Ask Mar­i­lyn

Los Angeles Times - - PARADE - By Mar­i­lyn vos Sa­vant

Does ac­quir­ing a base tan each sum­mer (in or­der to pro­tect your skin from burn­ing so quickly in fu­ture out­ings) help guard against get­ting skin can­cer?

—Raoul Mon­tez, El Paso, Texas

No. All un­pro­tected sun ex­po­sure con­trib­utes to ag­ing of the skin and can­cer. Melanin, the pig­ment that ac­counts for the range of hu­man skin color, is pro­tec­tive, so fair-skinned peo­ple are the most at risk. But even darker-skinned peo­ple, though they can tol­er­ate much more ex­po­sure, need pro­tec­tion.

I’m em­bar­rassed to ad­mit that I have a fear of bridges. Al­though I know they’re safe, my fear is so strong that I’m un­able to drive across any bridge that spans a sig­nif­i­cant ex­panse of wa­ter, such as a river. I can tol­er­ate some­one else do­ing the driv­ing, but I al­ways dread it, and my heart pounds wildly un­til it’s over. My fam­ily and clos­est friends know about my prob­lem, but none of my co­work­ers do. Do you have any sug­ges­tions?

— G.J., St. Louis, Mo.

Yes! First, please take some com­fort in the knowl­edge that your fear is quite com­mon, and suf­fer­ers com­monly don’t want any­one to know about it. The fear is called gephy­ro­pho­bia (jeff-ih-roe-foe-beeuh). Sec­ond, I sug­gest you con­fide in your fam­ily physi­cian and ask him or her for a rec­om­men­da­tion for a ther­a­pist who may be able to help you con­quer or al­le­vi­ate your fear, which is not so dif­fer­ent from a fear of fly­ing.

When I was driv­ing in an in­tense thun­der­storm, I twice saw a blood-red light­ning flash. How can this be? I thought light­ning was al­ways white.

—Cather­ine L., Colo­nial Beach, Va.

Lucky you! You wit­nessed a fab­u­lous phe­nom­e­non known as a red sprite. These star­tling elec­tri­cal dis­plays take many forms, some of which (disks, cones, balls, col­umns, ten­drils) may frighten ob­servers who don't know what they are—clus­ters of charged par­ti­cles that form above thun­der­storms, which is why they're rarely seen from the ground. Blue, green and pur­ple flashes also oc­cur.

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