For centuries, fair skin was associated with a leisure class that did not work outside. Trendsetter Coco Chanel changed things when she returned from a Mediterranean cruise sporting sun-kissed skin, elevating the suntan as the embodiment of health, wealth, and status.
Today we know that tans are not necessarily a sign of good health, but can be indicators of sun damage. Worse, UVA and UVB rays can cause potentially life- threatening skin cancers such as melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. People with fair skin, light eyes, blonde or red hair, a family history, and long-term sun exposure are especially vulnerable, although anyone can be at risk.
But you don’t need to hide indoors all summer. Moderate amounts of sun can help supplement our vitamin D levels and it can be helpful for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The key is to exercise common sense: use a good sunscreen, limit hours spent outdoors during peak heat hours, wear sensible clothing, and know when you’re had enough.
Not All Sunscreens Are Created Equal
Sunscreen is recommended for everyone, regardless of complexion. Here’s what to look for:
- Choose physical sunscreens such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide (the white material synonymous with lifeguards); these may also be labeled “natural” or “mineral” sunscreens
- Select “broad-spectrum,” which protects against both UVA (aging, wrinkles, tanning) and UVB (sunburns, cancer) rays
- Avoid sunscreens containing these ingredients*:
- Oxybenzone–data suggest that this chemical found in many sunscreens is linked to hormone disruption
- Retinyl palmitate—studies in mice demonstrated it can accelerate tumor development into skin cancer
- Parabens—research shows this ingredient found in numerous toiletries may act like an estrogen in the body
*There is some disagreement in the medical community as to the risk; the American Academy of Dermatology backs the safety of these ingredients, but why take a chance when there are many wonderful natural sunscreens on the market?
Don’t Be Fooled By Numbers
SPF, or sun protective factor, is the measure of protection from UVB rays, those that are associated with skin cancer. Most dermatologists recommend an SPF of 30.
So why not just slather on SPF 100 and go about your day? Exceptionally high SPFs (over 50) not only provide a false sense of security, where individuals assume they can stay out indefinitely, they do not protect against harmful UVA rays. The rule is to choose an SPF within recommended parameters and reapply often, with consideration for sweat and water exposure.
Sunscreen Is Not the Only Protection
Clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves shirts, and pants provide another form of sun protection. Special clothing providing ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) is also available and regulated by the FTC. The protection varies, but all clothing labeled as UPF provides at least 15. The advantages of UPF clothing is that unlike sunscreen, it does not absorb, fade, or wash off. In general, the darker the clothing, the more protection afforded.
Seek Refuge from the Heat of the Day
Avoid the sun or use maximum protection during the hours of 10 am and 3 pm, when UVB rays are strongest. Be particularly mindful in high altitudes, as well as locations of strong sun reflectivity such as the beach, lake, or snow.
These tips will help you enjoy the sunshine safely. We want to know, what are your favorite summer activities? Post yours on our Facebook page.
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