This Summer, Dive Into Sunscreen
Gone are the days when I used to bake by the pool like a hot potato. No shirt, no shoes, no wrinkles, no worries. Youthful and vibrant, I never thought much about protecting my skin from its future fate (called aging). Or, for that matter, the inevitable impact that skin cancer could possibly have on my life—in a more convenient, post-dated era, of course.
But after one too many burns, a bout of sun poisoning, and advancing a few years into my twenties, I got the message: my skin was not invincible and unaffected by the power of the sun, and I had to do something to better protect it from these potentially harmful rays.
Cue lighting. Enter sunscreen.
I began to explore the world of SPFs. With the numerous sunscreens on the market advertising all-natural to paraben-free to biodegradable, it seemed there was something to protect me from every colorful beam of the rainbow. ROY G. BIV would even be a little confused!
But don’t go crawling back under your shady rock just yet. We’ve gathered information that you, too, can use when hitting the beach or lake this summer.
Get To Know Your Sunscreen
There are several safe and natural options that will provide adequate protection when you decide it’s time for a little Vitamin D. But don’t let the “natural” label fool you. The term is not regulated, and companies may be trying to pull one over on you by including not-so-natural ingredients. Educating yourself on what constitutes a sunscreen and learning about its chemical makeup will help you make a smart decision when choosing what to slather on your skin this summer.
Take the molecule oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), for example. It was approved by the FDA in the early 1980s and has been the most widely used organic filter for UVA broad-spectrum protection today. However, oxybenzone has come under speculation by the Environmental Working Group as it has been shown to upset hormone balances in both lab rat and human studies, showing estrogenic and antiandrogenic activity when applied topically in the form of sunscreens. When it penetrates the skin, it has been known to act as a photosensitizer, making it a possible photocarcinogen (a substance that causes cancer when illuminated), as well.
Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are two very popular UVA filters that have favorable and, arguably, safer results over substances like oxybenzones. These chemical-free ingredients sit on top of the skin in order to deflect ultraviolet rays while their chemically laden counterparts first absorb UV rays into the epidermis, then either deflect them away from skin or convert it into something safer. High photostability has made them viable players in the sunscreen market, but large particle sizes often make them hard to rub in or disperse on the skin, leaving an opaque coating and detracting vanity points from consumers.
The leftover grainy substance that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide often yield prompted the sunscreen market to search in yet another controversial direction—nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are just what they sound like—extremely tiny particles that measure between 1 and 100 nanometers. As with any modified substance, changing the physical form (via heat, usually) not only alters how it looks, but also how it reacts to its surroundings chemically, mechanically, and electrically. You also run the risk of altering its biological properties and, therefore, its effects on the body.
FDA studies currently continue to validate claims that nanoparticles are hazardous. They base these claims on animal studies that show how nanoparticles can easily pass through cell membranes in organisms, along with the fact that their interactions with biological systems are virtually unknown.
Now that the risks associated with sunscreen ingredients on the human body are coming into focus, we also begin to notice its impact on the surrounding environment, as well. Knowing that certain ingredients may not be beneficial to our own personal health makes it a logical conclusion to think that they may also affect living organisms around us in similar ways.
For this reason, companies have developed biodegradable sunscreens that have a small environmental footprint. Beautiful coral reefs and living creatures alike stay better protected because biodegradable sunscreens are made to degrade naturally into the earth and water. Previously mentioned products, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, break down and collect like silt on the ocean floor, naturally incorporating back into the sand and leaving no discriminating effects. Other ingredients in the sunscreen should be recognizable, like vitamins, beeswax, or certain antioxidants. You can find biodegradable sunscreens online or at a local health food store.
Maximize Your Protection
Think about the baby-soft, smooth skin on your backside. It’s in pristine condition because it’s always been covered. Now, you can’t help but imagine how your face would look if kept protected like your gluteus maximus. Pretty amazing, right?
But unless you are wearing a black, one-piece ninja outfit complete with head-wrap and mask, you will not be successful in totally blocking the sun while lounging at the beach. It goes without saying that you would be excruciatingly hot, as well.
Essentially, there fails to be a foolproof plan that completely protects your skin from the sun while you are still in the sun. Plus, you need a little vitamin D to maintain overall health and, of course, a healthy dose of sunshine makes you look and feel good.
Higher Does Not Mean Better
The various SPFs on the market today can be a little confusing to say the least. The protection factor surges from SPF 15 to SPF 100, but is there really that much difference between all those numbers? According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), as the number climbs higher, the less quality difference there is between the SPFs— the percentage ofUVB rays blocked between an SPF 55 and SPF 100+ is less than 1 percent.
What really matters is the amount of sunscreen you apply and how often you re-apply it. The AAD recommends using a shot glass full, or approximately 1 ounce, of sunscreen to cover all of the exposed areas, which include the hands, arms, face, ears, and the lips. When applied 15 to 20 minutes before an outing, sunscreen should last between 40 minutes and 2 hours before it’s time for a re-application, depending on your day’s activities.
Dermatologists strongly recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVB and UVA rays. They also suggest an SPF of at least 30 to be worn all year round by people of all skin types.
A good way to way to ensure that you are better equipped to deal with the sun’s effects is to incorporate plenty of antioxidant-rich foods into your diet. Antioxidants help protect the skin from DNA damage that UV rays create. You can get your dose of these healthful immune boosters in both oral and topical forms. Vitamins A, C, E, and green tea are just a few good options to think about when it comes to boosting your sun immunity. However, don’t rely solely on this natural protectant—always accompanyit with the recommended amount of sunscreen.
Treat Your Sunburn Naturally
It is true—as humans we are pulled toward extravagance at times. It is then probably inevitable that we will experience a sunburn or two this summer, no matter how disciplined we are with sunscreen applications.
Remember that, even when you finally escape the sun, your sunburn continues to infuse itself deeper into your skin if not treated properly. What is the best way to nurse a sunburn after it’s too late? Here are just a few treatments to consider:
Aloe-based products: Aloe is a plant whose long leaves contain a gel that has anti-inflammatory effects and can be used topically to heal wounds. The gel is often used in the treatment of burn victims, as well. You can buy Aloe Vera products in drug stores and health food stores, or you can even break off a leaf of the actual plant and rub it right on your sunburn.
Topical Vinegar: A popular remedy for some, plain white vinegar has been thought to relieve pain associated with sunburn. You can apply it in the form of a compress, after soaking it in ahalf-water, half-vinegar solution. You can even fill a spray bottle with the solution and spritz it on the affected areas as needed.
Water: One of the most important things to do after getting too much sun is to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water replenishes your fluidsand puts moisture back in the skin from the inside out.
Hydrotherapy: Taking cool showers or baths can be soothing after getting too much sun. Also, try applying cool compresses every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the day.
Oatmeal: Sounds sticky, but an oatmeal bath will not only help relieve the itching associated with your sunburn but also soothe the pain along with it. You can ground regular oatmeal in a blender or food processor until it reaches a fine, powdered consistency. Then just stir it into your bath water and soak up the nutrients!