Summer is a time for being outside, enjoying the lovely weather and sunshine. In recent years, however, our fun in the sun has been tainted with thoughts of the damaging effects of those warm rays. We have been bombarded with information about the harmful effects of the sun on our skin, everything from premature aging to skin cancer. So we lather on the sunscreen. Now we hear about harmful chemicals, potentially cancer causing, in the sunscreen that was designed to protect us. Do we throw away the sunscreen and take our chances with the sun’s rays?? Well, like most things in life, the best path lies somewhere in the middle.
The sun is essential for Vitamin D production, a vital nutrient for strong bones and a healthy immune system. We need 15 minutes of sun exposure each day to help us make adequate amounts of Vitamin D. Wearing sunscreen blocks the production of Vitamin D, so for at least 15 minutes per day we must forgo our sun protection.
Now, we have had quota of sunshine for the day, time to lather on the sunscreen, right? As it turns out there are many other things that we can do to protect our skin from sun damage including protective clothing, shade and timing.
Protecting your skin with hats and clothing is one of the easiest ways to prevent sunburns and skin damage. Wearing wide brimmed hats while gardening or playing in the sun offers great protection for your face and neck. Wearing a long sleeved shirt or pants is another great option. As well, sunglasses are essential for protecting your eyes from UV radiation that can contribute to the formation of cataracts.
Minimize your direct exposure to the sun by choosing a shady spot or creating your own with an umbrella or canopy. Either way you will enjoy your picnic or BBQ more when you are not worrying about the sun. Another great option is to avoid times when the UV radiation is at its peak, midday. You can choose to do your gardening or outdoor activities in the morning or evening when the sun is lowest.
Now that we have done all we can to minimize our expose to the sun, it is time to apply the sunscreen. Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple. There are many important things to consider when choosing a sunscreen including: SPF, Vitamin A, and cream versus spray or powder.
Don’t be fooled by high SPF. Your best option is SPF 15-50+, anything higher will encourage you to stay in the sun too long and suppress sunburn, but not other types of sun damage. Make sure your sunscreen provides broad-spectrum protection, that will afford you protection from sunburn and other forms of sun damage.
What is not found in your sunscreen is just as important as what is. Avoid Vitamin A containing sunscreens (retinyl palmitate) as it can contribute to the development of skin cancer and oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen. Choose safer active ingredients such as zinc, titanium dioxide and avobenzone or Mexoryl SX.
The form in which you apply your sunscreen is also important. Sprays and powders cloud the air with tiny particles that may not be safe to breathe, choose creams instead.
Enjoy the sun and all the wonderful benefits it affords us and if you would like a list of safer sunscreens please see www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen.