Tis the season to celebrate all things light, from reading to clothing to the literal rays pouring down from the sky. We don’t want to contemplate anything heavier than a boogie board, let alone the possibility that something could interfere with our fun in the sun.
Well, these days, care comes before being carefree. Here’s how to maximize playtime while minimizing ultraviolet (UV) exposure.
Protect Your Skin
Sun-safe options run the gamut from sunscreen and lip balm to self-tanning products, clothing, and even supplements. With these kinds of choices, you can get the most out of your lazy days without breaking a sweat.
Sunscreen. “Put on often; slather on thick,” says David E. Fisher, MD, chief of the Department of Dermatology at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. He and his family go for a broad-spectrum sunblock that protects against UVA and UVB (see “What’s the Diff”).
Use sunscreen daily if outside for more than 20 minutes, and reapply often if it’s humid or you’re swimming or perspiring heavily. Dermatologists recommend a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 year-round, which lets you stay in the sun 15 times longer than normal without burning.
Most oil-based sunscreens don’t contain enough SPF, so opt for cream or lotion. Many natural products contain additional healthful ingredients such as vitamins E and C or green tea. Kat James, author of The Truth About Beauty, recommends choosing a mineral-based sunscreen (micronized zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) for optimum safety. Avoid synthetic ingredients such as methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl paraben.
Lip balm. Lips get sunburned, too, so apply protection that’s SPF 15 or higher; many lip balms come in pretty summer tints.
Self-tanning products. “If a tan is induced by UV radiation, there’s no evidence that it’s a safe tan,” says Dr. Fisher. He adds, “A sunless tan is a safe tan.” Kat James recommends a bronzer with mineral pigments (iron oxides), which allows for even application.
Supplements. For protection from the inside out, several studies support the use of beta carotene to counteract the damaging effects of UV radiation. Other potentially protective phytochemicals being studied include lycopene and caffeine.
As for that much-needed by-product of the sun, vitamin D, Dr. Fisher feels that sun exposure is “a carcinogenic way to get vitamin D. It comes at a price—skin cancer.” He notes, “Vitamin D supplements are chemically identical, functional, and will fully replace the vitamin D we would receive from the sun.”
Everyday Sun Safety
Finally, follow these commonsense guidelines:
1. Sit in the shade when possible.
2. Avoid peak sun exposure, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
3. Wear a hat.
4. Check out sun-protective clothing, which is rated using a system comparable to SPF, called ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).
With more SPF and less UV in your life, you’ll enjoy summer safely.
Under the Sun
Why this strong urge to cover up? In a word, melanoma. This deadly cancer is on the rise, “with a steep slope,” says Dr. Fisher. In fact, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S.; one in five Americans will contract it, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation. Some of us still look to the sun for a summer glow. Is there such a thing as a healthy tan? “Most consider it an oxymoron,” says Dr. Fisher. Both UVA and UVB damage DNA.
What’s the Diff?
UVB is the culprit when it comes to most cancers, but UVA, responsible for premature wrinkling and aging, can also damage DNA.
Sunscreens filter and reduce UVB radiation; some also filter UVA. Sunblocks provide broad protection against both UVA and UVB via ingredients such as titanium oxide and zinc oxide, which provide heavy-duty protection.
SPF (sun protection factor) indicates the range of sun protection from 2 to 50 (or higher), but only applies to UVB. UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rates fabric protection against both UVA and UVB.
Waterproof products maintain their SPF after 80 minutes of water exposure; water-resistant products last half as long.