Basically a balaclava, the “facekini” is the latest swimwear accessory favored by middle-aged women in China. It has also been recently featured in an international fashion shoot. Facekinis cost around $2.50 and are made from lycra, the same stretchy material as swimsuits, and are used by beachgoers trying to protect their skin against UV damage and jellyfish stings. The headgear comes in different colors and patterns, and it is the ultimate finishing touch for swimsuits that also cover one’s arms and legs.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which released an 83-page report last week titled “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer,” would probably concur that the facekini, though quite visually frightening to some, is actually a very good idea. The report calls skin cancer “a major public health problem.” Since the mid-80s, the diagnosis rate for skin cancer in the U.S. is “estimated to be higher than the number for all other cancers combined,” says the report. It also warns that the rate of skin cancer continues to rise “despite recent efforts to address risk factors.”
That last bit makes more sense when viewed in light of a 2011 study published in Cancer Causes & Control. Researchers found that participants who wore sunscreen but did little else in terms of skin protection burned more than those who wore little sunscreen but protected their skin by other measures such as wearing hats and long sleeves and locating themselves in the shade. But preventing sunburn is not the only issue. UVA rays are deeper-penetrating and therefore do more damage, but they do not leave a tell-tale sunburn. Thus, as the title of the study advises, the U.S. needs to rethink the way it is telling people to protect their skin against the sun, especially since sunscreens manufactured in the U.S. are notably poorer at protecting against UVA rays than their European counterparts.
All that being said, it still puzzles that the world of fashion has picked up on the facekini; clothing design and fashion trends are not usually associated with practicality or health benefits. And, at $2.50 a pop, the facekini is also very reasonable, another quality that is not normally mentioned in conversations revolving around the phrases trend-setting and fashion statement. Nonetheless, the founder and editor-in-chief of CR Fashion Book, Carine Roitfeld, was inspired enough by the trend to think it merited an international fashion shoot that the publication titled “Masking in the Sun.”
Roitfeld is, in fact, a fashion world veteran who was editor-in-chief for Vogue Paris for a decade or so. The editorial of this particular CR Fashion Book shoot states that the photo story “represents an opposing ideal of beauty altogether, with masked poolside models set out to soak up as little sun as possible.” It ends with this thought, both disturbing and assuring: “People in the West are well aware of the harmful effects that the sun can have, but it’s unlikely that facekinis are going to replace sunblock, hats, and other accessories any time soon.” Only time will tell. The U.S. Surgeon General may hope that that time comes sooner than later.
By Donna Westlund