I stand in line at Walmart on a Monday, waiting for the replacement of an aquarium filter. Then a man turns and exclaims: "Boy, you have some sun on the weekend !" I look at my neck and chest, which are red and can be seen in the v-neck. I'm wearing a short-sleeved shirt. But I have not been to the beach for about a month.
This is not the first time I hear this. It is always a person – until now always a man – who does not know me and gives unsolicited comments on the redness of my cleavage. The cumulative sun damage I have there is usually visible because I live in Florida and tank tops and V-necks are comfortable to wear in the nearly year-round heat down here. That does not mean that I want to hear about random strangers or anyone else.
Despite the surprise I often hear from strangers, this kind of skin damage from sunlight is incredibly common. Ultraviolet sunlight damages elastin and collagen in the skin, causing it to sag and stretch. Sometimes such photodamage also causes brown spots or wrinkles. And in my case, as is common in fair-skinned people, this damage can also lead to permanent redness . Most of the time, my cleavage is light pink, but after a hot shower, a little bit of stress or even wearing a red shirt, it can flare up and look darker red.
These comments are not only annoying and promptly unwelcome guesses about my beach habits, but they also strike me particularly hard because I actually have a history of skin cancer . So far, three basal cell carcinomas have been removed (basal is the least serious type). I had one arm and two removed from my face, which required a Mohs operation and subsequent reconstructive plastic surgery. One was near my mouth and the other was right on the tip of my nose. The cancers on my face required the short-term use of bandages and I did not look well during recovery for a few weeks.
That's why I'm well aware of the value of sunscreen .
But when I hear these things about my body, I feel guilty or ashamed as if I did not protect my skin enough. It also makes me a bit nervous. The removal of skin cancer in Florida is virtually a hobby, and these comments worry me that the doctors could find something more serious for me later. Besides, the recovery was not fun and of course I would like to avoid repeating it again if I can.
When I complain to people about the comments I receive, they remind me that it's important that I (and my dermatologist) know that I'm doing the right thing to protect my skin – no matter what random guy-in-walmart says. And that's right. Today, I take great care to apply daily sunscreen on the face, neck, chest and arms and re-apply when needed. The use of a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 and its application to any skin exposed to the sun is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
There are ways to treat redness from cumulative sun damage, including a prescription retinoid cream, microdermabrasion, intense pulsed light and laser treatments, it states in the AAD . But these treatments are usually not cheap. I may eventually start to use a cream, but now I just live with it and continue to protect myself with the right clothes and the right daily sunscreen.
Ultimately, however, I know that I can not control what people will say about my décolletage. I also weathered my many strange comments and questions about a gossip in the middle of my chest. You could say that I'm used to the gossip. And what should I say? My Skin is red there and will probably have a pink or red hue for the rest of my life.
Still, I would prefer if my visible sun damage was not treated like a pushy conversation starter. It is – like everything else on my body – no one's something than myself.