Dear Gabby

Dear Gabby,

My best friend is blond, blue-eyed and gorgeous. She’s also tan – well, eventually tan. And that’s what drives me crazy. Not the gorgeous part but the tan part. She loves to go out in the sun without any sunscreen or sun protection. She thinks she looks great with some color and I can’t argue. I mean she does look great. But everything they tell us now is to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays, right? She tells me I sound like her mother when I offer her some lotion. Am I a nut or do I just shut up?
Pale in Providence

“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:11

Dear Pale,
Gabby wants to you to take a good look at your butt. That’s right, that fishbelly pale place where the sun don’t shine – that is, on American beaches. And fortunately, because of our national terror over nude sunbathing, that’s just about the only place on your body that will resist laugh lines, crows feet and freckles for the rest of your life. Yes, the rest of your life! And believe it or not, at some point later on, you will wish that your face looked as good as that butt! Can you imagine what that adorable little derriere of the Coppertone kid would look like today? Bigger, sure. But wait! What about her face? She would be about 50 now with skin as tough as leather. That’s because faces don’t lie; tan lines mean you’ve been exposed to UV radiation, which yields a rich harvest of wrinkles later in life. So toiling over a tan truly is pure folly.

But I’m preaching to the choir, Pale, I know. And all butts aside, I’m sure you’ve heard the real, ugly truth about the sun’s radiation, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, is that women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer. And that up to 90 percent of the visible changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. So Pale, you aren’t nuts.

Every person should wear a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) that corresponds to their burning rate. For instance, if it takes a person 10 minutes to burn without sunscreen, an SPF 30 will allow them to be in the sun 30 times longer or 300 minutes, before burning, assuming it doesn’t sweat, rub or wash off. Make sure also to get a broad spectrum sunscreen that filters out both UVA and UVB rays. Read the labels. Both damage skin. Both can cause wrinkles. Both can cause cancer. For a good suggestion of a sunscreen that uses minerals, which are more effective against the sun’s damaging rays, and do not use harmful chemicals that can themselves cause cancer, see the Environmental Working Group’s list of Best Sunscreens. Then read over God’s message in Ecclesiastes. It relates directly to our human weakness of vanity. It tells us vanity is like striving to own the wind. And a tan is the perfect metaphor for vanity.

So it is Gabby’s advice that you embrace your bland, veal-like exterior with a Joan of Arc-like fervor. Go ahead! Arm yourself with knowledge and perseverance, and short of ambushing your friend around corners with a spray can of sport sunscreen, keep on nagging her like the best friend you are. Really, is she going to stop being your friend over sunscreen? God gave us our marvelous shady gray blobs of brains to help us help ourselves. Use it and help your friend use hers. And don’t forget to reapply often.

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