I am laying in the air-conditioned darkness of my hotel room thinking, ‘Did I just buy a bottle of knock-off sunblock?’
Is counterfeit sunscreen a thing?
Here are the condemning facts:
At eleven a.m. I walked to a ‘pharmacy’ (essentially a minimally stocked drugstore) and purchased a bottle of SPF-30 sunscreen.
The product in question is Samui Sun; Samui of course, referencing the island of Ko Samui. The packaging further reads, ‘Coconut sun protect‘ and boasts that it ‘protects against sun burn and premature skin ageing‘ (verbatim, misspelling included). Two for the win, right?
29 days into our trip I was confident I had established a base tan, less the slightly less visible veins on my forearms. (A testament to living in snowy Prince George, Canada for the last five years, and one I am eager to remedy.) Given the perceived base tan, I would do this by purchasing sunscreen that was less than the SPF-60 my Dad-Pants Boyfriend bought for us.
Speaking of Greg. He signed up for a two-day advanced open water diving certificate, which I decided to take a pass on. Instead, I figured I’d work earnestly towards bronzing those forearms.
Back to today.
After returning from the pharmacy with my sunscreen I applied the lotion nearly 45 minutes before hitting the beach. (Because that’s the sun safe thing to do.) Then I packed up and found a spot on a gorgeous, white sand beach. I cracked Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and punched my time card.
For the next two hours I drank in the hot mid-day sun. Feeling a little toasty I re-applied individual body parts as I felt they deserved it.
At the two-hour mark I took a mandatory sun break. I moved to a beach vendor’s table under some palms and ordered an orange Fanta. Through my sunglasses I could tell that my arms and thighs were slowly burning pink. What the hell? I pulled at the edge of my bathing suit bottoms. An alarming contrast of red and white revealed itself. What the f***?
I promptly packed up and hoofed it back to Big Blue Diving Resort. I jumped in the shower to evaluate the damage. Not good. Every serious sunburn I had ever suffered – and their respective suck-factors – flashed through my mind.
“Piece of $#!* @#$%^&* sunscreen!”
Shortly thereafter my thoughts turned to a girl in my dive course who had arrived on Ko Tao with heavily bandaged shoulders. Initially I presumed she had recently been inked at one of Thailand’s many tattoo shops. Wrong. She had fallen asleep on the ferry ride here in a tank-top. She said she had slept for 45 minutes, resulting in 3rd-degree burns. I had just been outside, fully awake, for TWO HOURS. I panicked.
My next thought: I have to get to a medical clinic. Surely I’ll be submerged in an ice bath and slathered in topical burn cream. I bet 40% of my body is burnt!
I grabbed some money, keys, the sunscreen in question, and a scarf, and set out to find a clinic. Being on a party island in Thailand, I quickly located one 150 feet from my room.
‘Sawadee Kah!!! Look I am very burnt!’ I tugged the scarf away from my shoulder, pushing the strap of my dress aside. The Thai woman turned her attention from a pirated movie. She handed me some green aloe vera. “No look, it is very bad!” This time I pulled up my dress and drew her attention to my bikini bottoms, revealing the burn line. She reached back into the case and handed me a bottle of blue burn relief lotion. I thrust forward the Samui Sun lotion. “I bought this today, now I am burnt. Is it bad? Is it a good company?”
She replied in the affirmative, then looked at the bottle I was holding “Here is only 280 baht.”
Well thank you Mrs. Clinic Lady for informing me that I had paid a 200 baht premium for this fetching sunburn.
And then she attempted to short-changed me 100 baht on the blue lotion, unbelievable!! Panicked or not I can still subtract 230 from 1,000.
I returned to my room. Kind of. In my panic I had brought my luggage locker key with me, rather than my room key. Fail. Then in the process of borrowing the master key from reception, they handed me the key for room 22, not 202. Back to the lobby I went, completely self-conscious of the crispy red burn.
Which brings me to this moment.
I’m laying on a towel on my bed, under the fan, with the AC cranked after taking two cold showers. I am as red as a lobster (no exaggeration) and have 2-mm of slimy blue aloe painting on my burns, which gives me a splotchy purple appearance. Most upsetting (to me) are the two obvious raccoon eyes I have. my over-sized Raybans are etched onto my cheeks. Once this burn transforms to a tan, at best I am going to look like a career ski instructor and at worst, a bearded woman.
At this point I am convinced that the primary ingredient of ‘Samui Sun Coconut Sun Protect’ is coconut. Buying a local Thai sunscreen, I fear I have fallen into a tourist trap.
Seriously, I can’t believe the woman at the store short changed me?!
Written in a dark, burning place.