The Real Reason Your Self Care is Failing You


I was talking to another Massage Therapist the other day, and she mentioned the problem of à la carte self care and why it doesn’t work. It really struck a nerve with me.

She was talking about how you’ll take this yoga class over here, you’ll drink a green smoothie today, or you’ll go for a run this weekend.

The problem isn’t with any of those things. The problem is you’ll go to yoga class if you’re not too tired after work, you’ll meditate if you get up early enough, you’ll have a healthy dinner if you have time to go to the store. 

The real problem is you’re half-assing you’re self care.

So you’re always tired, there’s never enough time, and being stressed is a way of life.

You know you would feel better if you exercised more often, went to sleep at a decent hour, and ate more spinach. But you’re not doing those things.

It’s not your fault.

Our culture values busy-ness. We check our email while we’re eating lunch, we skip vacations, we wear Busy like it’s a badge of honor, all in the name of being productive. Like, if we do enough, we’ll deserve to take some much needed rest. We’ll have earned that vacation!

But the to-do list never ends. And we wind up sleep-deprived, irritable, and sick.

Think about it. When you ask someone how they are, how often do they say they’re stressed, busy, and/or tired?

What do you say when someone asks how you are? Overwhelmed, stressed-out, just trying to make it to Friday?

Is that what you want out of your life?

I get it. It’s hard. It seems like that’s just the way it is, like there is no other way to be.

Before I became a Massage Therapist, I had a job I found quite stressful. I used to always be “on.” When I was at work, I was hustling, trying to get all the things done. Rushing around trying to attend to everything in my inbox, constantly checking my email or voicemail to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, working through lunch.

When I was at home, I was constantly thinking about all of the things I still needed to get done at work. And vacation? Forget about it! When I actually did take a vacation, I would be so distracted thinking about all of the work piling up for me when I got back that I couldn’t enjoy myself.

When folks asked how I was, I’d say “it’s almost Friday.” And one of my coworkers would always say “it’s funny how we wish our lives away.” I’d laugh it off. But about the millionth time he said it, it really landed.

I was wishing my life away. 

Like, if I worked hard enough, one day in the distant future, I would deserve to live my life for me.

I am forever grateful that he kept asking that question.

So, I’m asking you. Can you relate? 

  • More often than not, do you wake up in the morning and just want to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head for just 5 more minutes, because you were thinking about everything you had to get done and couldn’t sleep?
  • Do you drag yourself out of bed because everyone is counting on you? Gulp down down some coffee. Stuff some food in your mouth. Maybe it was Oreos? Then off to work!
  • Do you feel like you’re just rushing around all day until you get home, exhausted but unable to turn your mind “off?”
  • Do you ever find yourself saying “I just need to make it to Friday, or vacation, or retirement?”
  • Are you wishing your life away? 

Do you want more than that from your life?

What if you could live a life you actually want?

Imagine if you woke up bursting with energy, excited for the day ahead. What would that be like? How would it affect the people around you, the folks you care about most?

No, really— take a moment to think about what that would be like.

What do you actually want your life to be like?

Are you ready to commit fiercely to you and living that life— not just dragging yourself through to some imaginary finish line?

If the answer is YES!, let’s talk. Click here to schedule a time to chat.

I love supporting people who KNOW they need to take better care of themselves to actually do it because I’ve been there. I know that pain. And I also know what happens when you choose you.

On the call, we’ll talk about what stress looks like for you, in your life. But we’ll also look at what your goals are, what you want, and what’s possible for you when you say yes to you. I want to help you find clarity and look at what those next steps might be for you. And if it feels like I might be able to help you to get there, I might talk with you about how I can support you in making that happen.

It’s not your fault you’re stuck in this constant cycle of feeling stressed, exhausted, and run-down, but it is your choice if you continue to stay there.

Book your call now

About Karyn

Karyn_square300In her years working as a massage therapist (and as a human actually dealing with stress), Karyn noticed just how many of us live our lives in a constant state of stress. Like it’s just how we are. We think we just need to get rid of that horrible boss, finish that huge project, or just make it to Friday, and then we’ll live the good life.

Karyn uses a combination of massage, yoga, and coaching to help folks break this cycle and learn to prioritize themselves so they can work with purpose, feel connected to the people they love, and actually feel present for their life.


Move More, Feel Better

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you probably already know that!

We as a culture are pretty sedentary. We sit at computers for work or school. Then we sit and binge Netflix at home.

Maybe we’ll go for a walk or head to our favorite local yoga class. Afterward we feel sooo good! We should do that more often! But it’s hard to get into the habit.

And even when we get into the habit, if we get sick or busy and get out of the habit, it can feel like a monumentally huge task to get started again.

I totally get it! I completely let my daily movement practice fall by the wayside over the holiday season.

I tried to force it. I know better. I should be doing yoga everyday.

You probably already know this too, but Should-ing yourself does NOT work!

So I went back to basics. I know I feel better when I move more.

It makes me feel free. And freedom is one of the things I value most in my life.

So when I don’t feel like doing anything, curled up on my couch, hibernating (which feels great and cozy in the moment, but doesn’t make me feel great in the long run), I started asking, what is one thing I can do today that will make me feel more free? And then I did it.

And it felt so amazing! I felt so free and open to possibilities.

And I keep doing it everyday. All it takes is one small thing.

I’d love to know, do you have a daily movement practice? If not, what’s got you stuck? (Responses will only be seen by Karyn and will NOT be posted publicly):

Resolutions and Creating Sustainable Change

ButterflyMany look at the New Year as a chance at a clean slate. We make resolutions to eat healthier, lose weight, go to the gym 6 days a week. We start off with tons of enthusiasm. This time everything is going to be different! Better! It’s our year!

We set our alarm clocks and get up early. Make a healthy breakfast and head to the gym every day. Our initial enthusiasm carries us for a bit, maybe a few weeks.

Then things start to get harder.

We try to grit our way through for a bit. But that’s exhausting. So we give up.

We failed.


When we start to feel this resistance to change in our bodies, it doesn’t mean we failed. Our bodies strive toward homeostasis, toward the familiar. Resistance to big change is wired into our cells.

Real change happens when we understand how to feel this resistance and realize we haven’t failed. Learn to celebrate it. New neural pathways are being created in our brains. And that’s how lasting change happens.

What if instead of willing yourself to make change, you learned to listen to and work with your body? What if you re-framed resistance and frustration as the first step toward success instead of failure?

With typical New Years Resolutions we’re often aiming to “fix” all of the things our minds tell us we are lacking. If we eat better or meditate more or lose weight, for example, we will be good enough. We are trying to think our way into change, often based on other people’s expectations or something we read in a magazine. We think we need to hustle and work harder and fix something that is wrong with us to reach our goals.

What if you didn’t need fixed?

What if instead of trying to obtain something outside of yourself (that you might not even really want anyway) you started by creating the feeling of achieving the goal?

Say you want to lose weight 10 pounds. It’s not really about the 10 pounds. When we are trying to achieve a goal, we are chasing a feeling.  How will you feel when you lose that weight? You might find you have more energy. What’s a way you can feel more energized now? Listening to your favorite song and having a mini dance party might make you feel like you have more energy.

You can take one small action everyday action to cultivate that feeling in your life. Then you might actually achieve and sustain that change you want. More energy. More freedom. Actually being present with your family instead of worrying about all of the things on your to-do list.

New Year’s Resolutions can get a bad rap. By the end of January we hear all about how most people have “failed” to keep them. There’s a better way to create change than resolving to do something and gritting out way through it.

I’d love to know, did you set a Resolution this year? How’s it going? (Responses will only be seen by Karyn and will NOT be posted publicly):


6 Ways to Treat Yourself (That don’t involve money or food)

It’s not hard to think up great ways to treat yourself. We’d all love a spa day topped off with a meal prepared and served by someone else. Maybe get a sitter for the night, so the little angels are asleep when we get home. Or just a morning where the cat doesn’t wake you up by sitting on your windpipe.

But for every article about self care, I roll my eyes at least 12 times and think “Who can afford that?” Yes, it would be great to have an afternoon to myself and a bucket of fried chicken and a cookie dough chaser. But that’s not particularly healthy.

I’m all about realistic self care. That is, activities that aren’t expensive, don’t involve food, and will make you feel good about how you spent that time. Here’s a list of my favorites (bonus: most of these you can do with kids).

Meditate, the easy way

If you’re the kind of person who can’t sleep during the day, napping can be more like torture. But guided meditation is a whole other story. It gives your mind something (easy) to do so the rest of you can relax a bit. There are plenty of free guided meditations online. Check out the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center website and the free version of the Headspace app, which has plenty of options to get you started.

Read a book

When was the last time you read for pleasure? Even if you can’t get to your library, there are plenty of free ebooks on Amazon, and your local library may have a free online borrowing program. Or reread some of your favorite books from childhood if you have them hanging around.

Learn something

If you choose the topic right, learning is great self-care. Pick a topic for FUN. Don’t feel like you need to learn something pertinent to your work or a current hobby. Check out Coursera, MIT or Harvard to start. (But there are PLENTY of sources for free online classes, do your own searching, too!)


Bust out a piece for paper and draw something. Even if you don’t have fancy pencils or crayons or markers, you can play with shading and pressure and make something cool. There are plenty of free coloring pages you can download and print out.

YouTube Karaoke

For nearly every song out there, there’s a karaoke accompaniment channel on YouTube. For reals. Crank it up and let ‘er rip. You’re a stress-free superstar now.

And when all else fails: Nap

Put your jammies on and take a nap. In your bed. Not all jammed up on the couch with the TV on. Close the shades in your bedroom and hunker down for a proper sleep.

There. You don’t have to spend money or fill your belly to feel great and treat yourself well!

Four Great Reasons to Try Private Yoga

Person rolling up yoga mat
Photo via rawpixel on Unsplash

So you’ve heard good things about yoga, but the idea of going to a group class makes you nervous. I get it – it can be intimidating to walk into a group yoga class where everyone seems to know what they are doing.

Or maybe you attend a regular group yoga class, but feel like there’s something missing. Maybe you’re not sure you’re doing the poses “right”. Or you wait the whole class for your favorite pose, but it’s not included that day.

Group yoga classes can be awesome, but here are four great reasons to utilize 1:1 instruction as well:

Develop Confidence in Your Practice

“I wish I could do yoga, but I’m not flexible!” I totally get it. Walking into a group class when you can’t touch your toes and it seems like everyone else can twist themselves up like a pretzel is a touch overwhelming. First, the more you practice, the more flexible you will become. Second, the more you practice, the more confident you will become in moving your body in new and challenging ways without worrying about what the person next to you is doing.

Personalized with Your Goals in Mind

Often group yoga class students are at very different levels in their yoga practice. When you attend Private Yoga lessons your instructor can meet you where you are and help you get the most out of your yoga practice. We work on your personal goals, whether that’s increased flexibility, a calmer mind, or less pain in your neck.

Modified for Your Body

Many folks come to yoga with injuries or health concerns that make it difficult to practice certain poses in certain ways. When you work with a Yoga Instructor 1:1, we can modify poses so they work with your body, lessening your chance of injury. We can also modify the length of your session.

Fit Yoga into Your Schedule

Group yoga classes are the same times and days, week in and out. But many of us have inconsistent schedules and we can’t always set aside the same time or day every week to make it to our favorite yoga class. But with Private Yoga, you can work with your Yoga Instructor to set the schedule that works for you. Maybe this week, it’s Monday at 2pm, but next week it’s Thursday at 7am.

Ready to give it a try? 

What Should I Do After My Massage?

woman receiving shoulder massageSo you just had a fantastic massage! You’re no longer wearing your shoulders for earrings. You feel like you can take a full breath again. You feel like you could float out of the building.

What’s next? Rush back to the office? Run to the grocery store? Squeeze in just ONE more thing?!

We’re busy people! Always on the go! I get it.

But to get the most out of your massage, may I suggest you allow yourself just 5 more minutes to savor the relaxation.

Try not to rush to your next task.

Take a deep breath and notice how you are feeling in your body.

A few other tips:

  • You’re likely thirsty after lying on the massage table for an hour or two. Drink some water.
  • Be sure to schedule your next massage. Getting massage on a regular basis is a great way to manage stress and pain. Plus it just feels good and it can give you something to look forward to the next time you’re having a rough day.
  • Move your body. Do some gentle stretching.
  • Take it easy at the gym. It’s better to work out before your massage.
  • Always ask your massage therapist if you have any questions. If you think of anything after you leave the office, contact us here.

We’ll see you at your next appointment. And I know I already said this, but always ask us if you have any questions or concerns. 






What Do We Really Know About Pain?

man sitting hunched over in ocean
Photo via Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Pain is one of those “you know it when you feel it” kind of sensations. But it’s also a strange phenomenon, when you think about it. A snowball is cold, and so it feels cold when you touch it. A block of concrete is rough, so it feels rough when you touch it. But a knife isn’t painful on its own. Neither is a pot of boiling water or the leg of a table. We handle these things safely all the time, and experience their mass and temperature and texture.

But pain exists only in the body, and even more specifically (as people who’ve experienced anesthesia know firsthand) in our minds.

But that doesn’t make it less real!

So what exactly is happening when we feel pain, and how do we stop it from negatively impacting our lives?

How does pain work?

There are three primary types of pain, and each of them works in a slightly different way.

Nociceptive pain (tissue pain).

There are many different kinds of sense receptors in the body. Some are sensitive to heat or cold, some to touch or pressure. Others, called free nerve endings, aren’t specialized for any one type of stimulus. When a significant stimulus triggers these nerve endings, they send a message through the spinal cord and up to the brain indicating that something potentially dangerous has happened. The brain then decides (without consulting the part involved in conscious thought, alas) whether this is something to ignore or brush off, or if it seems likely that damage has occurred. This then sends this message back down to the affected part of the body.

If the message is “No biggie, ‘tis but a scratch,” then you’ll most likely shake yourself off and forget the incident even happened. If it’s “WHOA, THIS SEEMS LIKE A PROBLEM,” then you experience this as pain.

This is useful! Just ask someone with CIPA, or congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, a disease that leaves people insensitive to pain. Imagine not noticing a bit of grit in your eye until it damages your cornea, developing stress fractures in your feet because nothing is telling you it’s time to sit down, or ending up with burns in your mouth and throat because you don’t realize your coffee is scalding hot. Pain stops us from trying to walk on a sprained ankle or go for a run when we have a fever. Tissue damage, high temperatures, low pH, and capsaicin (the active ingredient in hot peppers) are all common triggers for this process.

But brains aren’t always correct when it comes to assessing danger. Lorimer Moseley gives a brilliant example of this in his TEDx talk. What’s the difference between the pain from a scratch on the leg and the pain from a nearly-fatal snake bite? Spoiler: it’s whatever your brain is expecting. That’s why you might feel little pain after a bicycle accident, but be in agony when getting the wound stitched up two hours later. Pain is weird.

Neuropathic pain (nerve pain).

This is pain that results from an issue with the nervous system itself, rather than surrounding tissues. If you’ve ever banged your funny bone, you know this feeling well. Common forms of neuropathic pain include:

  • Sciatica: pain in the sciatic nerve running through the hip and down into the leg and foot
  • Diabetic neuropathy: nerve damage resulting from fluctuating blood sugar levels
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: pain resulting from the compression of the nerves that run through the wrist into the hand

Less common forms include phantom limb pain (pain that feels like it originates in an amputated limb) and postherpetic neuralgia, which occurs as a result of getting shingles.

Neuropathic pain can be especially frustrating because the normal things we do to reduce pain are often useless when it comes to pain originating in the nervous system. Moving or not moving our muscles, applying heat or ice, these can have relatively little impact on nerve pain.

What’s more, nerves don’t heal as well as things like muscles and skin do, which makes nerve pain more likely to become chronic pain.

Other pain. (Yeah, that’s a terrible fake category name.)

Pain is messy, and a lot of it doesn’t fall into either of the two categories above. Fibromyalgia is a great example of this. Is it pain resulting from tissue damage? Nope. What about nerve damage? Not as far as we can tell. It’s caused by the nervous system malfunctioning, sometimes in horrible ways, but that don’t result from actual nerve damage. Often a lot of it. And the world of medicine is still trying to figure out why.

So how do we alleviate pain?

There are several different options.

  • If the pain is caused by some kind of physical injury or stimulus, you can work on changing that. If your hand is being burned on a lightbulb, you can remove your hand, which will make most of that pain go away. If you’re experiencing a muscle cramp in your foot, you can flex the foot (manually, if necessary). If you’re experiencing pain from sitting in the same position for too long, you can move around and shake out your legs. If the cause of the pain is inflammation, anti-inflammatories and ice can reduce that. This is perhaps the ideal form of pain relief, although it’s not always in the realm of the possible.
  • You can block the messages that tell your brain you’re in pain. This is how many painkillers work. Ice can also numb nerve endings.
  • You can convince your brain that you’re not in any real danger. This is a tough one, because the brain doesn’t just listen when you tell it things. But it’s well documented that fear, stress, and anxiety lead to increased pain perception. And of course, pain leads to stress, which leads to pain … General relaxation techniques—from meditation to light exercise to getting a massage—can all be helpful in turning the brain’s pain alarms down a notch. Physical therapy (practicing certain motions in a way that isn’t painful) and talk therapy can also be useful here too.

How can massage help with pain?

Sometimes the issue is one that massage can help manage on a physical level. But even more often, massage gives the brain a chance to let down its guard and experience something non-painful and even pleasant in the body. And while there’s no silver bullet for pain, that can mean a lot for people whose pain has defied more straightforward treatments and whose injuries or illnesses are already healed.

Feeling the hurt yourself? There’s a massage with your name on it. Book your next one today.

Zentangle: An Alternative to Meditation? Ask the Expert.


You’ve probably heard a meditation practice can help you manage stress. But it can feel like a Herculean task to sit in silence and focus on your breath. All those thoughts buzzing around! Enter Zentangle. It’s basically a method of drawing that can promote a meditative state. I recently took a beginner’s class and I’m in love! I’ve been tangling every day and I feel more focused, relaxed, and creative. Plus I have some cool art! I interviewed local artist Leslie Barr to tell us a bit more about Zentangle.  She’s a Certified Zentangle Teacher and teaches classes here in Champaign. 

What is the most common reason folks come to your classes?

Zentangle is increasing in popularity, but I’m still trying to get the word out. Zentangle is a meditative drawing method. The designs created might look complicated or like they require a lot of artistic talent, but it really is surprisingly easy to do, once you know the steps. And while the art you create is beautiful, you also get the wonderful benefit of relaxation and mindfulness.

Is there a common misconception about Zentangle that you would like to clear up?

Probably that it looks complicated or difficult to do. Actually, the patterns can all be broken down into easy to learn steps.

What are the benefits of practicing Zentangle?

Zentangle is a great way to meditate. By focusing completely on drawing the repetitive lines, your mind tunes out all stress and distraction. It can help reduce anxiety, grief, and depression. It can increase ones ability to focus and help with problem solving and team building.

How long have to been teaching here in Champaign, IL?

I have been practicing Zentangle since the end of 2012. I became a Certified Zentangle Teacher in November 2013 and began teaching then.

Where do you teach Zentangle classes?

I have taught classes in coffee shops, in people’s homes, and at churches. Lately, I have been teaching at a the Marm Studio Gallery. This lovely art gallery is in the home of a terrific local artist, Mary Ciaccio. She has her own working studio as well as a teaching studio in her lower level.

Who can learn Zentangle?

If you can write or print your name, you can create Zentangle artwork. I am hoping to schedule a parent-child class soon.

What do you love about the community here?

I have lived in Champaign since coming to the University in 1980. I love Champaign. The people here are friendly and support one another. There is such a great variety of things to do here. Whether you love sports (you name it, we’ve got it!), performing arts, visual arts, community service, places of worship, there is something for everyone!

What’s your favorite local lunch place?

These days I’m enjoying Sun Singer. Currently they are showing the beautiful artwork of local artist, Mary Ciaccio

About Leslie

“Creativity rescued me from dark places and has brought me a great sense of peace and serenity. It brought me closer to God and helped me find new ways to meditate and pray. I have loved teaching and sharing this passion. So, here I am, searching for more ways to share art and how it can bring peace and love into the lives of others.”

LeslieLeslie has always loved arts and crafts. Throughout her childhood years and into adulthood, she always enjoyed ceramics, photography, creating her own Christmas cards and gifts for family and friends, etc. Yet it wasn’t until she was 50, art became something even more profound for her. When her sister died suddenly on her 53rd birthday, grief hit Leslie hard. Less than a month later, while attempting to do some Christmas shopping, she stumbled upon One Zentangle a Day – a book by Beckah Krahula. She bought the book, planning to give it as a gift, but once she got it home and began reading it, she decided it was something she needed to try. It turned out to be truly a godsend.

She absorbed as much information as she could about Zentangle over the next few months and then decided to take the leap and become a CZT (Certified Zentangle Teacher). You can learn more about Leslie and her classes on her website, A Line at a Time. She tangles daily and posts her work on Facebook and Instagram.

How Flexible Do I Have To Be Before I Can Start Yoga?

We’ve all seen photos of super-bendy folks contorting their body into the shape of a pretzel. Pretty intimidating if you can’t touch your toes or have trouble turning your head to the right.

What is yoga?

Yoga originated as a practice to prepare the body for meditation. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, yoga is defined as the quieting of the mind. Yoga practice is composed of many things.  Breathwork, meditation, chanting. Your flexibility will not limit your practice of these aspects of yoga.

But mostly we associate yoga with the physical (asana) practice. When we’re talking about how flexible you need to be to start yoga, we mean asana.

The Physical Practice of Yoga or Asana

Let’s be honest.

When I say “yoga,” you picture this:

Women practicing arm balance yoga pose

Or this.

Am I right?

How am I supposed to walk into a yoga class when the folks are doing THAT and I can’t even touch my toes?!

Some folks are naturally flexible and super twisty poses come naturally for them.  But some of us can’t touch our toes. And that’s okay.

I’ve been practicing yoga for years, and a lot of the time, I can’t touch my toes in a forward fold. And that’s okay. Yoga’s not about twisting your body into the perfect pose. Yoga is breathing better, calming the mind, and yes, increasing your flexibility. Even if that means just coming a millimeter closer to touching your toes.

How flexible do I have to be before I can start yoga?

Not. at. all.

You can start breathwork to deepen your breathing at any time.

You can start meditation to calm your mind at any time.

And yes, you can start the physical practice of yoga at any time, even if you can’t come close to touching your toes. Maybe you will be able to one day. Or not. Either way is perfectly okay.

Wanted to get started? 

Caring for the Skin You’re in: Staying Sun Safe

woman standing in the sun
Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash

Massage therapists see a lot of skin. All colors, all textures. Freckles, scars, stretch marks, moles. Skin with lots of hair and skin with none. Skin doesn’t surprise us.

Except when it does. That brown spot on your shoulder blade? It wasn’t quite that big when you came in a month ago. And it looks less like an oval and a little more like a blob. Maybe you should have that checked out?

Skin we love. Skin cancer? Not so much. Which is why you’re here on your massage therapist’s website, reading about sun exposure. Because even though I’m not a dermatologist and you’re not going to burn while getting a massage, your skin is a friend I see regularly. And I want to be able to keep working with it for many healthy years to come.

What happens when you get a sunburn?

You’re exposed to the sun and then your skin turns red and itchy, right? Well, yes. But there’s more to it as well.

When you step out into the sunlight, you’re immediately bombarded by UV radiation. This radiation causes mismatches in the curlicue of your DNA in the nucleus of your skin cells, which is dangerous and can lead to cancer. As soon as this starts to occur, your skin jumps into protective action redistributing melanin, the pigment that causes suntans, and which helps to protect your DNA from further damage.

But if you’re still outside and the damage doesn’t stop (especially if you’re fair skinned and don’t have much melanin to go around), you start to see an inflammatory response. This is the same kind of inflammation that you see when you sprain your ankle, only spread out across your damaged skin. Your blood vessels dilate to get more nutrients and infection-fighting cells to your skin, making the it red and warm to the touch. Itching and pain result, a warning signal from your body that something is wrong. You may feel thirsty and tired as your body works to repair itself.

If the burn is bad enough, you’ll start to see blisters as the plasma leaks from inside cells into the space between the dermis (the bottom layer of skin) and the epidermis (the top layer). These blisters form a cushion of fluid over your damaged tissue (at this point, your body has already written that top layer of skin off).

Eventually, even if you didn’t have any blisters, you will get flaking and peeling of the top layer of your skin. Interestingly enough, these skin cells weren’t killed by UV radiation. When skin cells recognize that their DNA has been severely damaged, they deliberately die off rather than risk becoming cancerous. This planned cell death is called apoptosis, and it’s the reason you see massive numbers of skin cells coming loose at once.

So to be clear: all sunburns, no matter how mild, contain the beginning stages of skin cancer. It’s only because our skin kills itself off before these cells go haywire that we see as little skin cancer as we do. Even so, more than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the US each year, and 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70. UV radiation will play a role in many of these cases.

How can you protect your skin?

The short answer: Stay away from UV radiation. This means avoiding tanning beds as well as sunlight.

The longer answer: Unless you plan to become a vampire, you will probably be exposed to sunlight at least some of the time. The trick is to reduce that exposure to a safe level by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen.

How much sun is safe?

This depends on two main variables: the UV Index and your skin type.

UV Index

The UV Index is a measure of the level of UV radiation in your location at any given point in time. It’s something you can easily look up on your computer or phone before heading out the door. In general, global UV Index recommendations look something like this:

  • 1-2: Low. Enjoy being outside!
  • 3-7: Medium. Seek shade at midday, put on a shirt and hat, wear sunscreen.
  • 8+: High. Stay indoors at midday, seek shade as much as possible, sunscreen is an absolute must.

Skin type

With the exception of people with albinism, everyone has some melanin in their skin. Those with more of the protective pigmentation are less susceptible to DNA damage in their skin cells from UV radiation than those with less.

  • Type I: Very pale, burns quickly, never tans.
  • Type II: Pale, burns easily, rarely tans
  • Type III: Burns moderately, tans over time to light brown
  • Type IV: Burns minimally, tans to medium brown
  • Type V: Rarely burns, tans to dark brown.
  • Type VI: Never burns, rarely tans, deeply pigmented skin.

People with Type I skin can burn after as little as five or ten minutes, while those with Type VI skin can sometimes be outside for an hour without damage.

Note: You might have seen a skin type scale that goes from I-IV, especially if you are looking in an older medical textbook. That’s because the original Fitzpatrick scale was made in the 1970s for white people. This is the same scale, but expanded to include everybody.

Is sunscreen safe?

A 2001 study raised concerns that oxybenzone (the chemical that makes most sunscreens so effective) might impact hormones. In this study, rats fed large doses of oxybenzone developed enlarged uteruses. Studies in humans haven’t been conclusive. What we know for sure is that if you’re a rat, you shouldn’t drink sunscreen.

Some pediatricians recommend sticking to mineral-based sunscreens for infants and very young children just in case, until long-term studies are concluded over the next twenty or so years. But these are thick and need to be reapplied regularly. If your children are experiencing sunburns with mineral-based sunscreens, they are being put in significantly more danger than any potential hazard from oxybenzone.

What about vitamin D?

Yup, you need vitamin D in your body to stay health. And yes, your skin manufactures vitamin D in response to UV radiation (people with lighter skin types make more vitamin D with less sun exposure than people with darker skin types). So shouldn’t you go without sun protection sometimes for the nutritional benefits?

Luckily, there are a number of sources of vitamin D that don’t also cause skin cancer. Fish, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified dairy products are all excellent sources. And if you’re a tremendously picky eater, there are also vitamin D supplements you can take. For the severely deficient (diagnosed with a simple blood test), there are high-dose supplements or injections your physician can prescribe.

Caring about your skin isn’t about vanity.

It’s a critical organ, like any other. If you exercise for your heart and quit smoking for your lungs, then preventing sunburns is just another healthy habit.

Massage therapists love skin. We work with it on a daily basis and appreciate all it does to keep your insides in and your outsides out. It keeps you cool, it tells you what’s around you, it prevents infections, and it repairs itself at a remarkable rate. So take care of it!

And maybe bring it in for a massage.