undo all that hard work.
It has also taken a long time for the world to start pulling together to face up to this issue. One big step in the right direction will be taken at The 12th World Congress on Cancers of the Skin, held in Israel in May 2009. Dermatologists, plastic surgeons and oncologists from around the world will come together to learn about and discuss the latest breakthroughs in the world of cancer.
Until a cure is hopefully one day found, ignorance can no longer be used as an excuse when it comes to the sun. If you live somewhere where the risks run higher and you don’t slap on your slop, you will be treated like an masochistic idiot who ultimately deserves the consequence’s they might face. Unlike many others, this is one disease that can be prevented with a little common sense. So using some is essential.
If after reading this you still can’t resist lying out in the sun for hours, then here’s a way to achieve the same look in half the time. Simply baste yourself down with some good quality virgin olive oil, roll around in some fresh herbs and chuck yourself onto the barbie. It’s always been a look that’s worked well for a chicken drumstick, and at the end of the day cooked meat is just cooked meat.