Friday, July 18, 2014

My Indian Mother-in-law gets her first sunburn


During our trip to Venice last month, the whole of Northern Italy was hit with a BIG heatwave. My inlaws only came for a short time to see us and also "finish off" some sightseeing - so we were out and about - A LOT...

Don't get me wrong - it was really hot. Not only hot - but humid too. During our days sightseeing, my MIL, otherwise known as "Grumpy Cat" (affectionately, of course...!) was complaining that she simply could not tolerate the heat. 

"What the heck, Sandhya!" I said. Aren't you from India?? HELLOOO!!

In Hyderabad, it was 10 degrees warmer than it was in Venice, but my MIL still had a difficult time with the heat in Italy. I think this was because we were doing so much walking outdoors, with no cover from the sun. Whereas in India, you are going from one air-conditioned space to another and not walking outside for long distances. In Europe, because they have seasonal temperatures, there is no A/C even in many of the retail stores. 

On the second day of their visit, my MIL came down with this awful rash on her chest. Knowing how sensitive her skin is, we thought she was having some kind of allergic reaction. Maybe it was fabric or maybe it was the food, we thought.

"My skin is bright red and hot and itchy!" She cried. "I can't stand it! It hurts!"

We went to the neighborhood Pharmacia and got some antihistamine tablets and cream. Needless to say, it didn't work.

She dragged me into her room the next day. "Look Alexandra!" She said. "There is no improvement and it is burning hot! The cream isn't working!" She showed me her chest, where the skin was bright red and flaming hot. I inspected it closer, by moving her bra strap to see her normal brown skin underneath, which was unaffected by the redness. I could clearly see the tan lines.

"Oh my gosh, " I laughed. "Don't worry, Sandhya! It's just a sunburn! Haven't you ever had one before?"

"Never!" she said.


In all her 50+ years from living in South India - one of the hottest places on Earth - she ended up getting her first sunburn in Italy, of all places!

Of course, these are the types of situations where having a Western DIL comes in handy....I am all too familiar with treating sunburns, since I practically get them several times during the Summer months. My skin turns beet red, is hot and itchy, and then a few days later, the burn turns into darker skin. Having had so many sunburns over the course of my life, I'm used to the hot, itchy pain.

I was quite relieved for her that it was just a sunburn and that it wasn't something worse. My MIL (of course) was totally miffed about having it turn into darker skin, being a little sensitive about her "already dark" skin.

Many times people with darker skin tones think that they cannot get a sunburn and are ill-equipped in the knowledge of preventative treatments. People with darker skin tones (shades of olive, brown and black) have naturally higher levels of melanin which acts as a protection from the sun. So that means that people with darker skin tones are less likely to get sunburns, but it CAN still happen (which explains why husband-ji and FIL did not get one). Not to mention, the higher melanin levels does NOT protect against skin cancer. 

Maya - being a mixture of us both - has an olive/light brown skin tone. She absorbs the sun very easily, but she did get her first sunburn on her 2nd birthday, during the Italian heatwave. Since skin cancer runs in my family and I tend to burn easily, sunscreen has always been a staple in my house and in my purse during outings. If it is hot and I know that I'll be in the sun for more than 20 minutes, I always bring along my sunscreen, just in case. Nowadays they have great sunscreens which you can just spray on the go. I usually use SPF 30-50 depending on the heat. In the days post-sunburn, I made sure to slather her with my La Roche Posay sunscreen before leaving the house.

I am definitely a bad influence in many ways.... such as tattoos, my love of horror films and reality shows, rap music, and feminism (GASP!) But at least I can be a good influence in teaching my Indian family about sunscreen and treating sunburns!

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Dear readers, have your Indian family members ever experienced sunburns?

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7 comments

  1. Alex,

    I just could not believe Sandhya got a sun burn! Unfortunate for her, I know first hand about sun burns as I am red headed like your Mom and my skin is very fair. Future trips to Venice, she will have to bring some sunscreen SPF 30 - 50 and then she won't have a problem. I always wished that I had dark skin because I thought you never got a sun burn with dark skin, but clearly sometimes that not the case.

    Melissa

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    1. I know, it was so crazy! We couldn't figure it out for days! Now she will have to use sunscreen more often, which is a good thing really.

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  2. @Alexandra

    I never got sun burn in Delhi, which is very very hot in summer. North Indian summer are blisteringly hot. We do get a lot of rashes in hot summer and fungal infections in the monsoons. When prickly heat powders were not invented, people applied Chandan(Sandalwood Paste) on sun burns. Sandalwood has cooling and antiseptic qualities. It is also applied during fever to bring down temperature. This along with paste of Neem leaves provide a good protection against skin ailments.

    It is strange that in India we want to escape the sun whereas in other countries people go to beaches to get sun tans. I guess since sun is not so generous in many countries, people there crave for sunshine. How hot does it get in Canada? Oh, btw, I always cringe when I hear to address you MIL as "Sandhya", No offence meant, we don't call our elders by their names, kind of sounds odd I suppose. No offence meant, culture I suppose.

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    1. In Vancouver a heat wave is considered above 30 degrees celsius. On the other coast they have more extreme temperatures like hot and cold. Here it is more pleasant all year round because we are on the Pacific Ocean. A lot of people here crave the sun and lack Vitamin D - we have to take supplements, even children! You feel very fatigued if you do not get enough sunlight, that is why the cure for everything here is "get outside and get fresh air"!
      Yes, definitely when we are going to India I have to go back to calling her "Aunty" or "Amma"...

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  3. In Delhi the air is so polluted that the ray of sun just doesn't reach the ground the way it does in the cleaner air. I like Delhi but the air is so polluted, more than in Beijing and Shanghai. Check the pollution radar: http://aqicn.org/city/delhi/r.k.-puram/

    Anyways, when you have brown skin, you wish to have lighter skin (just for a change) and when you are white then at least during the summer time, people like to get some sun tan, or apply cream which bring some healthier look :)

    I call my Indian parents-in-law as well by their names. Each family has their own ways and agreements. For example, where in my country, it is a bit disrespectful not to call people by their names - it shows that you don't even bother to remember their names and treat them as some stranger from the street. Name is sacred, given by the parents and should be honored. Otherwise, why to put a name at all - we all could be called as uncles and aunties.

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    1. I also like calling my inlaws by their names, it seems more friendly that way.
      I have also heard from another girl that the lack of sunburns are definitely related to the high pollution - which definitely makes sense. I didn't get a sunburn in India either...

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  4. I got my first sunburn in Germany and not in the 26 years I lived in India. I woke up one night with the same severe itching and was told by my German friend, "Hey..You got a sunburn". I had the best "WTH" face at this point.

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