To many people Memorial Day weekend is not only a time to honor our fallen heroes, but it is also the unofficial start to summer. To those who consider Memorial Day as the start of summer, this past weekend’s temperatures didn’t disappoint! With temperatures reaching into the mid-eighties and plenty of sunshine to go around, now seemed like a good time to once again remind people of the importance of protecting themselves from the sun’s harmful rays.
The sun does a lot of good for you: a little sunshine raises Vitamin D and serotonin levels, reduces the risk of diabetes and certain cancers, and boosts fertility. However, the health benefits of sunlight depend on the dose you receive. As is the case with most things, too much of a good thing can also be bad for you. Too much sunlight is bad news: there’s a correlation between the number of sunburns you get and whether or not you develop skin cancer. The trick to getting the benefits from the sun is to avoid overexposure.
The most bulletproof way to do that is to cover up with clothing, but that’s not always a practical option. Sunscreen is useful for those times when your skin is going to be exposed to the sun during the day. Unfortunately, some sunscreens aren’t much better for you than the sunburns they prevent. Many varieties contain unsafe chemicals.
A massive study conducted by the scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a national environmental organization that analyzes toxic chemical use in consumer products, scrutinized over 1,700 SPF-rated products from sunscreens, creams and lip balms. The study found that many sunscreens contain hazardous chemicals. One of the most common ones was the hormone disruptor oxybenzone, linked to endocrine imbalances and skin damage. Also prevalent was retinyl palmitate, a possible carcinogen. The study noted that spray sunscreens often contain harmful inhalants and don’t cover the skin evenly, and that SPF protection tops out at 30-50 SPF, so anything advertising a higher SPF is a marketing gimmick.
Products with super high SPF values of over 50-110+ were categorized as misleading. The bottom line: only 21 percent of the 1,000 sunscreens analyzed for EWG’s guide scored high marks.
The following are some suggestions to minimize the sun’s harmful effects and maximize sun-soaking benefits:
- Cover up! This is intuitive, but it’s still worth emphasizing. Protect yourself with things like clothing and headgear. Make sure the weave in your clothing is tight enough to block harmful UV rays.
- Read sunscreen labels. Always check ingredients and avoid retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) and oxybenzone.
- Sprays don’t provide adequate coverage and inhalation poses a serious risk – opt for lotions instead.
- Apply and reapply sunscreen every two hours. Sweat and swimming diminish its effects. Better yet, wear a hat and a shirt!
- Use natural or mineral-based (titanium-based and zinc-based) sunscreens that reflect the sun’s rays away from your skin, as opposed to chemical sunscreens that absorb the sun’s rays. Many natural sunscreens protect skin just as well as conventional sunscreens without harsh chemicals.
- Plan ahead. Always have a hat and a shirt handy. Use umbrellas at the beach, park and beyond.
- Choose a high-performance sunscreen. Check out the EWG’s 2015 sunscreen guide to choosing the best sun blocks for your favorite activities.
You can further optimize your internal sunscreen by eating antioxidant-rich foods and taking certain supplements. The following are a few suggestions:
- Omega-3s (from diet and from supplements like krill oil)
- Astaxanthin (salmon and fish oil)
- Vitamin E (supplement this one)
- Catechins (coffee, chocolate, green and white tea)
- Resveratrol (blueberries and red grapes)
- Beta-carotene (carrots and red bell peppers)
Now that you’re protected, go out there and enjoy the healthy benefits of the sun!