Friday, April 27, 2012

Swimwear for your skin tone

Just being a realist. I will never look like this in a swimsuit.
Open up any magazine on newsstands right now and I bet you'll find a how-to guide on picking the right swimsuit for your figure. Flip over to the beauty section and you'll probably find a blurb on selecting the right eye shadow to match your complexion. But how do you know what swimsuit will best flaunt your skin tone?

Based on years of non-scientific research, I've compiled some pointers for picking out skin-loving swimwear. Love handles and pear shaped-bottoms? Sorry, you're on your own. But at least I can help you narrow down the color palette.

Myth: Pale girls can't wear white swimsuits

Absolute LIE. Several years ago, I found my favorite two-piece on sale at Target. It's white with super-subtle gold horizontal stripes. I've worn it with a tan, and now without and I still adore it. Adding texture like crochet or stripes to a white swimsuit keeps it from being too blah (or too revealing).

Avoid pastels

Unfortunately, a pale pink swimsuit might make you look a little washed out. Choose a color that is distinctly darker or brighter than your skin color. You may be able to pull off a cool aqua or something similar, but try it on first. Snap a picture with your iPhone in the dressing room. Sounds silly, but it will give you a better idea of how you'll look in pictures.

Myth: If I wear a t-shirt or cover up, I don't need sunscreen

A plain, white tee offers about the equivalent of SPF 4. If your cover up is crocheted or similar, your sun protection will be even less. Plus, what if you decide to go take a dip? A good rule of thumb is to apply sunscreen underneath both your swimsuit and your cover up. Do this and you'll also be less likely to wake up the next morning with an outline of your swimsuit straps on your back.

Jewel tones are usually a safe bet

Fair skin looks amazing in a rich eggplant evening gown. The same logic transfers to beach wear. Try purples, greens, and blues.

A last word of advice from someone who has tried on a lot of swimsuits

Always try before you buy. This may seem like a no brainer, but don't blindly order items from the Victoria's Secret catalog. Swimsuits will not look the same on you as they do on the VS models (at least they sure as hell don't on me). Accept it, move on, and find something that makes you feel your best. If you're uncomfortable, it's always going to show. But nothing is sexier on the beach that a smile, a bottle of sunscreen, and a little bit of self confidence.

Now get shopping! Here are some swimsuits that I love:

Fun brights from
Ella Moss from
Stripes from
One piece from
Michael Kors at

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Forgive me, I have sinned

Several years ago, I was staffing a booth at a corporate health and wellness fair. Throughout the morning, I heard rumors from the other volunteers that there was a "real live melanoma patient" in one of the booths on the other side of the tent. They encouraged me to swing by and check it out.

A cancer patient? I just had to sneak over there and ogle like she was an animal at the zoo. I can't remember how old she was, but she was deliberately covered by a hat, sitting in the shade, flanked by posters with up-close shots of clearly malignant moles.

If I ever got skin cancer like her, I remember thinking to myself, I would never go outside in the sun again.

After my melanoma diagnosis, of course I've been more diligent with the sunscreen. I haven't touched a tanning bed in years. But I still make mistakes. This weekend, we had sun in Portland for the first time in months (I'm not exaggerating). My girlfriends and I had planned a tour of Oregon wine country back in March, so we were elated with the 75 degree weather. When I was ready to head out of my apartment, I purposely tossed a bottle of designer SPF in my bag. I even contemplated sending out an obnoxious "Don't forget your sunscreen" tweet.

Somehow, over the course of the afternoon, I ended up forgetting to actually put on my sunscreen. Maybe it was the fact that we were inside and out, we sat mostly in the shade, the pinot went to my head.... or maybe I was just having fun with my friends and didn't want to be "that girl" who always lectures everyone on sun safety.

Whatever the reason, when we stumbled into my friend's house at around 6 p.m., my arms were bright pink. So there it was: the girl who spends hours writing about the dangers of UV radiation had given herself a good old fashioned sunburn. Immediately, I felt guilty. Stolen moments outside sans the SPF really are sort of a guilty pleasure. I'm like a recovering alcoholic relishing a sip of ice-cold vodka, but then regretting it when I wake up with a hangover in the morning.

I think the point I'm trying to make is that melanoma patients and survivors--we're humans, too. We screw up sometimes and we want to go to the beach just as much as you do. I understand why you want to be tan, so please understand why I have to be a total nerd with my SPF 50. And just remember: we all used to think, that would never happen to me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Picking a new bad habit

This skincare set from by Philosophy was a
lifesaver. Literally.
I decided to stop using tanning beds in the summer of 2008, shortly after my college graduation--about a year and a half before I was diagnosed with melanoma. This sudden change coincided with my transformation from blonde to brunette, and a new, chin-length bob that I felt made me look more "professional." I still spent a fair amount of time in the sun, but I was starting to realize that tanning beds were a habit I couldn't afford to maintain (for both health and financial reasons). Paradoxically, when I decided to quit tanning cold turkey, I remember obsessing over how uneven my skin tone looked. As soon as my tan began to fade, the freckles on my arms and face became more noticeable. There were freckles, now, on my legs and chest that didn't exist before I started using tanning beds. It seemed the only way I could hide these new freckles and keep my skin looking flawless was to continue tanning, but every 12 minutes in that bed, I knew how much worse I was making things for myself in the long run. How could I break the cycle?

Enter Sephora. In 2008, there was a Philosophy skincare kit I'd been dying to try. Face wash, ultra luxe moisturizer, exfoliant--it was a beauty addict's dream come true. The only problem was that it retailed at about $100. Normally, there's no way I'd be able to rationalize spending 100 bucks on skincare, but when I thought about it, wasn't I doing so already? A month-long unlimited tanning package in my preferred choice of bed cost me around $40 a month. Single tanning sessions ranged from 5 to 15 bucks a piece depending on where I went and what level bed I used. Then, I had to factor in the tanning bed lotion. Although I was unconvinced that it made much of a different, the women who worked in tanning salons were as ruthless as used car salesmen. They could sell me a bottle of $30 moisturizer that I swore was probably generic brand lotion with coconut scent added, packaged in a shimmery pink bottle. If I were to cut tanning beds out of the equation, that opened up at least $150 in my budget every three months. I could more than afford to spend $100 on a skincare kit that would last me at least the same amount of time. So I bought it.

Last month, I was relaxing after a hard day's work with my stack of fashion glossies. Right there, staring me in the face, was an article in Marie Claire called, "Smart Girls Bad Habits." Story of my life. I decided to read on. The teaser of the article: "Stop drunk-texting your ex, snacking late-night, and skipping the gym! New research into how the brain works may help you get into the positive groove--once and for all." OK, now I was really hooked. What was this new research and how could I incorporate it into my life?!

According to the article, based on research in a new book called, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, our brains are hardwired to stick to our habits. Even the strong-willed find it impossible to break bad habits (um, hello failed New Years resolutions?) until they replace their old habit with a new one. The answer to unparalleled bliss: Replace all of your bad habits (e.g. tanning, smoking, drinking) with better ones (e.g. running, volunteering, eating salad). Sounds a little unrealistic at first, but this is exactly what I did when I quit using tanning beds. It was rough at first, not having the bronze glow I was accustomed to, but after four years of diligently using high-quality skin care treatments, my skin looks clearer, smoother and brighter now than it did when I was 18. Just the other day, a friend of mine asked me, "How do you get your skin to glow like that? You look so well rested." Retinol, my friends. Retinol.

I've come to terms with the fact that when I'm having a bad day, nothing will make me feel better than a hydrating face mask or a Biore pore strip. I will never not care about how I look or what other people think of how I look, I just channel my money and energy into finding the best sunscreens and cleansers, not the strongest bed or newest tanning potion. If you're trying to cut back on tanning or stay out of the sun, it could be worth making a trip to your local department store (or You could also try yoga, or a subscription to wine-of-the-month club.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Magazines still sending mixed messages

Summer is upon us... or so the fashion industry would like me to think. I can't open a catalog or fashion mag these days without full-bleed images of beaches and bikini-clad bodies. I've already splurged on a short-sleeve lace top, a pair of bright red capris, and a pair of patent, nude pumps--none of which I can wear until June because my weather forecast looks like this:

But I digress. Every year it's the same: Magazines taunt me with exorbitantly priced beachwear (and matching Tori Burch accessories), while editorializing on how to lose those last few pounds. There's also the inevitable "True Story of a Skin Cancer Survivor." I just stumbled upon the first of the season in May's issue of Glamour by Shaun Dreisbach. The article itself is a good read. Its author highlights some important points that even I sometimes let slip through the cracks (e.g. reapplying sunscreen every two hours).

What drives me batty is that only ONE PAGE after this after this article, I'm confronted with a full-on bikini shot of Carrie Underwood. It's like telling me to go on a diet and then sticking a chocolate-dipped shortbread cookie in front of my face. Am I supposed to continue to reapply my sunscreen diligently or should I skimp so that I look more like Carrie Underwood? Seriously. With the mixed messages we're getting, what's a young, body conscious woman going to do?

Miss Underwood in the May 2012 issue of Glamour.
Think Carrie's a fluke? Think again. The same issue of Glamour also mentions:
  • How to create a "bronzed glow" like Lauren Conrad... although, in an interview, Lauren swears she hasn't had a sunburn in years.
  • A staffer who'd love to be stranded on an island with a simple white bikini because it would look so good with her new tan.
  • How Alessandra Ambrosio (of Victoria's Secret fame) prefers neon colored swimwear because it flaunts her tan complexion.
  • How to even out your complexion when your body tans faster than your face.
And no, it's not just Glamour. In April's issue of Vogue, Plum Sykes writes about how rich, full hues are "in" for spring, which is a boon for us pale folks. Sykes writes:
"Spring weddings/cocktails/luncheons are hard to enjoy when your chiffon frock renders your wintry complexion ghostlier than Gwyneth Paltrow's when her character dropped dead in Contagion."
Ouch, Plum. Ouch. She goes on to redeem herself (slightly):
"The most influential girls-of-the-moment--from Florence Welch to Frida Gustavsson--favor a quirky, edgy look achieved by wearing slightly odd colors, keeping their skin as pale as possible and their hair completely natural-looking."
In other words, Sykes may be rocking alabaster this spring because a handful of chic oddballs are, too, but what will she (or anyone for that matter) do when she catches a glimpse of Carrie Underwood or Alessandra Ambrosio?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Being diagnosed with cancer on my third day of work

There's never a "good time" to find out you have cancer. There are, however, times that are slightly less convenient than others--like finding out the third day into a new job.

This week, we had a new employee start in my office. In between trainings, he mentioned how nervous he was on the first day. Boy, can I relate. I was a nervous wreck when I started working at my company. A 2008 college grad, I had one hell of a time finding a permanent, full-time job (thank you, economy). Until January 2010, I filled my time with low-paying temp jobs and zero-paying internships. Landing my first "real job" with dental and retirement seemed almost too good to be true. It felt like at any moment I was going to wake up and snap back to the reality of watching Law & Order reruns on my parents couch at two in the afternoon.

Three days into my new job, I got the news: a small mole I'd had biopsied turned out to be a malignant melanoma. As my doctor talked about things like cancer margins, all I can remember is thinking: can’t melanoma kill you?

Looking back, it still blows my mind how calm I was immediately following my diagnosis and in the days leading up to my surgery. The day I got the bad news, my boss suggested I take the day off. Spend some time alone to clear my head. I opted to stay at work, to work through the worry. Even though things appeared normal on the outside, and I carried on like nothing had happened, I stopped eating. The only thing I could get myself to swallow were the bottled fruit smoothies in the downstairs cafeteria and the occasional Pepto Bismol or Tums. Within a week, I lost seven pounds. 

Because I've been training a new employee this week, I took the time to look back and remember how I was trained a little over two years ago. On the third page of notes, in between instructions on how to update our internal database, it still says in my handwriting:

Dr. ------- surgery
                        Mandy, referral

It gives me chills every time I see it. I don't think I'll ever be able to start a new job without remembering what it felt like to learn I had melanoma on my third day at work.