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Throwing Shade

While spending hours at the gym, it dawned on me that while I had been taking good care of my body below the neck, I had neglected the part that is actually on display

By Sam Duckett Updated Jun.1

    As a man in his late 30s (or almost 40s, but who’s counting?), I must admit that it’s quite an unusual time to start caring about my skin. Although I have always been prone to sunburn, I used to think that living in a big city like Beijing, surrounded by skyscrapers, would protect me from harmful UV rays. However, hearing about my father’s sunburn mishap back in London changed my perspective. If such a thing can happen to him in the UK, a nation infamous for its gray weather, I now realize it’s time to up my sun protection game. While spending hours at the gym, it dawned on me that while I had been taking good care of my body below the neck, I had neglected the part that is actually on display. It struck me as an odd state of affairs; it was clear I needed to act. So, armed with a giant tub of SPF 50, I started shielding my skin from the sun’s wrath. 
    One day in Wangfujing, I saw a group of ladies walking under the shade of their parasols. Although my wife assured me that it was a normal sight, I doubted that I could rock the same look in England without drawing some attention. To this, my wife playfully reminded me that my size might also attract curious glances here in China. Nevertheless, I decided to embrace the local culture and bought the manliest parasol I could find online. I called it my “sun umbrella,” but I must admit that I didn’t look as macho as I had hoped.
    My crash course in UV protection continued during a trip to Yunnan Province last autumn, where I discovered the hard way that sunburn can sneak up on you, even on chilly days. Looking back at this story, I realized my “only wear sunscreen at the beach” theory was a tad off. It turns out that in Southwest China, you can get sunburned quite easily in the cold due to higher levels of UV rays. 
    I look at this as an opportune moment for me to prioritize sun safety. As my daughter turns 3, we’ve made a pact to explore the outdoors more. Not only do children need to get more fresh air in this digital world, but it appears our daughter tends to get sick after visits to indoor play centers. Not only that, but while these places are convenient and offer sun protection, I like planning engaging activities for our daddy-daughter time. 
    With the plethora of stunning parks and outdoor play areas for children in Beijing, there’s a world of adventure awaiting parents. From horseback riding to scaling outdoor climbing frames to leisurely strolls in the city’s expansive parks, we have tried to make this spring season count, while diligently overseeing our UV protection every step of the way. 
    While many attribute China’s sun protection culture to media influence and historical associations with wealth, I’ve come to a different conclusion. I believe the secret to the youthful appearance of many Asians lies in their diligent sun protection habits. And let me tell you, the market for UV-protective gear here is booming – cue my deep dive into Taobao for sun umbrellas, hat-masks and stylish UV jackets with bonus pockets. Who knew sun safety could be so fashionable, and the perfect catalyst to satisfy my Taobao binge cravings. 
    Don’t get me wrong; I still appreciate a sun-kissed glow – it adds a certain charm and serves as a delightful reminder of sunny vacations. However, reflecting on past sun-drenched holidays that left me looking like a boiled lobster, I’ve realized I need to be a bit more careful. While I may still bask in the sun’s warmth to achieve a summer tan on occasion, I will likely do so with greater caution moving forward. 
    I have come to realize that my time spent in China has had a positive impact on me, despite my recent splurges on Taobao. This change in me is something that I probably wouldn’t have embraced back home, as my friends would have surely teased me endlessly. I mean, who could walk into a British pub with a parasol and not get a few strange looks? However, I’ve noticed a visible improvement in my skin since making these simple lifestyle adjustments. I hope that my newfound knowledge about sun protection is not just a temporary phase. After all, who doesn’t want to keep Father Time at a distance for longer with a bit of SPF magic?