WTF: Sunscreen in South Africa

Posted on
Apr 10, 2013
Posted in: WTF, WTF Wednesdays

A powder is mixed at a township apothecary shop.

I need to relay to you the events of the last few hours. In doing so, I hope that these events will somehow seem more real, that I will have less cause to deny that they ever happened. Because right now, they seem to be the fabrications of a madman.

Here they are, in more or less chronological order, and nearly in rank of ascending madness:

  • Last night, I made a batch of cookies. In an unprecedented fit of willpower, I ate only a small number of these, and packed the rest away for Rand to bring to some friends of ours.
  • This morning, upon seeing the cookies that I had designated for our friends, I only removed one single cookie and ate it. The rest arrived at their intended recipients.
  • I went for another run today, from which I have just returned. It is my third run since returning home on Sunday evening. Contrary to what one might be tempted to conclude from this, at no time during these runs was I 1.) tied to a moving vehicle with a long length of rope, thereby forcing me to jog so as not to be dragged across a stretch of pavement or 2.) being chased by any number of wild animals or those people who you always see downtown, collecting signatures for obscure causes (I hate those guys. Even if I agree with the cause, I hate them).
  • Upon my return home after said run, I made myself a smoothie. Not only did the smoothie lack any semblance of ice cream, caramel, or chocolate, at one point I took a taste of it and concluded – VOLUNTARILY – that it needed more spinach.
  • In case you missed it above, this means that I, being of allegedly sound mind and body, thought it was a good idea to put spinach in a beverage in the first place.
  • I am now drinking the smoothie, seemingly of my own free will.
  • I kind of think it tastes sort of yummy. This frightens me.
  • Over the course of my run, it seems that I may have gotten a little too much sun. In Seattle. IN APRIL.

Needless to say, this last point is perhaps the most unbelievable one. I’m well aware of the truism about how you can get sun damage even on an overcast day, but this is the Pacific Northwest we’re talking about here. It is incredibly difficult to get sun in this part of the country, period, much less get too much sun.

But my cheeks are a little too red right now for my liking; I should have worn sunscreen. And it is this realization that, in an absolutely round about way, has inspired today’s post.

It is about sunscreen.

In South Africa, I doused myself with it. I would slather on thick layers before going out, which eventually found their way onto my hair and clothes and, for that matter, every single surface I can in contact with.

Including my poor husband who at one point tried to hug and me and recoiled his hand in terror.


I looked like a professional body builder.

(I mean in the sense that I was covered in grease and wearing very little clothing. Not in the actual body-building sense. Because the only thing I’ve built my body out of is cupcakes.


The sunscreen, which I applied liberally with a trowel, was labeled as “water-resistant”. If you are unfamiliar with that term, it simply means that the sunscreen will wash right off when you are swimming, but it will not come off in the shower, no matter how long you spend in there, shampooing and quietly weeping. On some days, I simply gave up.

Thankfully, after his original aversion, Rand seemed to grow accustomed to it.

I wondered how the locals managed, but didn’t think too much of it until we toured a township a few days later. That’s when I saw a woman walk by, her face colored a bright orange. I’d seen several other women with brightly colored faces walking about. I asked our guide about it.

“It protects her from the sun,” he explained.

“It’s sunblock?”

“Yes. All natural.”

Just as I began to think, judgmentally and unfairly, that she looked kind of ridiculous, I caught a glimpse of my reflection. My hair was still slick with grease, as was the collar of my shirt. My skin, slowly suffocating, had begun to break out (perhaps as a last ditch effort to get me to STOP APPLYING SUNSCREEN and stay inside).

And, perhaps worst of all, I realized I didn’t have the faintest clue of what I was putting on my skin. The ingredient list on the back of the bottle looked like the periodic table of elements.

I caught our guide’s attention.

“So … about that all-natural sunscreen …”

Leave a Comment

More from The Blog

On Instagram @theeverywhereist