personal story

How I learned to put sun safety first

Lupus Foundation of America

Resource Content

In the past three days, I’ve done one thing right and one thing wrong. The subject of these confessions? Sun protection.

The weekend after Memorial Day is my favorite weekend of the year. That’s when the Western Maryland Blues Festival comes to town. Four days and three nights of blues music, just a 10-minute bicycle ride from my house!

But it’s outdoors, in a big parking lot. All the folding chairs are in the sun. The stages are in the sun. Even the concession stands… Well, you get the picture. By the end of the weekend, you see a lot of sunburnt skin that runs the gamut from hot pink to flaming crimson.

I grew up in Texas, so I know sun, but too much of it has always made me feel exhausted and ill. I thought that was normal. Then, in 1993, I found out I had lupus. That’s when I learned that the sun can be a trigger for flares. Right away I invested in a wide-brimmed hat and scoured the drugstore shelves for a daily lotion with UV protection. I took to gardening in the early morning, or late afternoon, rather than during the peak UV hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

But I’m stubborn about my music, so last year I spent all day Friday and Saturday at the festival. I wore my sun protective shirt and slacks and wide-brimmed hat with the neck flap in back and slathered sunblock on any skin left exposed. I didn’t burn, but it took me a week to recover from the UV.

So this year, I bowed to my better judgment and passed up the midday acts. Instead, I headed to the festival after 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. I still heard some favorite artists and I didn’t get sunburned or sick.

Then I got bold: ‘Look at me, being all smart and sun-safe this past weekend,’ I said to myself Monday morning as I jumped in my car to drive an hour for my weekly commute to the office. I was only two blocks from home when I realized I needed my special light-weight shirt that covers my arms and neck when I drive. But I was running late, so I rationalized. Probably the sun won’t be so extreme once I’m on the highway, or so I thought.

The truth is I baked during my Monday morning commute, just like all those people at the festival. Car window glass does not keep out UV rays! Sure, it was only for an hour, but it wasn’t smart.

By the time I drive home, the sun will be setting. And as soon as I get there, that car shirt is going where it belongs so that I can protect myself from the sun next time.

Jenny Thorn Palter

has been living with her lupus diagnosis since 1993.