I have the unfortunate experience of having one parent of France origin (mom) and one of South African origin (dad). Any reasonable person would assume my mom to be the lighter skinned one, but oh no. You see the French, though they will not admit it, have some Northern African influence in their gene and tend to develop a nice, olivey skin when exposed to the sun.
My father on the other hand, was born and raised in South Africa. His parents are both English and have traveled extensively (his mom for one was born in India, his dad was in the army and moved around I suppose). Which means that -when his hair is not gray- he is red-headed with tons of freckles. His skin looks tan, but upon closer look, his freckles have only blended with each other, making it look like a solid, orangy color.
I studied genetics in undergrad and I understand that assortment of the genes for skin color is incredibly complex. So, by some genetic freakiness, I have developed skin that is much whiter and more sensitive than my mom and even my dad's.
This is quite unfortunate for a family that enjoys being on the beach. My parents caught on quickly that, as a baby, it was safer and wiser to place me in the shade, with a hat, long sleeves, a thick layer of sunscreen and plenty of water to drink. Yes, I was that freaky kid that couldn't make sand castles with others and went in the water with full clothing.
I went to the beach as a baby with my cousins once, and to this day, my uncle says I owe him hundreds of dollars in sun cream.
I can't remember how many times I was so sunburnt that it hurt to lie on the sheets. A good dermatologist will tell you that if you have been strongly burnt more than 3 times, you are very likely to develop skin cancer. Try being severly burnt at least 40 times.
I remember taking antibiotics once and going shopping in the strong French sun. The sun was weirdly intense and every ray that fell on my face and arms felt like little needles digging under my skin. When home, I developed a painful headache, and my hands swelled up with hundreds of itchy pimples. The next day, I went to see a pharmacist who flinched when she saw me and quickly reached behind her counter. She came up with two products: 1) Biafine cream which is given to burn victims and chemotherapy patients to cool their skin, and 2) SPF 100 that she routinely gives to albino people. I swear this is completely true.
To this day, I still have people that say to me "I don't believe you can be so white. All you need is to expose yourself progressively to the sun". Not many things annoy me in life, but I CAN'T STAND IT when people say that. Trust me buddy, I've tried it for the last 25 years and it just ain't working for me.
Needless to say that at 29, I know exactly when I have had too much sun. My body temperature hits a certainly level and I know it's time to go home, despite my darting in and out of the shade all day and drinking like a camel. It's just time, that's it.
Yesterday, enthralled by the Folklife Festival organized by the Smithsonian on the Washington D.C. Mall, I spend 4 hours in 92 degree, humid weather. When I hit my peak of sun, I decided to go home but was swayed by the various cultures represented in the festival. I stayed one hour too late and:
1-Instantly developed a throbbing headache behind my eyes and in the back of my head
2-I noticed that I barely sweat in the whole 5 hours there
3-Felt weak and had a hard time holding onto my bike while taking the bus home (some dude made fun of me for not biking home--asswipe!)
4-I couldn't get enough air into my lungs and sighed a lot
5-Took a cold bath and went to bed
6-In bed, the headache worsened and I constantly changed position for comfort
7-I tried to drink but water was making me nauseous (this is a telltale sign of sunstroke for me)
8-Threw up violently three times
9-Finally slept like a log for 10 hours
I feel so much better today! And this morning, I still can't believe how stupid I am for overstaying my welcome in the sun. After 29 years, you would think that I would have learned my lesson. But no, I obviously haven't.
OK time to get ready to go to the last day of Festival!