How I Dealt With My First Sunburn

How I Dealt With My First Sunburn

Writer Karen Walrond learns why sunscreen is so important the hard way.

By: Karen Walrond

Back in March, my daughter had a week off of school for spring break, so our family decided to spend some time with another family in Port Aransas — a small fishing town on the southern coast of the state of Texas. We packed our minivan and made the four-hour drive from Houston, arriving at a great little beach home. The sun was out, the sand was pristine — all the makings of a perfect little beach holiday.

There was just one issue: The weather was cool — at least cool by my definition. You see, I’m from the Caribbean: I’m used to beaches where the temperature is, at a minimum, 30 degrees. In early March in Texas, the temperatures were hovering at barely 21 degrees, so while my English husband and daughter braved the bracing water of the Gulf of Mexico, I sat on a beach chair, wrapped in a cover-up to keep off the chill.

And here is where I made my fatal mistake.

I’m black — of medium-to-dark complexion. I have only had two sunburns in my entire life, and they were both extremely mild and caused by spending 12 hours in the blazing Caribbean sun in Trinidad, my homeland that is just above the equator.

Sitting there in the early spring sun and shivering, I didn’t think there was any way that I could get a sunburn, especially when I knew that we wouldn’t be outside for very long, having had a late start. In fact, I spent most of those three hours on the beach that day nagging my husband, who is incredibly fair and burns easily, and repeatedly slathering sunscreen on him. My daughter, who is my complexion, was playing near the reflective waves, so I did put a bit of sunscreen on her. But me? I was wearing a cover-up! It was cold! I was fine.

We decided to pack up around 4 p.m. that day, as the sun was beginning to set and the temperature began to drop. Our families made our way up to the beach house and had a quiet night in, with the kids watching videos and the adults sitting on the covered porch until long after the children went to bed. Finally, at about midnight, we went inside.

My husband, Marcus, looked at me strangely.

“What?” I said.

“You. You’re — well, you’re red. I think you caught some sun.”


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I looked in the mirror and shrieked. I was scarlet — the first time I’d ever had sunburn this severe. About an hour later, the pain came all over my face and my chest. The next morning when I woke up, my face was swollen.

“I’m a giant tomato head!” I wailed.

My husband, to his credit, didn’t give me too hard of a time about it. “Yes, but you’re my tomato head,” he said, carefully kissing my forehead.

“You are like the poster child for climate change,” said my blond friend, Maile, incredulously. And then, having had a lot of experience dealing with the sun in her past, she took me under her wing.

The rest of our holiday was spent slathering aloe gel all over my face and neck and planting myself well under the beach umbrellas that we had brought. Thankfully, I didn’t blister, though a few days later I did peel all over my face and chest. It wasn’t pretty.

Months later, I mentioned this sunburn to my father, who is even darker than I am.

“Oh, I burn a lot too,” he said. “It started happening when I got older — I think my skin simply became more sensitive. I don’t go anywhere without sunscreen and a hat anymore.”

The experience was such a lesson for me: I had smugly assumed that the melanin in my skin would protect me — even in direct sunlight — as long as it wasn’t too warm. I’ve since learned my lesson and now wear sunscreen every single day. And so, learn from my mistakes: Take care of your skin, friends.

QUICK TIP: Don’t forget to protect your skin from the sun no matter what colour you are.

When she isn't sharing tips on StyleUnited on how to add more awesome to your life, you can find Karen on She's on a mission to prove to you that your life is filled with different, unique moments of beauty, starting with her book, The Beauty of Different. Her work can be seen on, TEDxHouston and USAToday.

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