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5 minute read.

When walking down the sunscreen aisle at our drugstores there are an overwhelming number of choices for skin protection. We have the option of SPF 2 thru 50, water resistant, super water resistant, broad-spectrum, scented, unscented, oil-free, for babies, for the face, and the list goes on. Chemical sunscreens vary widely in terms of the type of UV rays they block, their stability and toxicity concerns. So, what is the basic information to keep in mind when choosing sun protection?

Although advertising once conditioned us to see tanning as alluring, studies have proven that both sunburns and tanning assault the skin at the level of the DNA. As this knowledge has become accepted, so has the importance of high-SPF protection. SPF (Sun Protection Formula) is a comparative ratio which signifies how many times longer it takes for the sun to redden your skin when you’re using a given sun protection product, versus how long it would take to redden without protection. For example, if it takes 20 minutes without protection to produce reddening, an SPF 15 sunscreen might prevent reddening 15 times longer—or about five hours. The SPF rating is a reliable measurement of protection against UVB (short-spectrum) wavelengths. UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn, while UVA rays which penetrate the skin more deeply and are associated with photoaging – wrinkling, leathering and sagging of skin. Both types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, damage the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the sun causes 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers (basal and squamous cell carcinoma) and 65 percent of melanomas. Melanoma being the most dangerous and aggressive type of skin cancer. Each year, there are more than one million new cases of the non-melanoma skin cancers. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of melanoma later in life; five sunburns by any age doubles the risk as well. Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma at least once.

So sunscreens will protect us from cancer, right? Not necessarily, and some may even contribute to certain cancers. Unfortunately, there are products on the market that present obvious concerns about safety and effectiveness. Many of the chemicals within sunscreen are far from innocuous.

Just in time for summer, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its 2017 Guide to Sunscreens, which found that almost 75% of the 1500 products evaluated rate poorly for skin protection, or have ingredients that could cause adverse health effects and/or heighten sensitivity to the sun’s harmful rays. The leading brands tended to be the worst offenders of them all.

So, inform yourself; protect yourself and your skin by following the prevention guidelines below for an enjoyable and safe summer.


Tips to Protect Yourself Against Sun Damage

  1. Purchase new sunscreen every year.
    • BUY
      • SPF 30 or higher for best protection.
      • At least 7% zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for broad spectrum protection.
        • Alba Botanica (sensitive and sport mineral sunscreens)
        • Bare Republic Gel Sport
        • Kiss My Face (face & body, kids, sport sunscreens)
        • Tom’s of Maine
        • Neutrogena Pure & Free
        • For a more indepth list please refer to this link by EWG
    • AVOID
      • Oxybenzone or benzophenone-3: high absorption through skin, high rates of allergic reactions, and growing concerns about hormone disruption.
      • Fragrance: potential allergies, can affect hormone metabolism
      • Sunscreen with added bug repellent: pesticides can build up in your body
      • Many after-shave lotions and moisturizers have a sunscreen (usually SPF 15 or greater) already in them, and this is sufficient for a few minutes here and there in the sun. However, if you work outside or spend a lot of time outdoors, you need stronger, water-resistant, beachwear-type sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  2. Apply, apply, and reapply. Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so reapply the same amount every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  3. Protect kids! Everyone is at risk from sun damage, but children are more sensitive to heat stroke and have higher risk for skin cancer later in life when they get too much sun. Keep children under 6 months out of direct sun.
  4. Avoid midday sun when intensity peaks. Summer sun is more intense between 10am – 4pm, also at high altitudes and in the tropics.
  5. Seek shade, or bring your own. Cover up with a shirt, a broad-brimmed hat, and UV-protective sunglasses. Remember that invisible rays can reflect up toward you from the ground, so you may still need sunscreen if you wear a hat.
  6. Use a daily moisturizer with SPF of 15 or higher. When you’re in­doors near bright windows UVA penetrates windows and damages unprotected skin. Keep in mind, this applies to most car windows as well.
  7. Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths. Compared to people who never used a tanning bed, indoor tanners have a 74% increased risk for melanoma. Melanoma accounts for just 3% – 4% of all skin cancers but is responsible for 75% of all skin cancer deaths.
  8. Using bug repellent? Apply it at least 15 minutes after sunscreen to cut down on the pesticide soaking through the skin.
  9. Wear SPF lip balm to protect against sun damage.
  10. Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  11. See your ND, PCP or dermatologist every year for a professional skin exam.
  12. What about Vitamin D? A concern that often gets raised is that wearing sunscreen may interfere with the skin’s synthesis of vitamin D, an important nutrient for immune and bone health. Studies have found that by blocking ultraviolet rays, sunscreen limits the vitamin D we produce. But the question is to what extent. A recent, randomized study suggests that the effect is negligible. While sunscreen does hamper vitamin D production, these studies say, it is not enough to cause a deficiency.