The combined scent of sunscreen and sea air has always reminded me of summertime, and it's served as an aphrodisiac of sorts.
But, my major sunburns are also hallmarks of my summers.
My 16-year-old self believed smearing on SPF 15 for a six-hour beach day was more than enough. My full-body tomato coloration would eventually darken to a tan a few days later, and I decided this was well worth the excruciating pain.
The worst thing about the burns is they were extremely and infrequently intentional. I would generally just get lazy about my sun exposure.
I was a competitive swimmer, so all-day meets meant a one-time application of sport sunblock. (We all thought it would wash off in the pool, anyway.)
Long lifeguarding days with probably eventual minor heat exhaustion left me scorched and faint. Football games during Indian summers in college left me unexpectedly burned with a gorgeous farmer’s tan.
No matter the cause, I never truly saw the harm because I was getting tan: the be-all, end-all for a fair-haired woman.
I'm from the East Coast, and I'm so pale I sometimes need to wear “pearl” (essentially white for the fashion-color-wheel impaired) stockings to match my legs.
This led me to crave the summer weeks when I would recklessly wear as little sunscreen as possible in order to darken my skin enough to last until next year.
When I got to the West Coast where, if you haven’t heard, it's summer year round, I got some advice from a dermatologist: The best thing anyone can do for his or her skin is wear SPF 15 at all times.
Now, this seemed crazy to me at first. Aren’t we supposed to absorb at least a little Vitamin D sun exposure each day?
But, you probably receive your recommended 15 minutes per day of Vitamin D exposure during your commute to work and your lunch hour. Anything else is just putting you at risk for skin cancer.
And so, we come back to my excessive burns. I have a family history of skin cancer, so at a certain age, I had to get yearly full-body skin checks.
I learned the system for identifying irregular moles in order to avoid giving my family members the shock I received whenever I heard one of them had a basal cell carcinoma, or much worse, a melanoma.
Regardless of my efforts, when I was 22, my dermatologist told me I had two potentially precancerous spots. They needed to be removed, and the surgery would leave scars.
As with most 16-year-old decisions lacking in forethought, trying to perfect my skin in a dangerous way led to the permanent disfiguration of it.
I was incredibly lucky. Those spots were indeed only precancerous, but many people are not quite as blessed.
Even if you never see any actual negative consequences, aside from the occasional sting of a burn, remember how sexy that sunscreen and salt air smell is.
Think about gross scars and blistery sunburns the next time you pack your beach bag. Now excuse me, I have to go put on more sunblock.