The Sunburnt Country
October 19, 2018 11:40 AM   Subscribe

 
Thanks for posting, zeptoweasel. That was an excellent read from an excellent writer new to me.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:11 PM on October 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


Kind of halfway surprised that the Aussies aren't assassinating Chinese industrialists over the new rise in CFCs.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Good read. I feel lied to by all of Australia that they say prawn rather than shrimp.

I am about the same age and probably have a similar complexion as the author but grew up in a much less sun-drenched culture. My mom was a sunscreen zealot but I don't remember many other kids having to wear it at the neighborhood pool where I probably spent 20 hours a week over the summer. Now when I go to the pool I positively ache for the teenaged lifeguards bronzing their beautiful young skin. At least they tend to use umbrellas when they're on the lifeguard stands now.
posted by skewed at 12:26 PM on October 19, 2018


This is the first I have heard of Aldara and of course I had to go look at things about it, being a white, originally red-haired (now fake red over light brown & grey), green-eyed, family-history-of-melanoma person. At once terrifying and calming?

Great read, though.
posted by wellred at 12:35 PM on October 19, 2018


This is an excellent essay, thanks for sharing it.
posted by PussKillian at 12:36 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Great read, but yikes. I wish more places offered skin cancer screening.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:46 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wow. That was great. And a little scary. Also, I had no idea that Australia was under the ozone hole. To be honest, I never wondered where the ozone hole was. Which seems strange to me now.
posted by pangolin party at 1:06 PM on October 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


See, and I read this, and I think about what we've contributed to that hole in the ozone layer from over here in the U.S., and I think about this, and I think, how dare we turn anyone away from this country, for all we've done to destroy people in other countries? We have the space, and a quarter of the country isn't desert quite yet (though it will be). Not that Australia hasn't done plenty to destroy its own and bar immigrants and the whole nine yards, too, because as the article gets into, it has, but yeah.

I also worry about the sunburns I repeatedly got during the summer when I was a kid, obsessed with the wave pool at our inland water attractions. I think about a friend who moved from here to California who surfs, and the damage committing to that L.A. life has probably done to his skin. I think about the dermatologist appointment I just had yesterday, and the two new tiny benign angiomas I've developed. I think about the fact that two people in my immediate family have had cancer, and how my father died of it this past summer, and how just this past week a close relative had major surgery because precancerous cells were found, and how, well, a couple of them smoked, and yeah, we grew up in what is turning out to be a cancer cluster area, but we also were always encouraged to spend a lot of time outside, too, and ugh. Was it the sun, or was it the radioactive dust in the creek? I think about a Florida beach vacation I'm planning. I really do love the beach.

For my sanity I can't think about this all the time, and I'm going to go do something that gives me joy, but the thoughts surface readily of late. The sun already had enough power without our giving it more.
posted by limeonaire at 1:10 PM on October 19, 2018 [13 favorites]


I took my four year old on a vacation to Sydney last year, and there were multiple days during our trip where the UV index was 14 or something and the forecast something like, “Do not go outside today.” I was a stupid tourist, and this environmental problem is one I was almost totally unprepared for. Like, I had a hat, I had sunscreen, but I had not planned for being confined indoors during sunny days on vacation.
posted by eirias at 1:21 PM on October 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


We’re visiting Melbourne this week (from California) and spent a half drizzly half sunny afternoon at the botanic garden. On the tram tour my companion commented on one of the groups of adorable pre-school children all kitted up in their cute little school outfits and especially their precious matching red sun hats.

“Yes,” said the volunteer tour guide in melodious sing-song, “we take much more care to protect ourselves and the children from the sun these days... And over on our left is the garden’s oak collection, none of which of course are native to Australia.”
posted by notyou at 1:28 PM on October 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


I generally just think about that white classmate of mine who mocked me for using a UV umbrella "like all the other Asian girls" and told me to quit it. I frowned, as he was talking to me this on a 99 degree day with a very high UV index, and I wondered if his racism and sexism made him think he was invincible to skin cancer.

Folks, always protect yourself from the sun and assholes, because they come for you even if you don't want it!
posted by yueliang at 2:56 PM on October 19, 2018 [33 favorites]


mocked me for using a UV umbrella

Wait, that's what those clear plastic umbrellas are for? I thought they were just to look cool!
posted by Quackles at 3:02 PM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah, fear of the sun and getting sunburnt (which happens so easily here on very mild overcast days) meant I was left completely shocked when we were at Disneyworld in Florida at the height of summer, spent the whole day outside and didn’t get burnt at all.

Having said that, never not been outside because of the UV rating so not sure how many people follow that down here, eiras.
posted by liquorice at 4:14 PM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


People of northern European heritage trying to tan are damned idiots. My mother has had at least 5 skin cancers or pre cancerous lesions removed. My sister tanned on the regular until she developed a melanoma on her face at age 27. We're all genetically Irish as hell and yet they continued to defy the concept that the sun is their enemy until they had concrete proof in front of them.

I've had some horrific sunburns but they've never been intentional and I do my best to avoid the sun when I can. Accept that you're white and deal with it.
posted by Ferreous at 4:54 PM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


How do people typically find skin cancers? I keep hearing (in this article and other places) about dermatologists recommending that things be removed, but I honestly don't know that I'd ever spot skin cancer myself. I had a friend in high school got a yearly mole check by her dermatologist, but that was never available to me (USA! USA!). Do you just go to the doctor and ask "does this mole look okay to you?"
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:00 PM on October 19, 2018


Generally a dermatologist. They'll give you a once over and point out anything that looks suspect.
posted by Ferreous at 5:07 PM on October 19, 2018


Kind of halfway surprised that the Aussies aren't assassinating Chinese industrialists over the new rise in CFCs.

Yeah, that would be kind of hypocritical considering the Aussies have more than three times the emissions per capita than the Chinese.
posted by Borborygmus at 5:11 PM on October 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


I would also note that the rural Southwest is the American version of this. Moving to rural southern Utah and seeing people my age who looked a decade older because of sun exposure was eye opening. A mess of Americana with Irish and German heritage wandering out into the high desert is a recipe for rawhide
posted by Ferreous at 5:13 PM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Climate change != ozone depletion, and greenhouse gases != ozone deleting substances.
posted by agentofselection at 5:16 PM on October 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


Generally a dermatologist. They'll give you a once over and point out anything that looks suspect.

Heck, start with your GP if you don't have a regular dermatologist. (Derms are in very short supply in the US right now, so don't wait months and months for a referral to check a worrisome mole out -- definitely make a derm appointment, but have your GP check it out in the meantime.)
posted by elsietheeel at 5:39 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Among my memories of Australia are the Slip Slop Slap campaign and meeting a friend's ginger-and-white cat, Mr. Pussums, who had a very menacing-looking tumor on his nose.

Meanwhile I'm a test case for the aging effects of sun: after a childhood in the LA area and an adulthood basically underground in New York City, I look a good five years younger than many of my primary-school classmates who never moved away.
posted by gusandrews at 6:23 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yes, I grew up in that era where, if you had really light skin, you were supposed to get a burn, have that skin basically peel off, then you'd have a (slight) tan for the rest of the summer. As a result, now, as an older adult, they often find growths to remove at my yearly dermo skin check. Fortunately, so far, it has been the usually non-spreading non-melanoma type of growths.

I remember reading years ago about the ozone hole over Chile and how they found lower instances of melanoma than normal in Santiago. It turned out that lots of low level ozone (smog) was protecting them from the ultraviolet rays (while damaging their lungs).
posted by eye of newt at 6:23 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


One thing a heap of people don't realise about sunscreen is that if you're going to be outside all day on really bad UV days you may need to re-apply it more often than the four hours most manufacturers suggest.

Years ago I had a job working outside on an hot and humid day with 14+ UV and even a new coat of sunscreen every two hours wasn't enough to stop a light burn.
posted by zymil at 6:34 PM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


I remember when Slip Slop Slap no longer cut it, and was replaced by “between eleven and three, sit under a tree”. Nowadays they'd probably have to come up with a rhyme fitting in hours closer to dusk/dawn.
posted by acb at 6:35 PM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


How do people typically find skin cancers?

I can't recall the name, but there are phone apps for this... at least one of which simply sends images of questionable marks to an actual dermatologist who will provide advice, along with tracking changes over time. The one I'm thinking of was free for the first few checks, and then cost per check. The only ones I can find now are just some form of image analysis.

...and yeah the ozone hole sucks. I got sunstroke once on a not-very-warm, fairly cloudy day because Tasmania.
posted by pompomtom at 6:43 PM on October 19, 2018


How do people typically find skin cancers?

Anecdotally, a lot of people only become aware when a friend/partner points them out, particularly if they're not on the half of your body you can easily see yourself.

I believe the recommendation is that all fair-skinned people should get an annual derm appointment, during which you strip down and they basically look you over and note everything; each year they compare to the previous and see if anything is growing. That's the real indicator—there are other signs that would raise the index of suspicion, just based on appearance, but something that's growing suddenly when it wasn't growing for years before is a red flag.

There was a podcast I listened to a while ago that said we could probably save a significant number of lives if we had automated skin exam booths and encouraged people to use them at least annually. They suggested something like a human-sized Xerox machine / flatbed scanner (guess you could repurpose some tanning booths, that'd be ironic) that would take a high-res image of your skin, then do the comparison via computer to spot differences from one to the next. It seems like a problem that'd be fairly amenable to automation, and there is a terrible shortage of dermatologists.

Or some Silicon Valley types could probably make an app for it, and just have everyone take a picture using their cellphones. That's probably more likely, because America. (Bonus if it could just use whatever naked selfies might be on your phone already and save a step!)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:09 PM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Living in Australia, I would recommend that everyone, no matter your shade, be wary of the sun. I have gotten tan, way tan, while wearing ridiculous sun hat and Japanese sunscreen every day, including rainy days. I also have gotten freckles, too... Basically, keep your youth, become mole people.
posted by jadepearl at 7:55 PM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I am actually going to a dermatologist next week here in TX and it wasn't that hard to find one so I guess YMMV. Anyway, none of my moles look like the suspicious kind but I keep getting new ones and feel like they need checking. I got a few bad sunburns as a kid ( the kind where your dead skin peels off later) so yeah, I need to check.
posted by emjaybee at 8:10 PM on October 19, 2018


14 tons of sunscreen end up polluting the ocean every year.
posted by aniola at 8:28 PM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Grew up in AZ, yearly dermatologist check ups have always been a thing for me. Here in the SouthWest USA plants all over my city turned white from UV damage this summer. This stuff is no joke people.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:01 PM on October 19, 2018


Oh, thanks for the info.

The only health insurance I've had as an adult was my university health plan, and they had a dermatologist on staff, but for whatever reason they didn't offer checkups. I asked about skin cancer screening and they said "oh, we only make an appointment if there's a problem."

This article freaked me out because I'm pretty pale, I have a few dozen moles, and my dad and grandfather have both had precancerous spots removed. Whenever I get a job with health insurance again, I'll look into yearly skin checks. (Guess what shithole county I'm in.)
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:03 PM on October 19, 2018


If you work on larger civil construction jobs in Australia these days the solution is mandatory long pants, mandatory long sleeves, mandatory hat and a heap of sunscreen. It's great fun when the temperature is in the 40's.
posted by deadwax at 10:11 PM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm out in the sun now and have been out in Wentworth and stuff for hours now and today, this article really resonates. I can feel the slow irradiation singeing of my neck.

My one problem would be is SPF30 is not what I see these days, more like SPF 50+ or 70+, especially for my Irish mates.

Someone was telling me about concealers with SPF and how it's really been helping them save time.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 10:21 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I believe the recommendation is that all fair-skinned people should get an annual derm appointment, during which you strip down and they basically look you over and note everything; each year they compare to the previous and see if anything is growing.

Unfortunately it's increasingly difficult to get this. When I first got an appointment like this, the hoops my HMO required jumping through included having a first, "evaluation" appointment about a specific mole (pick a mole, any mole) before they would make an appointment for a full-body check. "I have 44 moles on my left arm below the shoulder," I told the person on the phone scheduling the first appointment. "The rest of my body is similar. Do I really need to say one in particular is worrying me?" Yes, I was informed. I chose one mole, almost at random, and booked the appointment.

At the appointment, I was sitting on the exam table in a paper gown when a nurse walked into the room. She looked at me, looked at the appointment info, looked back at me, and said "So, we'll be scheduling a full-body check?"

And even with that, the third time I went in for a full-body check, the doctor told me that since everything looked stable it didn't make sense to keep having these appointments. He did, in fact, recommend using the phone cam to take pictures of all my moles every month so if I notice a difference I can get it checked.

It's ridiculous and frustrating. I'm very pale, I have a kazillion moles, one of my parents had skin cancer, I actually have health insurance, and I can't get my doctors to check me.
posted by Lexica at 10:37 PM on October 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


I grew up in the '60's and '70's in south central Texas and spent more than my fair share on Summerville Lake and Lake Conroe as well as the beaches of Corpus Christi and Galveston. I couldn't begin to count the number times I was severely burned.

Since moving to Australia 15 years ago, I've been much more careful with sun protections, especially given most of my hobbies had me outside in the summer sun for hours at a time. I thought I'd dodged a bullet until I noticed a lesion on my left cheek. I showed it to my GP and got a referral to a Dermatologist.

The Dermatologist to a close look at the cheek lesion and said he thought it was likely to be a solar keratosis. But he was more concerned with something barely below my left eye. I literally couldn't tell anything was there. It looked like completely normal skin. Both locations were biopsied with the cheek being confirmed as an SK and the one next to my eye as a BCC.

The SK was burned off with liquid nitrogen, but the BCC was too close to 'fragile structures' to do anything else than full surgery using a skin flap technique. I can't remember the precise size of the tumour, but it was surprisingly large.

I don't have many moles, but I now know I have significant skin damage and have regular appointments with my Dermatologist.


Oh, and I enjoyed the essay and it's linkage to Australia's social history and White Australia policies.
posted by michswiss at 10:59 PM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


If you don't know what to look for then odds are the moles that freak you out are the ones that are fine. I just ask my GP to check when I'm there for something else and recently asked about an odd thing on my forehead and next thing it's getting biopsied and I need to make another appointment to get it cut out. And I'm of the slip slop slap / me no fry generation and pretty much hate outdoors. But English/Irish heritage, yo.
posted by kitten magic at 11:04 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


And so true about our sun being burn-ier. I've been in LA and Europe on hot summery days where I can wander around all day and yes tan a bit but it's nothing like the sun here. Ours feels like it will incinerate you.

No hat, no play was after my time but is funny for an adult in a school playground. The hats are all identical (school uniform) and very wide brimmed and with little kids it's like a sea of navy blue mushrooms milling around. I used to tip the brim so I could see which of the little mushrooms was addressing me.
posted by kitten magic at 11:10 PM on October 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Relevant:

"We Can Run"
We don't own this place, though we act as if we did,
It's a loan from the children of our children's kids.
The actual owners haven't even been born yet.

Bur we never tend the garden and rarely we pay the rent,
Some of it is broken and the rest of it is bent
Put it all on plastic and I wonder where we'll be when the bills hit.

Chorus:
We can run,
But we can't hide from it.
Of all possible worlds,
We only got one:
We gotta ride on it.
Whatever we've done,
We'll never get far from what we leave behind,
Baby, we can run, run, run, but we can't hide.
Oh no, we can't hide.


I'm dumpin' my trash in your back yard
Makin' certain you don't notice really isn't so hard
You're so busy with your guns and all of your excuses to use them.
Well, it's oil for the rich and babies for the poor,
We got everyone believin' that more is more,
If a reckoning comes, maybe we will know what to do then.

(chorus)

All these complications seem to leave no choice,
I heard the tongues of billions speak with just one voice,
Saying, "just leave all the rest to me,
I need it worse than you, you see."
And then I heard,
The sound of one child crying.

Today I went walking in the amber wind,
There's a hole in the sky where the light pours in
I remembered the days when I wasn't afraid of the sunshine.
But now it beats down on the asphalt land
Like a hammering blow from god's left hand
What little still grows cringes in the shade til the night time

(chorus x3)


Songwriters: Brent Richard Mydland / John Barlow
posted by mikelieman at 11:29 PM on October 19, 2018


I guess it's no coincidence that the Julian Lennon song "Saltwater" ("But when I hear about the hole in the skyyyyyy, saltwater wells in my eyes") was huge in Australia when I was a kid. It was the time the author's talking about, when tanning was suddenly out and "sun smart" was in and we all had to start wearing those hideous legionnaires hats to school.

As soon as my dermatologist in the US heard my accent, he said, "Oh, you're going to have to come back for yearly checkups," which is fair enough.
posted by retrograde at 12:53 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I remember when Slip Slop Slap no longer cut it, and was replaced by “between eleven and three, sit under a tree”.

Ah, I remember that - but it wasn't a replacement, it was an addition to the main lyric. And the next line was, "The best sunscreen of all is absolutely free!"
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 2:42 AM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


We’re visiting Melbourne this week (from California) and spent a half drizzly half sunny afternoon at the botanic garden.
notyou

Ah, Melbourne weather. Never less than three different seasons every 24 hours.
posted by Pouteria at 6:43 AM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Or some Silicon Valley types could probably make an app for it, and just have everyone take a picture using their cellphones. That's probably more likely, because America. (Bonus if it could just use whatever naked selfies might be on your phone already and save a step!)

And a hacker can post a trove of the naked photos (that the company swore it didn’t keep) on Reddit and call it the Slip-Slop-Slappening.
posted by ejs at 7:45 AM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is why I am obsessive about sun protection. I burned a lot as a kid and I'm trying to make up for it as an adult, though I know there's so much I can do. Unfortunately all the good sunscreen actives aren't approved in the US (approved literally everywhere else, though) so I import my sunscreens from Europe. It's more expensive, but worth it. Then I always wear a hat and long sleeves when I go outside, though recently I switched to a UV umbrella. I feel pretty silly but between the risk of skin cancer and my mom aging really fast I'll deal with it.
posted by schroedinger at 10:29 AM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Uh where do you import them from? From one pale burny fragile white person to another?

(I take personal offense that I still have to supplement vitamin D. That was supposed to be the trade off! Dumb pale burny cancer skin with the power to synthesize vitamin D from almost nothing!)
posted by schadenfrau at 10:33 AM on October 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


In Australia, all GPs are trained in the detection of skin cancers
posted by chiquitita at 1:41 PM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Schadenfrau, I hear you! GP appointment that found my BCC also involved hearing once again that my vit D levels had tanked. Can my body not do this one thing?
posted by kitten magic at 3:07 PM on October 20, 2018


I don't know about European sunscreen, but Korean sunscreen is supposed to be very effective.
posted by Lexica at 3:37 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Elsewhere on metafilter:
In a number of papers and studies, Prof Carlos Camargo in the US and Prof Katie Allen and her colleagues in Australia have explored how a lack of exposure to sunlight – and a consequent vitamin D deficiency – can make infants three times more likely to have an egg allergy and a staggering 11 times more likely to have a peanut allergy.
posted by aniola at 9:41 PM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


The particular sunscreen (from the UltraSun line) I use I order off of ZestBeauty. The skincareaddiction subreddit is an extremely good resource for sunscreen advice and reviews.

Asian-origin sunscreens tend to be more cosmetically elegant than European sunscreens (i.e. less shiny, less goopy, absorb more evenly) but the trade-off is that they're more likely to come off with sweat and they generally aren't quite as hardcore.
posted by schroedinger at 4:48 PM on October 21, 2018


I am very cranky because I just discovered that the formulation of the sunscreen above that I mentioned has changed from what's on their website and is now much worse. I will be reviewing this list to see what fits my needs, has the filters I want, and will ship to the USA.
posted by schroedinger at 7:18 PM on October 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not only sea level that is dangerous.
I remember many visitors being burnt to a crisp in the dry Canberra heat of summer.
It’s around 1900 ft above sea level and really hits hard.
posted by johnny7 at 4:20 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


This piece is still haunting me weeks later. I love how it manages to address racism, the environment, and the ugly realities of older white people dealing with the consequences of their sun exposure all at once. I initially read it around the same time as my annual full-body skin cancer check, which has resulted in multiple follow up appointments this time, so the timing couldn't have been better (or worse?).
posted by woofferton at 7:38 AM on November 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


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