Any member of my family and all of my friends will tell you that I worship the sun. It’s never been a secret! In fact, everyone that knows me will agree that I can lounge in it for hours and that my skin will turn a deep dark shade of brown in the process. I’ve loved the sun for as long as I can remember – the uplifting feeling it seems to create within people and the happy memories that are made when it appears… pool parties, barbecues, picnics…all of the things that wouldn’t occur without the sun’s presence. More exciting plans are made when the sun is out, people worry less and smile more. You could argue that it incites happiness. Then there’s the concept of a tan – I personally feel so much more confident both in the physical and mental sense when I have one. So, it will come as no surprise for you to read that on my recent holiday to Fuerteventura with Darren and his family, I whipped off my clothes at the first opportunity and headed out to sunbathe without applying sun cream. Darren prompted me to put some on, reminding me that “our last summer holiday was two years ago” and that my skin “might not be as used to the heat”. Unfortunately, I ignored his advice and it wasn’t long before I really wished I hadn’t.
That evening, my skin was glowing red and stinging. To be honest, that part wasn’t too unusual. I normally burn a little during my first day in the sun but by the next day it turns brown, providing me with a base tan to keep topping up. I assumed this situation would be no different, but I was wrong. The next morning I woke with a jolt. All I knew was that something wasn’t right. The skin on my face felt tight and my head felt very heavy. I struggled to hold it up as though it had doubled in weight. I ran to the bathroom, flicked the light on and looked straight into the mirror. My reflection shocked me to the core. My face was swollen beyond recognition. My forehead was bulbous, my cheeks were puffed right up and my eyes were minuscule slits behind them. I shouted Darren to come and look. He looked as shocked as I felt and ran around opening doors and windows, hoping that the swelling was due to the high temperature in our apartment and that it would disappear when my body cooled down. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
We tried ice packs and cold towels but it kept on swelling and the pressure in my head was increasing. Soon we visited a local chemist. The pain I felt when my face hit the sun was immense. Try using your fingers to push your cheeks into the corner of your eyes and imagine the whole area throbbing and continuing to rise and swell until you can’t see. Couple that with a horrible burning sensation across your forehead and you are still nowhere near to the level of pain and discomfort that I felt. The chemist immediately surmised that I’d had an allergic reaction to the sun. Basically, I’d exposed myself to far too much of it. I felt so stupid. I had thrown myself under the harsh sunlight with no protection at all. All too late, I was no longer bothered about getting a tan. All I cared about was getting my face back to normal. The one I was currently struggling to hold up off a pillow really did feel like someone else’s. I spent the rest of that day in bed, wailing in pain, gulping antihistamines and crying to everyone I came into contact with. I rang my mum back in the UK and sobbed down the phone. I didn’t leave our apartment that night and hoped that the swelling would be gone when I woke. Unfortunately, it continued and the following morning my left eye was prised shut. What I could see out of my right eye wasn’t good. I cried again, having to physically pull my left eye open to let my bubbling tears fall down my face. Over the course of the day, the swelling calmed. Exactly like a blister, my forehead seemed to burst and the skin underneath was red raw. To say it was sore to touch would be an understatement. When Darren brushed his hand over it, I sobbed, and when he gently rubbed aloe vera gel into it, I screamed. The pain was like nothing I’ve ever experienced but to sum it up, it felt as though a lighter was being held up to my head. The burning sensation was intense and my skin felt as though it was literally boiling. That night I managed to sleep and when I woke, the swelling had finally started to clear. The worst part was under my eyes and cheeks. I was finally able to smile without it hurting and we joked that I looked like a hamster.
But the truth was, the whole ordeal had been far from funny and had seriously frightened me. I completely underestimated how much damage the sun could actually do and I learned the true extent the hard way. Not wearing any sun cream was so foolish and I am 100% aware that I am ultimately responsible for the excruciating pain I experienced. The point of this blog post is to hopefully inspire people to always wear sun cream and to realise that you are not immune to UV damage like I thought I was. All too often you read about these sorts of stories and you think “that would never happen to me”. Hopefully, this will prove that it really can happen to anyone and it just isn’t worth the risk. Luckily all I lost was three days of my summer holiday and a little bit of confidence, but I have since read stories that have ended much more seriously and resulted in people being hospitalised. I know most people will read this and forget about it, but I hope it strikes a chord with some and perhaps makes them think twice about ditching the sun cream. Trust me, it’s not a good idea!