After record temperatures and more sizzling days ahead, Dolores Park’s anti-sunburn superhero, Mr. SunBlock, will be busy this summer as he provides free sunblock to visitors.
The Coppertone carrier—who is immediately recognizable in his UV-fighting suit of combat boots, short red shorts and utility belt—can often be found at the park on sunny weekends during the most UV-intense hours, between 2-4pm.
And even with a big event like Pride this weekend, he's prepared.
“I have gone through eight to 10 bottles in a weekend
an hour, which was $200 to $300 worth of sunblock,” he said with a laugh. “Pride is always huge for me.”
Mr. SunBlock first got his start about three years ago, transitioning from park partier to sunburn fighter. “It all started with a bite from a radioactive bottle of sunblock," he joked.
The reality behind Mr. SunBlock was a little more prosaic. “I was with a friend in Dolores Park seeing the Truffle Man and the Coconuts and Rum guy,” Mr. SunBlock recalled. “I wondered how much money they were making, how many people are they’re talking to and how can we be part of that.”
He saw Mr. SunBlock’s potential after “plenty of nasty sunburns” and decided on a more proactive way to participate in Dolores Park.
“Originally, I went out on a Wednesday and had a suggested donation of $3,” he said. “When a park ranger said I couldn’t ask for money, I decided to accept donations.”
After that exchange, the would-be sunblocker saw the light, realizing that if people witnessed money being offered, some would decline to participate. “I took money out of the equation completely,” he said.
Being Mr. SunBlock comes with a cost. On a cool day, he might only use one bottle of sunscreen, but during Pride or any big event that packs the park, he goes through many more. He pays for the sunblock out of pocket and tries to stock up by scouting sales at Safeway or Costco.
“I had one company (KINeSIS) find me through Instagram," he pointed out, "and they sent me free products, but I haven’t been sponsored yet.”
While Mr. SunBlock might be a fun and quirky character, there are real consequences for people who don't prepare before enjoying a sunny day. He shared one of those stories recently on his Instagram:
My #1 favorite recent picture to pop up on the MrSunBlock hashtag is from @atomique47. She shared her story with me about how she recently had a basal cell carcinoma removed (which is a type of skin cancer.) In 2010, it's estimated that 2.8 million cases of BCC were diagnosed in the US, and figures have continued to climb. (skincancer.org) You can help prevent development of skin cancer like BCC by applying broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen. 15 SPF every day, and 30 SPF for extended outdoor activity. Remember to reapply, and have your doctor examine any areas you feel look suspicious.
Mr. SunBlock's real name is Alex (he wishes to keep his last name anonymous), and by day, he's an art director at a financial technology company. Originally from Virginia Beach, VA, he's been in the Bay Area for five years.
Although Mr. SunBlock has his own social media presence, particularly on Instagram—complete with a hashtag, #MrSunBlock—his next goal is to build a community online, taking the Mr. Sunblock brand beyond the park.
A recent Reddit post led to an Ask Me Anything that was cross-posted to both the San Francisco and Skincare Addiction subreddits, leading to what Mr. Sunblock described as "microfame," especially as Skincare Addiction has nearly 300,000 subscribers.
He hopes to use his newfound fame to bring skincare awareness to citizens of Fog City.
“There are lessons for people beyond Dolores Park,” said Mr. SunBlock, who is also building a newsletter to spread awareness. “Before I started, I didn’t know a lot about skincare. As I learn things, I’d like to share them with people.”
He has a few tips for those going out to enjoy the sun this weekend.
“Hydration is key," he advised. "People get super dehydrated, especially when drinking ‘other things.' And hats. People forget about hats as an important part of sun-protection armor.”
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