In the 1950’s and 60’s, Miami Beach catered to tourists whose vacation goal was to return to their northern residences with a prizedgoldentrophy of tanned skin. Visitors flocked to the sandy beaches and basted with exotic oils, suntan lotions and the ultimate, sure-to-bake formula: baby oil spiked with iodine. Toaccelerateandinsure a maximum skin-darkening experience, serious sun devotees added a sun reflector. I grew up in this tropical paradise, surrounded by tourists who proudly wore their painful sunburns. But, I knew first hand, their lobster-red skin would soon itch, blister, peel, and potentially leave them with a permanent reminder of their days in the sun.
Growing up in Miami Beach, we were not made aware of sunburn prevention or the dangers of over exposure. Other than a thick layer of white zinc oxide covering an already burned red nose, I cannot recall ever protecting my skin while playing all day in the blazing sun. I enjoyed a golden tan throughout my high school and college years in Miami, unaware that sunburns cause wrinkles, freckles, age spots, and more serious skin diseases later in life. Looking back, I realize my dark olive skin was the result of endless days in the South Florida sun, burning and tanning my naturally fair-skinned complexion.
My gypsy meanderings led me to Los Angeles, California in 1990, where I promptly joined the ever plush and newly opened, Sports Club LA (SCLA). The SCLA experience featured luxurious amenities, including a rooftop terrace for nude sunbathers. I quickly discovered that every inch of skin, even sun-tanned derrieres, are not immune to freckles and other forms types of skin damage caused by prolonged exposure to the UV rays. In contrast to my beach loving years, I currently reside in New England where the sun does not shine every day. The women in my fitness classes, who have not grown up in sun-prone climates, have unblemished skin on their arms and legs, free of discoloration or freckles. The northern climate does have its perks!
Skin plays an important immunity role in protecting the body because it interfaces with the environment to work as a shield. With overexposure, the sun’s ultraviolet UVA and UVB rays can permanently alter one’s DNA, creating damage at the skin levels where new skin cells are formed. This negative effect on the elastin and collagen fibers in the dermis leads to premature ageing. Even more significantly, DNA damage isn’t always visible under thesurface, and can contribute to skin cancers, including deadly melanoma.
As a result of dealing with the residual effects of prolonged and repeated exposure to the sun in South Florida and Southern California, I have developed a respectful awareness of the sun’s potential threat to the skin and adopted sun protective measures. I habitually use sunscreen to prevent further damage, and when Coolibar sun protective hats and clothing came to market, I became an immediate devotee! Wearing garments with UPF 50+sun protection gives me a new type of freedom to safely enjoy the glorious sun.
Today, at age 70, I swim in a Coolibar Active Swim Jacket and Coolibar Swim Tights, both UPF 50+, which cover and shield even those hard to reach places, often missed by sunscreen. Yes, I dress differently than other swimmers and certainly more protected, but I feel proud to be the “smart” one in the daytime sun. And, ladies, another advantage of covering your legs with sun-protective leggings is that it provides the “camouflage benefit,” even if your legs are pure perfection! Shifting my habits to include sun safe practices has allowed me to continue to enjoy my outdoor activities without limitations; pushing myself to be the very best me in the sunshine I love.