Summer is practically here, and that means fun in the sun! Sun exposure is important because vitamin D is naturally produced when our skin is exposed to sun rays. Vitamin D is best known for its contribution to bone health and immune function, but it can also help prevent chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It is unfortunate that whenever we talk about the benefits of sun exposure, we should also discuss the issue of skin cancer. Currently, there is no agreement on a safe level of exposure to direct sunlight. However, it is well known that sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer; therefore, we must take precautions against getting burned.
The best way to avoid sunburn is to limit direct exposure at the time when the rays are strongest, which is around midday. Yet it’s not always practical to stay out of the noonday sun. Stay in the shade (an umbrella can do the trick!) and use protective clothing, including hats and caps. The second line of defense should be the use of sunscreen. But did you know that some sunscreens can actually cause cancer? To find a safe and effective sunscreen, see my suggestions below.
Look for a product that is labeled “broad-spectrum,” which blocks out both UVA and UVB light. Don’t use products that contain oxybenzone, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and acts as a hormone disruptor. This means that it can interfere with the body’s hormones, especially those related to reproduction. Ideally, choose products that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Other good options include mexoryl sx, tinosorb s, tinosorb m, and avobenzone.
Also avoid sunscreens with vitamin A, which is also called retinyl palmitate or retinol. Vitamin A is an antioxidant and protects against free radical damage, but in sunscreens, it has the opposite effect. When exposed to UV light, it can actually increase the risk of cancer by speeding up tumor formation.
Another important thing to look out for is the SPF (sun protection factor); the best choices are formulas with a number between 15 and 50. There is no evidence that higher values are more effective. They offer a false sense of protection and people stay in the sun longer than they should. After time and with exposure to the sun, the chemicals in the sunscreen begin to break down and are not as effective. Sunscreen should be reapplied approximately every two hours, after swimming, sweating profusely, or if the product rubs off.
Finally, avoid aerosols and sprays because the chemicals become airborne and after being inhaled, easily enter the bloodstream. Creams and lotions are best.
The most important thing to remember is that sunlight is actually good for us. Exercise caution when spending the day outdoors. Don’t get burned, but don’t be afraid of a little sun either.
Got a question? Melissa Rodriguez is a mom of two and a wellness consultant. She also works as a naturopath at International Medical Center. Check out her website.
Photo from creativecommmons.org
This article originally appeared on p24 of the beijingkids June 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com