My unintentional over-exposure to the sun in Golden Gate Park has now had a week to subside. That unnerving red tint on my forehead has browned somewhat, leaving me slightly more Bisto than beetroot. The skin on the end of my nose has stopped just short of peeling off in embarrassing layers. Liberal squirting with creams and lotions has, thankfully, prevented further dermatological erosion. Phew.
But, what do you know, people are impressed. When I walked back into the office yesterday my newly darkened complexion drew several admiring comments from fellow workers. "Ooh, nice tan." "I see you've been away." "Hey, you're brown!" "Cor, you look healthy." These people don't normally comment on the condition of my skin, but on this occasion it appears they approve. Which is strange, and more than a little worrying.
I've never been a great fan of suntans, even though my skin usually browns fairly easily. I don't rush outside during heatwaves to deliberately expose large areas of my flesh to ultra-violet radiation. I don't consider a scorched epidermis or leathery wrinkles to be the peak of high fashion. I don't need my melanin production to be artificially stimulated. I prefer to stay in the shade than to end up as toast. I'd rather look pale than charred. Am I alone?
It seems that a large proportion of the population feel naked without an external brown layer. They love to expose their bodies to the sun on regular beach holidays. They're out in the garden at the first sight of summer attempting to barbecue themselves to pre-season perfection. They'll pay good money to keep their tan topped up by locking themselves inside a salon canister for grilling and sizzling. Fake spray dye will do at a pinch, but genuine mutated skin cells are better. Why? What's the attraction?
Sure a suntan can be perfectly natural. But some misguided people have to take things too far, edging towards orange rather than brown. They choose to ignore the associated health risks and concentrate solely on their perceived appearance, even though melanoma is probably not the skin colour they're trying to achieve. They're too caught up in the present to realise that they've signed up for irreversible premature ageing. They may like what they see in the mirror at the moment, but I doubt they'll be so keen in ten years' time.
I've learnt from my unprotected stroll through San Francisco. I've learnt that solar radiation can be damaging even in early spring. I've learnt that UV can attack my skin even on a relatively mild day. I've learnt that sunblock is better used for prevention than attempted cure. I've learnt that I look a right pillock with a beetroot face. And I've learnt that a suntan makes me feel less, rather than more, comfortable in my own skin. Anyone for a cloudy summer?