Money not burned when spent on sunscreen

Two weekends ago, I made sure my young daughters put on suntan lotion before they went swimming, but somehow, neglected to use any myself.

My back is still peeling apart -- no, make that falling apart.

So when a spokesperson for a major suntan lotion company sent me these tips for protecting oneself from harmful ultraviolet rays, I decided that that I couldn't keep these to myself, even though, really, protecting oneself from the sun doesn't have much to do with personal finance.

That said, if you get sun poisoning, you probably won't be able to work and earn money. Ah, there's my connection.

Anyway, maybe by passing on this wisdom, I might save someone else from having their skin look like a shriveled up tomato.

Here are the suggestions -- from Coppertone.

Apply, apply, apply. (I can vouch for this one, folks.) They suggest reapplying every 80 minutes and after swimming, toweling off or sweating (even if the sunscreen is waterproof and sweatproof).

Double-Up. When you think you have applied enough, apply more. Coppertone says that it takes one ounce of sunscreen to properly protect your face and body. I'm sure they're right and don't doubt the logic of this, but boy is their advice self-serving.

Follow the shadow rule. If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun's rays are at their strongest. They suggest covering yourself with protect clothing like a hat and sunglasses.

Choose a sunscreen that you'll actually use. If it feels good on your skin and is easy to use, the more likely you'll reapply.

Products that withstand the elements are key. Whether you're playing volleyball, running on the beach or even surfing, despite the fact they admit these safeguards aren't perfect, use a sunscreen that is waterproof and ultra-sweatproof (so it won't run into your eyes and sting).

See a dermatologist once a year for a skin check. They say no matter what your age, but I still doubt I'd want to take my six-year-old in. At any rate, Coppertone says, "if detected early, melanoma can be treatable." In fact, it's 99% treatable -- if you catch it early.

One more thing -- if you happen to be in Washington, D.C. this weekend and are anywhere near Safeway's National Capital Barbeque Battle XVI, you can visit Coppertone's DermaPhotoBooth. Here you can get photos that will reveal hidden damage beneath the skin's surface, including damage caused by the sun's harmful UVA/UVB rays.

Now, nothing against their suntan lotion -- I've used it many times -- and I think the photo booth sounds like a good idea. But in their press release, the DermaPhotoBooth is described as "a fun way to help educate consumers on the skin-damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays."

Fun? For who? The Coppertone people, maybe, but not me. I can see where it would be educational and certainly helpful, but fun to see what damage the sun has wrought on our skin? I can't think of anything less fun, except maybe hearing from a doctor in excrutiating detail how that last cheeseburger is currently affecting my intestines.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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