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Elder Wisdom

Lemme Explain The Sunscreen

393787 01: Hector Ofunio applies suntan lotion to the back of his friend Leandro Munoz August 28, 2001 at the beach on Key Biscayne, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

I’ve reached the point in parenthood where my children are now old enough to apply their own sunscreen. This is an incredible milestone that has allowed me to enjoy summer again for the first time in over a goddamn decade. Before this point, I spent every summer day catching my kids trying to go outside without sunscreen on, then saying “Where do you think you’re going?” in my most emphatic dad-ese, and then corralling those little fuckers to grease them up like pigs. Throughout each of these sessions, the kids wriggled like a ghost was escaping from their bodies, getting slipperier and slipperier to handle with every coat. And they would go STOP PUTTING THE MEAN CREAM ON US, and then I’d remind them that sunscreen helps prevent cancer. But these were kids. They didn’t give a shit about cancer. The only effective way to explain cancer to a small child is to give it to them through an injection of molten lead.

I don’t have to go through any of that shit anymore. The kids know what cancer is, and that it is bad. They put on their sunscreen willingly, and then I run through an inventory of body parts to make sure they didn’t miss a spot. Did you get the back of your neck? Did you get your feet, because those burn too, you know. What about your back? Turn around and show me your back to prove to me that you got it on there somehow. Then they get in the car and get that shit all over the upholstery. Then I have to yell at them two hours later to re-apply, and they relent another hour after that, tossing on a new coat that’ll immediately come off because they didn’t bother to dry themselves before doing it.

But, in general, these kids have a solid skincare record. No bad sunburns. No sun blisters. No irregularly shaped black spots littering their epidermis. I have kept these kids lacquered in the appropriate amount of UVA/UVB protection at all times, and they are happy and healthy thanks to that vigilance.

Which leaves only me to take care of, and this is where I have to explain myself.

Yes, there’s still sunscreen visible on my face. You don’t have to point it out. I see it on my way out the door, every time. I try to rub it in, reader. Oh, how I try. I rub my face so vigorously during the application process you’d think I was trying to orgasm from the sensation. But it refuses to blend into my skin, which is so fair that the Magic Mirror shakes its head every time he has to tell the Wicked Queen about me.

This is because I have to use ACTUAL sunscreen. I don’t get to fuck with octocrylene, or avobenzone, or any other of the active ingredients that goes into making SPF 2. I need SPF 7,000. Skin cancer runs in my family. I went to the dermatologist a couple of years ago and she had to do a biopsy on a mole I had, which turned out to be precancerous. Now technically, everything is precancerous. A banana is precancerous. But I know my medical vulnerabilities all too well, and so did my doctor. She told me I could only use sunscreen that contained zinc or titanium oxide. Everything else? WORTHLESS.

You might be familiar with zinc sunscreen as the official product of all 1980s lifeguards. It doesn’t come off. It NEVER comes off. You could take a bath in scalding hot battery acid and that shit would stay right where it is. You can buy zinc/titanium sunscreens that blend in, but they cost $50,000 a gram. They also make zinc sunscreen spray. You could paint the base lines on a fucking baseball diamond with it. That’s out, too. I’m stuck with the well liquor sunscreen.

And it works. I suffered some horrifying sunburns when I was a kid, but have since wised up and kept my precious derma under wraps thanks to the zinc-y goodness. I simply must have my zinc or else all is lost. The price I pay for this zinc is that I look like shit. I show up to the beach looking like I just interviewed to be a fucking geisha. I used to laugh at my old man whenever he slathered zinc all over himself and didn’t bother to rub it in all the way. Now I know the truth, which is that Dad couldn’t rub it in all the way. Do I still make fun of my Dad? Yes. Should I? Again, yes. Does that give you license to laugh at me in turn? Probably. BUT THIS IS CANCER WE’RE TALKING ABOUT HERE, SONNY BOY. IT CARES NOT FOR YOUR MIRTH.

Regardless, I soldier on through the heat. The effects of global warming and the current immolation of the Pacific Northwest tell me that there is only more sunscreen in my future, not less. As I write this, I can still see a layer of dried Sun Bum on my legs. I can see it clogging my pores. When I shave, the razor COLLECTS old sunscreen and gets clogged. When I die, from something other than melanoma, my body will decay before this goddamn zinc does. That is the lot I’ve drawn in middle age. I know I look stupid. I know I do not look sexy. You don’t have to tell me. I know. It’s all over me.