I never went a summer without getting several sunburns.

At the beginning of the day, I was always covered head-to-toe with at least SPF 50. But I’d forget to re-apply and by the time the sun went down, I’d be burned to a crisp. The cycle was continuous. I would get burned, it would go away in a few days and then I was ready to play in the sun all over again.

This continued for years. Now that Skin Cancer Awareness Month is coming to a close and summer is quickly approaching, I wanted to share my story about too much sun exposure and the skin cancer scare that came with it.

As I got older, my continuous sunburns became a conscious choice. The media taught me that no one wanted to see my paper-white skin on the beach. I was jealous that all my friends were able to develop a beautiful, bronze skin tone. I would admire tan women in magazines and my goal was to “tan” my fair skin.

I wasn’t successful. I burned a lot, but I kept trying because I wanted to look like everyone else. I started to become aware of the damaging effects UV rays could have on the skin, but I didn’t care about any of that. I just wanted to be tan.

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I got my wake up call. I saw a dermatologist for the first time because my mom insisted on it after watching me get sunburnt year after year. I went to appease her thinking I would be fine, but I had three moles biopsied that very appointment. 

My doctor said it could be nothing and she had to test them just in case, but at my follow-up three weeks later, she told me they needed to be removed because they were abnormal. It wasn’t cancer, but my doctor said that because I had a higher chance of developing melanoma (because of my fair skin and red hair), it wasn’t worth the risk to leave them alone. 

I was only seventeen years old.

Five years later, I have three one-inch scars on my left thigh, one on my right calf (I ended up having another mole removed later on that same school year), and am highly advised to visit my dermatologist every six months for a full-body checkup. 

The scars are pretty faded now, but will always serve as a reminder of the damage I have done. I was careless and didn’t realize that the skin that comes with being a redhead requires care and protection from the sun, not constant exposure. 

Now, I never leave the house without sunscreen. I always re-apply and am careful not to expose my skin to the sun for too long. It took me a while to realize it, but my own long-term health is much more important than looking like whatever society thinks is attractive. I know rocking the pale skin can be a bit of a challenge, but trust me: trying to tan isn’t worth the risk. So, stay safe this summer by slathering on some SPF. You’ll be thankful later on!

READ: Redhead Burn Survivor Shares Amazing Story of Recovery 

Rock it like a Redhead!