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Sunburn, sunscreen, strongly shine the rays


“Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ‘97: Wear sunscreen.”

Ah, good advice, rarely heeded. Those words, which were originally written by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich and went on to permeate the airwaves during the summer of 1999, the year I matriculated to high school, would have served me well two weekends ago.

The last words my fiancee uttered to me, via text message, as I headed out the door for my first kayak trip of the season were: “Wear sunscreen.”

But did I listen? Well, yes, after a fashion.

I put sunscreen on my face and ears and on the back of my neck and resolved to wear a lightweight, light-colored T-shirt throughout the trip, something I thought would protect me from the harsh ultraviolet rays of the sun.

But my legs and my arms? They don’t need no stinkin’ sunscreen!

Boy, was I wrong.

After about five or six hours on the water, my arms and legs were burnt to a crisp. My legs especially, exposed to the full force of the sun in my uncovered kayak, fared badly. By Thursday they were a red, runny, blistery mess.

Monday afternoon, as I was running around trying to track down U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan during his visit to Watertown, I was devoting at least as much effort to keeping my shins from touching the inside of the front of my pants.

I sunburn easily and have started many summers with a fresh tint of redness about my features, sometimes my body as well, often my back. One summer I fell asleep with my arm across my chest; for weeks afterward I looked like the scuba flag. One wide white diagonal stripe against a bright red background.

In the aftermath of my oversight, I sought an expert to explain the physiology of a sunburn — how it works and how sunscreen prevents it — but I didn’t have much luck. Sunburn seems like one of those self-explanatory things: you go out in the sun, you get burned. You don’t want to get burned? Wear sunscreen.

According to, “Exposure to solar radiation has the beneficial effects of stimulating the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D and providing radiant warmth. Unfortunately, when the skin is subjected to excessive radiation in the ultraviolet range, deleterious effects may occur. The most conspicuous is acute sunburn or solar erythema.”

Translation: Spend too much time in the sun and you’ll get burned. Or, as the kids today might call it, “sick-burned.” No? OK, moving on.

About one-third of U.S. adults have a sunburn each year and about two-thirds of U.S. children have a sunburn each summer, risk of sunburn is higher in regions that are closer to the equator and higher in altitude and lighter-skinned individuals are affected more frequently, according to Medscape.

More importantly, doctors have estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime; sun and indoor tanning are the leading causes of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

There is some difference of opinion when it comes to the type of sunscreen doctors recommend using, but the AAD recommends that everyone use sunscreen when they are exposed to the sun. The academy has published a list of sunscreen FAQs here:

So don’t do what I did. Wear that sunscreen proudly. It can be awkward when you have to ask somebody, “Could you get my back?” but it’s worth it.

Now, could someone get my back? Seriously.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week. He can be reached at

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