Monday, 8 January 2007

The Seven Stages Of Sunburn

So an unfortunate picnic, a bit of sunny frolic, the temptation of a warm day and the blossoming gardens has made me pay through the pores with sunburn. Deliver me from evil.

There are several stages of sunburn. Here, I shall canvass, the Seven Stages Of Sunburn (open to challenge)


I was but a naive lass. The dancing rays looked so beautiful there, and beckoned me. "Leetle girl .... it's only a bit of sun ... shine .... want a bit of sun ... shine ... leetle girl ....???"

Foolishly, I forgot Rule Number 1 from my Stranger Danger 101 class - if anything or anyone calls out to you in a bad imitation of a German accent, don't be tempted. I threw caution to the wind, forgot sunscreen and hat in my bliss, and baked in the sun for a good many hours. It's a subversive creature, this sun-thing, like the evil stranger with the lollies, the lollies and the sun are actually quite good and there isn't any warning that there might be anything wrong. If the Government was doing its job, there would be a label on the sun "Be Alert But Not Alarmed". But with Little Johnny not caring (it's OK for him - he has an Akubra and a Wallabies jumpsuit for full protection, but what about the rest of us who don't have a sun-protector uniform?), we need self-monitoring. Something I, errh, forgot.


When the evening cooled, some kind person asked me "Why are you red?"

I'd been baked in an oven called a park picnic for several hours, and my immediate thought was, "Oh no - I haven't become allergic to the MSG or the peanuts in my meal, have I? Am I having a chemical reaction?"

I could not, would not, believe I had sunburn.

I studies my reddened hands and hoped I was just blushing a bit. Perhaps I had my fly undone and I was embarrassed. Hopefully that was it. In fact, I began walking lop-sided and making quacking sounds in the hope that if I really was foolish enough, it would become embarrassment redness, not the dreaded sunburn redness.

I could not, would not, be sunburnt.

Oh no, sirree. Oh no. Not me.


There's a funny sensation when you take off your clothes at night and it seems like they're still on, because you can see the exact outline of where they've been. Because every bit of you is bright, deep red, except the pale white of your skin underneath.

Ah-huh. "It will soon go down," I muttered, unconvincingly.

Bits of me blistered pulpously, daringly.

Red. Red. Red. I ought to be swimming around in a tank in a Chinese restaurant; instead - I'm supposed to be ... going out tomorrow?

Oh no.


Being a lobster doesn't accord you special respect in this society, not the way being a senior, or a returned soldier does. I braved the Christmas crowds.

"You're bring really paranoid, Maria," I told myself. "No one looks at you at all, they're doing post Christmas shopping." I watched as shopper after shopper looked at me, gasped, cried, shrieked and picked up sunscreen and hats.

At least I inspired them for good.

Toddlers stopped and pointed, "What's that Mummy?"

Children all over Sydney that day added the word "FREAK" to their vocabulary (as "idiot who doesn't know to take out a hat and splash on the 30 plus when they go out into the sun" was a bit unwieldy for the occasion).

Others mocked me, and asked if I was in great need of medical attention. None came straight out and suggested an injection of brain cells, but I'm sure it was on their minds.


OK, I get it. I was stupid. I didn't take out sunscreen. I am being punished enough emotionally and aesthetically, oh powers that be. I look like a freak. People treat me like a pariah. So why, oh why, must you deliver physical pain as a punishment as well? Oh, was my crime so great? It was only a few hours in the sun! Ohhhhh ... I'll be good .... Oh .... I'll be good ... pleeease!

People who take drugs, torture cats, steal, oh, are they tortured in these ways - their looks ruined, their emotions cruelly torn to pieces, and put through physical pain as well?

The skin on my muscles has tightened. It's difficult to move.

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

OK, powers that be! I get the ... ouch! ... point!


I empathised with the lobster, now 'tis time to empathise with the snake. Shed the skin.

If only, like the snake, I could shed the skin in one easy piece. Slide out of it like a perfect body suit. Instead, peeling means little bits of flakes that rub off your nose and tend to fall into your breakfast cereal (did I ask for sugar on my cornflakes or bits of skin?) and trail all over your carpet which means heaps of hoovering. Find a sunburnt person by following the trail of skin.

The other bit is skin that doesn't quite fall off, but peels off, and is old, ready to fall off skin, but is dangling off your arm or leg or back, looking rather disgusting. What is the etiquette? Does one wait for it to fall off at an inopportune moment, or let it dangle and sometimes wave around a bit in the breeze - looking not very well groomed - or does one attempt to help these bits of loose skin on their way? And if so, since these loose bits some loose continuously, is it polite to push them off one's arm in public. Be off, damned dangly skin bit!

Oh to heck with being polite - just get rid of it! I'm itchy.


Otherwise known as "Free At Last!"

(Note: I have not reached this stage yet, however, I have experienced sunburn for, and know that the Castle In The Air is awaiting me. I'm waiting. I'm climbing.)

Your body has finally forgiven you. For some people, your skin will have gone back to its usual colour, for others it may have deepened into a tan. But the pain, the glowing redness, has stopped. The peeling has disappeared. You have passed the tests. You have survived.

You have been forgiven, and hopefully, The Powers That Be are saying, you have learnt your lesson. Diligently you splash on 30+ sunscreen, wear a T-shirt at the beach, choose shady spots to picnic under, wear large hats.

This diligence will last all of about 3 weeks, if you are fortunate, until you lobsterise yet again.


Apache said...

Maria, there may also be a stage, or maybe a semi-stage, located between Pain and Peeling called 'Contrast'. This embraces the time between when the pain and redness begins to subside but before the peeling starts. This stage, although brief, has a quiet satisfaction to it as you get the full contrast of your burnt skin when placed next to unburnt pale skin. The greatest time for this is when you have a shower and can place your glowing red arm against the never-seen-the-sun-ever whiter than white skin of your bottom, and here you can also realise that, just as your bottom is very soft, so would your arm be if it had never been exposed to the sun.

Anonymous said...

How long does the "Contrast" stage usually last? I'm in that stage right now, but it's on my face, so I am very eager for it to go away... Thank you!

Anonymous said...

There is also a swollen ankle stage, I am in it right now, maybe you were blessed enough to skip it. I have no ankle bone at the moment and my shoes won't fit, I'm never going outside without sunscreen again. never.

Anonymous said...


Smith Jons said...

If you have a bad sun burn, these are the products I would recommend: