Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

April 25, 2013

Age brings appreciation of freckles, but the burns remain a pain

— — Summer hasn’t fully started and already I am dealing with the scourge of itchy, reddening skin from too much time out in the sun.

Ever since I was little I have been a victim of sunburn. I never seemed to matter how much sunscreen my mother slathered on me. I could go outside completely covered in the stuff and still come back with a pink tinge.

I know plenty of people who love to tan, but I don’t think it would be physically possible for me to ever get a tan. My brother manages to pull off this beautiful caramel colored tan every summer, but my sister and I with our varying shades of red hair are doomed to burn bright red even after a few minutes out of doors without sunscreen.

Working out in the yard or a day at the beach in the summer often left me a bright, lobster red color. I am pretty certain there has been at least one occasion when my skin got a pinkish tinge just from being under fluorescent lights too long.

The red skin, however, was always just the beginning of what was a long, painful ordeal. A day or so later I would get a burning sensation everywhere that had been exposed to the sun.

My classmates and especially my little brother always thought it was fun to give a good, hard “thwack” to whatever area of my skin was burned so I would yelp in pain. Of course, it didn’t taking smacking to make the skin hurt. Brushing up against fabric was enough to cause a twinge of pain.

Aloe vera lotion was what always seemed to do the trick, though I have often wondered if it serves more as a placebo for the effects of sunburn than what you could definitively call a “cure.” The cooling sensation plus the smell always put me at ease, even if I still find myself lathering it on multiple times a day just to deal with the burn.

However, the burn itself was not what I always loathed most about getting sunburned. With my complexion I was invariably left with a small reminder that I had spent too much time out in the sun: freckles.

Growing up, I hated my freckles. I was sometimes teased by other kids about them and my mother and grandmother’s assertions that freckles were “angel kisses” or looked pretty didn’t sway my opinion. At first, I just had a small band across my nose but soon they covered my face, legs and arms.

I remember one summer we were watching reruns of “The Brady Bunch” on TV Land. The show had been a favorite of my both my parents’ as a kid so they would often rewatch it with us. In one episode, Jan is looking for a cure for her own freckles and attempts to scour them off with lemon juice. I remember being roughly the same age and wondering if that would really work on my own skin.

Whenever I broached the subject of how to get rid of my freckles with my parents, I always got the same answer about how they made me special and I shouldn’t want to get rid of something that made me so unique. As important is hearing that was to me, it also made me feel a little disheartened that there was nothing I could do.

When you’re a pre-teen and teenager, skin and complexion are on that long list of things you worry about. There weren’t as many girls in magazines with freckles as there were those with the perfect sun-kissed tan. It might not have been the message the magazines meant to send, but the message I seemed to get is tanned is beautiful, freckles are not.

The only way I could really find to stop the spread of my freckles was staying out of the sun, but I didn’t particularly like that option. Sure, it would decrease my risk of developing more freckles and possibly even fade some of the ones I already had, but it also meant not indulging in swimming at the local pool, backyard barbecues with my family, beach vacations and all those other fun outdoor activities I enjoyed when the weather got warm. I seemed like a lose-lose situation all around.

I suppose a fair amount of peer pressure is all it takes for us to change our self-image. I didn’t really start to change my attitude about my freckles until I was high school and someone else made a comment about how they were “cute.”

After years of my family telling me the same thing it took someone else to say it to make me really think the same way. Seeing girls who were either bright orange or tanned to the point they looked like burnt leather also renewed my appreciation for the fact that I was freckled.

Freckles nowadays are the least of my worries, especially when I come home with a sunburn. More adult concerns, like those about skin cancer and wrinkles, have replaced the fear of freckles. As I crack open another bottle of aloe vera lotion and check to see if the red burn has faded, seeing a new crop of freckles has become more of a relief than anything else.

Kate Coil is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com.

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