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Sun Protection 101 (+ How to Avoid Nasty Chemicals in Sunscreen)

by Yes Health

Walt Whitman once said: “Keep your face always toward the sunshine, and shadows will fall behind you.” 

This sounds great in theory, but keeping your face always toward the sunshine requires serious sun protection and knowing what to look for when choosing your sunscreen!

The topic of skin and sun can be confusing, as there is a lot of conflicting information out there. The long and short of it is this: the sun is not inherently bad for your skin, and in appropriate amounts and with the proper care, is actually essential for health. However, exposing your skin to strong summer sun can mean you’re walking a thin line and may be risking a burn, which can have profound health implications.

In this article, we discuss how to prevent skin cancer and best protect your skin from sun damage, and what to look for (and avoid) when purchasing sunscreen.

How Much is Too Much Sun Exposure?

Sun safety comes down to balance, and the key is to never overexpose yourself. The amount of time necessary to bask in summer sun glory safely and just enough to soak in that luscious vitamin D depends on where you are located. If you’re vacationing near the equator, that might be just a few minutes, or in northern regions, you might be okay with 20 minutes. Those living in colder climates are very commonly deficient in vitamin D. Other factors that play a role are the use of sunscreen, age, and skin color.

This handy sunbathing calculator helps you determine how many hours you can safely spend outside, depending on the SPF of your sunscreen and other factors like geographic location and skin type. You can also use the tool in reverse by inputting the amount of time you spend in the sun, and it will tell you what SPF sunscreen you should use. 

Choosing The Right Sunblock (+ Avoiding Nasty Chemicals in Sunscreen)

According to many experts, using a high SPF product has actually been shown to do more harm than good, as people end up across the board overexposing themselves to the sun with a false sense of security. Not only that, but many high-SPF sunblocks are misleading, as their actual SPF is significantly lower than what’s on the label. 

Another critical factor to consider is toxicity. Unfortunately, many popular sunscreen brands are packed full of toxic ingredients like oxybenzone and homosalate. Oxybenzone has been associated with allergic reactions, hormone disruption, cancer, and even low birth weight in babies.

Sunscreens are typically categorized as either a mineral or chemical blocker, depending on their ingredients. Opt for mineral blockers as a much safer choice, such as one that uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

It’s also best to avoid sunscreen brands that contain vitamin A, as studies show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin that’s been lathered with vitamin A-containing products. Avoid sunscreens and lip balms that contain ingredients labeled vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, or retinol.

If you can, choose an organic brand and don’t rely on it for complete protection. Also, remember not to make the mistake of choosing a high SPF and falsely assuming you can spend hours in the sun without risk. Some of your Yes Health Coach’s favorite brands are Badger Sunscreen, Attitude 100% Mineral Sunscreen, and Goddess Garden Organics. 

Once you’ve got your sunscreen, use the following tips for staying safe while you enjoy the delicious summer sun!

Five Tips for Ultimate Sun Protection

In addition to the potential risk of skin cancer, excessive sun exposure can create oxidation, contributing to wrinkles and accelerated skin aging. On the flip side, it’s important to soak in that sunshine vitamin (D), and safely enjoy some rays! Here are five tips for ultimate sun safety and protection.

  1. Get Some Morning Sun Exposure

On average, twenty minutes of direct sun exposure without sunscreen in the morning is recommended, or you can find a more specific optimal exposure time using on the calculator we mentioned above. Soaking up rays in the morning helps support a healthy circadian rhythm by controlling hormones and other chemicals triggered by darkness and light (think: melatonin).

In the early morning and later in the evening, the sun is lower in the sky, so these are good times to plan more extended outdoor activities on hot summer days.

  1. Seek the Shade

Sunscreen has a time and place, but it’s even better to protect your skin with natural shade. If you’ll be in a sunny place like a beach or park, scope out a spot under a tree, or bring an umbrella or tent. 

  1. Wear Protective Gear

You can still look great on the beach and protect your skin. Light, long-sleeve beach coverups, sunglasses, a sun hat, or any other sun gear is an excellent way to enjoy the summer months without overexposing your skin to the sun.

  1. Use Sunscreen When You Need It

Choose a non-toxic sunscreen, and definitely don’t miss the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Sunscreens to learn more about each brand’s safety. This research-backed info points out that due to inadequate regulations governing the safety of sunscreens, there are many products on the shelves that either aren’t that effective or contain harmful chemicals.

The EWG’s guide outlines the best sunscreen choices for babies, kids, recreational use, daily use, and more.

  1. Drink Plenty of Water 

Increasing your water intake is key on hot days, so keep a water bottle with you at all times, and shoot for at least half of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day. If you’re drinking alcohol in the hot sun, your risk of dehydration is greater. Pay extra attention to drinking a glass of water in between every alcoholic drink.

 

Got Sun Burned? Here’s What To Do

If your skin becomes red, painful, blistered, or peeling, this is a sure sign you got too much sun and have a burn. It’s far from ideal, but we’ve probably all been there. If you’re burned, wear clothing that protects your skin and stay out of the sun to avoid further damage. Topical ointments like aloe vera, vitamin C, and vitamin E creams can calm painful burns. If you’re really in pain, taking an oral anti-inflammatory like Tylenol, aspirin, or ibuprofen can help.

Key Takeaways:

  • Use this sunbathing calculator to determine how much time you can safely spend in the sun, depending on multiple factors.
  • Due to lack of adequate regulations, many unsafe products are on store shelves. Use the EWG’s sunscreen guide to choose non-toxic and effective products.
  • Avoid products with vitamin A (also labeled retinol or retinyl palmitate) and oxybenzone.
  • Be wary of high SPF sunscreens. Not only is their SPF level often misleading, but it may give you a false sense of protection.
  • Instead of depending on sunscreen, plan your sun exposure for the early morning and evening. Seek shade, wear protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses.
  • Stay hydrated.

By following these tips, you’ll set yourself up for a summer of fun-in-the-sun, and healthy skin for years to come! 

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