By Monica Shimamura
As a child, I spent my summers in Japan where parasols, hats, and foundations with UV protection are a cultural norm. In the sweltering heat, you see many Japanese women with loose-fitting, long-sleeve shirts and a parasol. Stores in Japan sell all sorts of UV-protective clothing, hats, parasols, and skin care products. I asked a friend of mine why everyone was so concerned about the sun, and her simple response was, “No one wants wrinkles or sun spots when they’re older.” This is in stark contrast to the American culture where I grew up, where we are more likely to worship the sun or lay out to get the “perfect tan.”
Many Americans believe the golden brown look signals a healthy and active lifestyle. Through my work alongside colleagues in EPA’s SunWise program and visits to the dermatologist, I know this is not true. While working for EPA’s New York City regional office, I found an amazing dermatologist at Mount Sinai. If you have ever spent any time in a dermatologist’s office, as I have, you know that no one is immune to skin cancer or any other skin condition—regardless of age or ethnicity. Skin cancer is the most common cancer, even among 20 to 30-year-olds, and one American dies every hour from the disease.
My mom, who was born in Asia, sometimes gets the evil eye in the U.S. when she asks for a senior discount. Many can’t believe she is 72 years old – she looks like she’s in her early 50’s. You can see her strolling through the streets of DC with a parasol most summer days. I too want to be wrinkle free, but more importantly skin cancer free. That is why I am so excited about the SHADE Foundation’s, EPA’s and the National Park Service’s collaborative window display in Rockefeller Plaza. During the month of June, if you watch the Today Show, look for the giant display when the crew is outside that says, “Get Outdoors. Be SunWise!” We can all use a little more sun protection in our lives!
About the author: Monica is the Co-Director for the Global Methane Initiative (GMI) Secretariat, an international voluntary program based at the U.S. EPA, which works with partner countries to reduce methane emissions while developing clean energy and stronger economies. Monica also worked with the Stratospheric Protection Division where she helped implement the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and in Region 2, she worked at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Monica has an M.S. and B.S. in environmental science from John’s Hopkins University and University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has lived in the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Belize, and now resides in Washington, DC.