Have You Selected Your Sunscreen Yet?

By Adrea Gibbs

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I found myself standing in front of the multitude of protective skin care products somewhat astounded by all I surveyed. Beyond the choices ranging from SPF levels and application types, there were the various and assorted brands, both known and unknown, screaming back at me in vibrant colors that nearly required I pull my sunglasses out in an effort to avoid the glare. Interesting the color choices, considering these canisters and tubes were all supposed to protect my skin but clearly gave no thought to my poor eyes as they squinted to read tiny script against their neon palettes.

It is amazing what a business has grown from simply wanting to be outside in the sunshine and the need to be safe from what we now recognize as the errors of our industrial ways. I remember, as a child, getting sent outside, if for no other reason than to get some Vitamin D the old-fashioned way. I know, now, it was really our Mom’s way to have a small bit of peace and quiet from me and my brothers constant racket-making inside, especially during summer vacation. In hindsight, I find this ritual of casting us outside interesting when I consider one of the primary activities for our family during the summer was spending almost all day at Bud Lyndon’s Swim School, an open-air pool, which was nothing short of sunlight. Depending on our ages, we were either in swim lessons, at swim team practice, or, in my case, at my first “real,” job (babysitting notwithstanding) working in the office booking and teaching swimming classes. Maybe summer days are longer when you are a child (and an exhausted parent). In spite of being outside in the sun all day, your parental unit insists you return to the great outdoors (or in our case, the great cul-de-sac) to partake in the dwindling hours of day- and early twilight. I believe Mom’s specific request of us was to come home as soon as the street lamps come on. Or Dad’s car drive in. Whichever comes first. But, back to the pool.

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Bud Lyndon, the owner of said swim school, was without a doubt, an influential giant in my personal book. A grizzled man with richly tanned, leathery skin (perhaps cast-off of what may have been at one point the “fine Corinthian-,” variety), horribly ugly feet (which I presumed were from thousands of hours spent barefoot on hot concrete pool decks, diving boards, and soaking in chlorinated water), and brandishing a buzz cut hairstyle any porcupine would be proudly wear was my view of him. My mom told me later it was probably more due to his having been a Long Beach lifeguard for years and years and years, hence, his perpetual red shorts. Bud would bark at anyone, be it referees, parents, teenagers, or 2-year-olds, to get them to shape up and act right. He was as scary as he was kind, incredibly protective of all his damp charges. He always got the best out of each one of us, harsh methods aside. Then again, it may have been those very methods that made us pay attention. He was one man no ever wanted to disappoint.

Even through there was discipline, he believed very strongly that actions had consequences, Bud’s central principals, courtesy to and respect of one another, were always at the forefront. When we had meets with other teams, he made sure we were on our best behavior, whether at home, being good hosts, or away, as appreciative guests. Be polite. Be fair. And most importantly, to always remember we were representing the club, our parents, our families, our teammates, and ourselves. For all those summers, I am not sure any of us youngsters realized the wealth of life lessons we were reaping. I know it was not lost on my folks. In fact, I think that may have been as much the reason for our going there year after year after year as was the swimming. Certainly, at first, it was about being water safe, but as things progressed, I suspect Bud’s wisdom and guidance was equal to the laps. The exercise of exhausting four kids was an added bonus for my parents when coupled with our youthful understanding as to the importance of being a good citizen.

Cantankerous as he was, Bud’s way of doing things was effective. While the infamous black and white striped penalty bench which sat out in a blaze of glory (the direct sunlight) was put into play for anyone running around the pool (“No Running,” after all, was Rule Number One), acted “smart,” or misbehaved in some way such as acting out or not listening to key instruction, might be considered cruel and unusual punishment by today’s standards, but I can tell you it usually only took one seated turn to correct behavior for the duration of the season. Sitting on a burning hot bench does give one pause to think about their actions as bottoms burned as brightly as the afternoon rays. He gave us far more to think about than Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, or Freestyle, though, I think, they masked real lessons. And Bud wasn’t just talking philosophy. He was action-oriented, always having our backs as individuals and as team members. I recall one particular season, a team championship, I placed first in my division, only to have it be taken away when another team claimed their swimmer had taken top honors. Bud went to my defense and, as it turned out, I had won. However, there was some behind-the scenes manipulation that had been attempted in order to place the other swimmer higher. Bud called them out for their deception, privately, pulling me and my parents aside to share that it was better to let the other swimmer keep the trophy, in spite of the questionable circumstances. It was the “right” thing to do. The next week, he presented me with the same trophy that had been taken away, remarking that I had more than earned the award. That has always stuck with me. Bud not only made sure the folks who had done the misdeed were called out, he was also aware the swimmer was not responsible and should not be put into the same embarrassing, awkward position that I had been. That was the kind of man he was. Gruff. Hard-as-nails. Thoughtful. Kind. Generous.

But this wander down memory lane began with sunscreen and so it shall come full circle. All that time at the pool and running around in the sunshine was not without suntan lotions. Discussion, then, was not about sunscreen, although I know we used some protection, and remember proudly slathering zinc on my nose when I was finally on lifeguard duty. And, of course, it was the era of baby oil. Yes, the generation that barbecued itself in backyards and beaches and mountainsides everywhere. Why I still have any skin at this point in my history is a good question, particularly with today’s knowledge of skin cancer and related issues. These days, I do ritualistically use sunscreen and find myself in the perpetual conundrum of which product is best suited to me.

Do I go with the spray that leaves me feeling a bit like I have come from an overly aggressive hair salon appointment? Or is the traditional lotion, requiring me to stand bare-naked for a period to assure it has soaked into my skin thoroughly a better choice? Perhaps I need a stick to toss in my bag? And what protection number is appropriate? Reading all the data out there, it can be hard to discern what route offers the best, most efficient coverage. I have found myself leaning toward the baby offerings figuring they need the most protection, so that should do the trick.

So what is the result of all this rambling? Use sunscreen. Use it for a myriad of reasons. Use it for your health. And most importantly, use it because that is what Bud would tell you to do.