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why sunscreen beats spiderman

When life gets me down, I flee to Youtube and drag up Baz Luhrmann’s musical take on Mary Schmich’s 1999 piece Sunscreen. Sure, I like electro-pop beats and I support amateur photo montage makers, but really my motives for this are more selfish. Basically, it’s just soothing to hear the opening lines of advice, which happen to be identical to the most frequently tossed around gem of wisdom in my life:

‘Wear Sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.’

My affection for these lines has more to do with my residence in this sunburnt country and my general vampiric complexion than an interest in the wellbeing of others. Even so, it pays to endorse the wonders of sunblock products everywhere. On the surface, I’m sure you’ll agree, sunscreen ain’t ever going to win the sexiest beauty product of the year award.

It’s pale and slimy, a hassle to remember and sticks with you, unwanted, at beaches and pool parties. But sunscreen is merely the moisturising equivalent of Spiderman. Like Peter Parker, it can seem timid, annoying and homely. But look a little deeper and you’ll see a couple of life preserving qualities that make sunscreen not so bad. Generally society gives props to something once it’s been proven to extend lives and prevent general burning sensations of the dermis.

Just like Spidey and his lycra cape, though, the city isn’t always mad for a life saver.

Australia isn’t the most accommodating climate for skin. That is to say, the Cancer Council and Sunsmart Australia have worked hard for decades to remind us that the heat of the great outdoors has a long lasting and debiliating effect on the bodies of every human, regardless of race, colour or ability to tan. Research from the Council this week that claims 65% of Aussies are still actively looking to brown up may surprise those of us who can do nothing but fry, or intrigue those who’ve always felt a little uneasy about hitting the beach without even a cap.

The idea that tanning is tantamount to summer fun is worrying Sunsmart Australia. They claim that the media’s portrayal of sunkissed bodies makes us feel as though parading through the warmer months cloaked head to toe in protective clothing is uptight. And that leads to people oil up in the name of relaxation, waiting for extreme UV rays to alter their skin’s composition – and perhaps one day form cancerous melanomas.

To look at Australian TV programming during the warmer months is to see people out at sporting events, on the beach and out enjoying life, usually while wearing the bare minimum of clothing items. It’s probably fair enough to say that these images contribute to the rejection of the sun smart message. Maybe society plays a role too, though. Outdoor cinemas, beautiful wineries, pools and gorgeous beaches – all these beautiful Australian locations ask us to relax. And what’s more relaxing than stripping down, cooling off, and not thinking about sunscreen or hats?

In Australia, “sun smart” is a very primary school centric message. You’re told by a talking seagull to ‘Slip Slop Slap!’ while in prep, robbed of play time if you leave your hat at home. After that, it’s forgotten why we bothered in the first place.

Sunsmart Australia is trying to bring teens and young adults up to speed with the point of such campaigns, with new concepts like ‘Love Your Body‘, in which bloggers talk about being sun smart while providing fashion suggestions. Every time you step out on the sand with friends, the sun alters skin cells in ways that can’t be reversed. No matter what your skin tone, this can cause premature aging, wrinkling, freckling, burning and the very real prospect of skin cancer. If you’ve suffered from or seen someone else battle against melanoma, maybe slopping on some SPF 30+ doesn’t seem so terrible.

Which brings us back to Baz, Spiderman and what it means to remember to look after yourself in the sun. When Mary Schmich wrote the original piece in 1999, she wasn’t just sending a skincare message. It’s more about caring for your own wellbeing first, every time. About taking advice from knowledgeable people, appreciating the youth and body that you have, and protecting both with your life. Regardless of where you are in the world, this is something that wouldn’t hurt to sit in the back of your mind.

On the front page of a big paper in my city this morning, you can see pictures of people of all ages trying desparately to cool off on a fierce summer day. Hats are absent, protective clothes seem totally passe. I wish they’d managed to pop someone in there under a beach umbrella. Because it is possible to look good and protect yourself. No need to be righteous, just check out when the UV’s most dangerous in your area, wear a hat and sunnies when you step out. It’ll keep you looking young, and remind you of what’s important – staying safe and healthy.

Oh, and sunscreen doesn’t discriminate in who it saves. An aspiring writer, rock chick, or politician will be protected just as quickly as a Mary Jane damsel. It might have one-up on Peter Parker after all.

(Image credit: 1.)

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