A Brave New SPF World

Big things happen that change the world. Earthquakes in Haiti. Nuclear fallout in Japan. Wildfires in Arizona. Floods in the Gulf. Instability on Wall Street. The news coverage is like a tsunami, slapping us with a toppling wave of suffering and appeals for help, but with a tidal shift, the waters recede, and those not immediately affected return to the rigmarole of life while the horror of the epidemic fades into the recesses of memory. We resume sitting in traffic, stirring macaroni, and swearing through a yoga stretch.

Then there are the small, almost trivial things that lack the gravity to change the world but affect how we live from the moment we learn about them. BPA in plastic. SIDS and putting babies to sleep on their back. Shampoo bottles can explode airplanes. No forward-facing carseats until age 2. Antibiotics in meat. Every person who has ever thought about sex has HPV. Nanny cams. Safety recalls. Tylenol includes glass shards. Punk’d. Stevia is better than Truvia, which is better than Splenda, which is better than Sweet N’ Lo, which is better than Equal, but all of them are way fucking worse than regular sugar.

The latest phenomenon: Sunblock.  Wrong.  Sunscreen.

The FDA says we can’t call it sunblock anymore because it no longer blocks the sun. It never did – they tell us now –  rather it filtered a portion of the ultraviolet rays. But – they tell us now – probably not enough of them to keep us buffered from the malignancies of the sun. The crux of the matter is not that they have formulated better sunscreen, but that they’ve codified the way the labels are written so that the consumer, flying down the aisle with a cart full of manic children freebasing oyster crackers, can determine the best coverage option.

With this sunscreen expose, we’ve learned that babies under 6 months should be wearing sunscreen, we should be reapplying every two hours, avoiding spray screens, and that using anything under SPF 15 comes with a free ‘I deserve Melanoma’ T-shirt.

This change in protocol, which may pale in comparison to something like flooding evacuations, has had dramatic implications for my daily regiment vis-à-vis my alabaster-skinned children.  Their pigment levels were inherited from my sector of the gene pool, which carries a similar DNA helix to that of Nicole Kidman and a beluga whale.  I’ve watched my parents endure invasive treatments and removals of pre-cancerous cells recently, and it has heightened my concern. If I felt mild trepidation at the idea of turning the kids loose on the beach at high noon, I now regard the beach as a strictly nocturnal activity or best enjoyed during a lightning storm.  If I casually smeared some white stuff on their noses before, I’m now using a frosting pipe to cover every square inch of their bodies. I’m putting up all the reinforcements around my own skin, as well, choosing to look like Virginia Woolf sitting upon a Finding Nemo towel on the sand. Any inclination to get some natural color this summer has been abandoned in favor of synthetic sprays. Although the spray tans are so expensive and impermanent that I’m probably going to resort to using deck stain.

What pains me most is to watch my husband, G, continue to regard sunscreen like a Halloween costume – something he’ll put on once a year if he feels like it or drunk enough. While the kids and I become Dickens characters with Vitamin D deficiency, he is outside soaking up the sun every chance he gets. If I try a sunscreen sneak attack as he walks by, he reacts as though I’ve poured hot magma on his skin. I suppose I could offer sensual sunscreen massages every two hours, but, you know, I’ve got shit to do.

When I returned home from running weekend errands last week, I found G had the kids outside in the sandbox. They were not wearing clothing because something about sand in body cavities is so enticing to children. I looked at their pearly skin, luminous in the glare of the sun. As if in a horror movie scene in which the protagonist realizes the suns’ rays upon human skin is going to incite a transmutation into rage-filled demons, I ran outside screaming incoherently with words like squamous, broad spectrum, the cast of Jersey Shore.

G’s face took on that pitying look as if to lament that his children won’t grow up as he had, running outside all day without a moment’s pause over sunscreen and cancer. And that I – the pale-faced harbinger of dermatological doom – am the murderer of their carefree youth.

At least they’ll look youthful. No premature wrinkling around here.  Just rickets.

(Did you change things when these new rules came out?)