The end of Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer.
Despite the repeated warnings by doctors and scientists that the sun is bad for your skin, the temptation to expose one’s dermis to direct sunlight remains strong.
It’s understandable; sun-kissed models continue to grace the pages of fashion magazines and catalogs. Even if tanning isn’t your goal, sunlight increases serotonin levels which in turn lead to an increase of well-being.
On a practical note, it’s almost impossible to avoid all sunlight and even if you could, you probably wouldn’t want to anyway. Scientists have discovered that some sunlight is actually good for you. In fact, lack of sufficient sunlight has been linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), fertility problems, and even several forms of cancer.
Still, excessive sunlight has its problems and not the least of which is skin cancer and prematurely aged skin. As someone who grew up in Southeastern North Carolina, I know a lot about this. At the age of 19, I had a precancerous growth removed from my chest, and many of my friends had visible sun damage while they were still in their teens.
So, what’s one to do? Like most things, the key is moderation and common sense.
Here’s some tips to keep in mind this summer:
1. Try to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are at their peak. If that’s not practical (and for many of us with outdoor jobs, kids, and/or social lives, it isn’t) then take extra special precautions to protect yourself.
2. One of the best options is to cover yourself with protective clothing. Many dermatologists recommend wearing long sleeves and hats. If you live in the South like I do, then the former is probably not an option. However, there is clothing available with built-in sun protection. If you are an avid hiker, biker, etc. who hates or forgets to reapply sunscreen, then this may be a good idea.
Also, keep in mind that the sun’s rays are much more intense at the mountains and at the beach. (This has to do with the high altitude of the former and the rays reflecting off the water at the latter.) Therefore, take extra precautions if you find yourself at either location.
3. Apply sunscreen frequently and often.
Despite some controversy over sunscreen, most dermatologists feel that the benefits of wearing it far outweighs any downsides.
However, be sure that your sunscreen actually can and will protect you from the sun by making sure it has adequate UVA protection. While it’s important to be protected from UVA and UVB rays, many sunscreens on the market don’t offer enough protection against the former (UVA rays are the ones that are primarily responsible for premature aging and skin cancer).
Unless the label on the bottle contains one of the following: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone / Parsol 1789, Mexoryl SX , Mexoryl XL,Tinosorb S, or Tinosorb M, it is not going to protect you from UVA rays.
4. Physical vs. Chemical
As far as choosing a sunscreens go, there are basically two types: Those that physically block the sun’s rays with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and those that absorb them via chemicals. There is some dispute over the safety of some ingredients and if you are worried about what you are putting on your skin, then check out the Environmental Working Group’s 2013 Sunscreen Guide which to my knowledge is the best and only one of its kind out there.
One note for people of color: in my own search for the perfect sunscreen I have yet to find a “chemical-free” sunscreen that did not leave a whitish cast on my face. (This is true even with the so-called “clear zinc” sunscreens.) While it may not be a problem for some, I suggest seeing if there are any testers or sample sizes and checking out how they look in direct sunlight.
5. Getting the burn out.
Even the most careful person may find themselves with a sunburn from time to time. While home remedies abound, sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing except apply a cool cloth or some pure aloe vera if that helps sooth the burn.
Despite what you may have heard, my dermatologist says that there are no over-the-counter creams that can repair the damage done by a sunburn. Like most things in life, the best way to prevent damage is to avoid getting the burn in the first place.
In any case, you don’t have to spend the summer hiding from the sun. With the right precautions and protection, you can have your sun and enjoy it, too.
Happy summer, everyone!
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: courtesy of topwalls.net
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