In the Northern hemisphere summer has arrived once again. Along with all this beautiful sunshine and fun in the sun there is also the concern of getting too much of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. This can lead to a painful sunburn and over time skin cancer. For most people a practical and logical preparation for the summer sun is to invest in a bottle of sunscreen and apply it before heading out for a day in the sun. Although I highly advise that you do pick up a bottle of sunscreen before you begin to really enjoy the seasons beautiful weather, there are a few things that you really should take into consideration before purchasing, using and relying on your sunscreen for your skin’s seasonal protection.
1. Make sure you research and read your sunscreen’s label to get the best quality of sun care protection possible for your skin.
Not all sunscreen products are created equal and there are definitely some sunscreen products that will give you better sun protection than others. For example, be suspicious of Sun protection lotions that advertise an SPF of more than 50. This is scientifically not likely to be true, and it can also create a false sense of security of how much protection you will be getting when you are exposed to the sun. It is good to look for a higher SPF rating to protect your skin, but a more accurate high SPF rating would be in the range of 30-50 SPF.
Another quality you might want to avoid when choosing a sun screen lotion is a spray on sunscreen. These might seem easier to apply but it is often hard to determine which areas of the skin the spray has been applied to and there is also the concern of inhaling some of the sunspray. A sunscreen lotion makes it easier to determine which exact areas have been covered.
And finally, when choosing a sunscreen protective product it is important to check the label and to avoid these two common ingredients that can be damaging to the skin and overall health of the body: Oxybenzone and Retinyl Palmitate. Oxybenzone is often found in sunscreens but can upset your hormones as the ingredient mimics estrogen when it hits the blood stream. While Retinyl Palmitate is sometimes used in night creams to make the skin appear more youthful it can cause damage to your skin that could actually lead to skin cancer. This ingredient is a form of Vitamin A, that has become very popular to help the skin appear younger. This is okay in the evening when used as a night cream, but it can make the skin more vulnerable when applied and then warren in direct sunlight. It is ingredient best avoided, especially in one’s sunscreen.
2. Make sure that you are applying your sunscreen thoroughly and correctly
How much, how often, when and where you apply your sunscreen can all be very important to how effective it is for your skin. For example, if you head to the beach mid day(say around noon hour) and you take off all your outer clothes and apply your sunscreen once you are at the beach and in your bathing suit and then dive into the water and figure you are pretty much protected for the rest of the afternoon, you’d be wrong. In fact you would have had no affective sun protection during those peak hours of the day. First off, it is best to apply the sunscreen at least half an hour before you hit the beach(or outdoors), or expose yourself to the sun so it has some time to sink in and do it’s job. And of course once you have actually spent some time in the water, you would definitely need to reapply the sunscreen once you got back to the shore, or pool deck, depending on where you are swimming and sunning yourself. Although some sunscreens claim that they are water proof, there really is no such thing. That goes for sweat proof as well. So, if you are in the water or active on land, apply and reapply your sunscreen regularly and often for the best protection.
It is also important to apply enough sunscreen to the body and to reach all those little places that are so often over looked. It takes roughly one full shot glass of sunscreen to cover the average person adequately from head to toe. It is important to be thorough when applying sunscreen to the smaller areas of the body such as the the ears, the feet, the back of the neck and the back of the legs. It is a good idea to get a friend or family member to help you apply the sunscreen to the harder to reach areas of the skin and body.
3. Do not become too dependant or overly confident in your sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays
This last point may seem contradictive to the above two points, but it is important to understand that although sunscreen is an important summer skin care product that can be used to protect your skin, it is not a sun worshippers cure all. There is no actual proof that sunscreen 100% prevents skin cancer. What sun screen has shown it can do is help to prevent burns and frequent burns can often lead to skin cancer, especially if their have been numerous burns in one’s childhood. Different studies on the effects and protective qualities that sunscreen has on the skin have come up with contradictory results. While some studies would definitely seem to prove that sunscreen helps to prevent melanoma(Wolf 1994, Autier 1995,Westerdahl 2000 and Green 2011), there have been just as many studies suggesting the opposite effect-that sunscreen wearers end up more likely to get skin cancer(Autier 1998, Wolf 1998, Bertner 1990 and Westerdahl 2000).
The truth likely lies somewhere in between. If one uses sunscreen properly and responsibly, than it can and will help prevent sunburns and most likely will aid in the prevention of melanoma skin cancers. Still, it is important to use one’s common sense when enjoying an afternoon in the sun. And it is still best to avoid skin exposure to the sun in the peak hours of the day(between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.). It is also important to wear sun protective clothing while in the sun such as: wide brim hats, UVB and UVA protective eye wear, as well as wearing light weight cotton shirts, skirts and leggings to cover the skin.
Studies seem to show that some people who rely too heavily on the powers and protection of their sunscreen are more likely to spend a longer amount of time in the sun and also are more likely to get sun burned. This in turn leads to a greater chance of getting a form of skin cancer.
There are a few fact we know for sure such as:when we combine sunscreen with protective clothing and enjoying regular shorter exposure to the sun it is much safer and better for the skin than intermittent but high intensity moments with skin exposed to the sun.
Ultimately, we all need some sun. The sun helps to keep our Vitamin D levels at optimal levels. Studies also show that as much as 25% of Americans suffer from low levels of Vitamin D, and regular, but shorter term sessions of sun exposure can help keep those levels of Vitamin D up which wards of other forms of cancer(such as bone and breast cancer). Besides short but regular exposure to the sun one can also help to keep one’s Vitamin D levels up by eating foods high in Vitamin D such as: egg yolks, cod liver oil, sockeye salmon, sardines, swordfish and fortified milk and orange juice. Interestingly, some studies seem to indicate that a diet high in Vitamin D might also help prevent sun burns and sun damage in the skin as it provides a base of protection.
In conclusion, the right type of sunscreen, applied properly to the skin can help to protect your skin from sun damage and sun burn, especially when combined with the use of protective clothing, a diet high in Vitamin D and of course some common sense when enjoying the sun. To read the full yearly report on Sunscreens created by the Environmental Working Group and to get some recommendations as to which sunscreens are most recommended to buy and use as well as what to avoid go to www.ewg.org/sunscreens.