I love the energy of summer.  I can feel the excitement as I listen to people plan their vacations and outdoor activities.  What I don’t love is the intensity of the sun….it feels like it is burning a hole right through me!  In some ways this may be true.  As the temperatures soar, so does the UV index.  The sun’s rays are much stronger and the risk of sun damage is dramatically increased.  Although we should be aware of sun damage all year long, it is particularly important in the summer.  Prevention is the key my friends, so let’s chat about what we can do to keep ourselves safe in the sun.

When I think of prevention, the first thing that comes to mind is sunscreen.   As with any skincare product we use, it is important to know that the ingredients are safe.  So, what’s in your sunscreen??  The active ingredients in commercial sunscreens come in two forms: chemical and mineral.  Most sunscreens on the market are formulated using chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octimoxate.  Studies have shown that these chemicals mimic hormones and may cause skin allergies.   We definitely want to avoid the chemical sunscreens!

Mineral based sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide which are stable in the sunlight, protect you from UVA and UVB rays and do not have any harmful additives.  Most chemical sunscreens only offer protection from UVB radiation which is about 3-5% of the rays.  UVB rays will burn the skin and cause some DNA damage.  UVA radiation penetrates much deeper causing a different kind of DNA damage.  UVA rays create free radicals, promote skin aging and cause skin cancer.   It is important to choose a sunscreen which blocks both UVA and UVB radiation.

Avobenzone is the most common UVA filter in sunscreens.  Zinc oxide is also a strong UVA filter.  Titanium dioxide offers moderate protection.  You will often see a combination of these in mineral sunscreens.  When the label says “broad spectrum” they are referring to UVA and UVB protection.

When choosing a sunscreen, there are a few things to consider.   The SPF rating is a reflection of the UVB protection.  Have you  noticed SPF’s seem to be getting higher and higher?  In theory, this may sound like a great idea but there is little evidence that anything over 50 provides any extra protection.  In fact, a high SPF may offer a false sense of security causing people to stay in the sun longer than they should.

As far as protection, sunscreens can lower your risk of squamous cell carcinoma and decrease actinic keratosis which are changes to the skin that may turn into squamous cells.  Unfortunately, sunscreen is not as effective in preventing basal cell carcinomas.  Although both of these cancers are malignant, they are unlikely to spread to other areas of your body.  The third type of skin cancer is malignant melanoma which is a more aggressive form of cancer and can easily spread to other areas of the body.  Melanomas are more common in white Americans and in men versus women.  An interesting fact about melanomas is that they often do not appear on parts of the body that get regular sun exposure.  Go figure!

A number of factors can predispose you to skin cancer.   Fair skin, blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes and having at least one severe sunburn as a child.  Hmmmm….sounds like someone I know ;).  Using a tanning bed greatly increases your risk for melanoma because you are getting high doses of UVA radiation.  In fact, if you used a tanning bed before the age of 30, your melanoma risk increases by as much as 75%!

In addition to using sunscreen, you might also consider wearing clothing that offers SPF protection.  Did you know that this alone can reduce your risk by 27%?  (FYI….I saw some great deals on shirts and hats at Costco!)  Try to plan your outdoor activities so that you avoid the peak hours of sun exposure (10 a.m to 2 p.m.) and stay in the shade as much as possible.  Getting regular skin cancer exams with a dermatologist is a definite must especially if you have any of the risk factors.  I go for an exam once a year but considering the fact that I have all of the risk factors, I am going to start going twice a year.

Recently, the Environmental Working Group came out with their list of the top sunscreens on the market.  Based on this information, I compiled my own list of all the brands that are rated a 1 (the best rating) and that are readily available at your grocery or health food store.  All of the sunscreens listed below have either a 30 or 50 SPF.  In an effort to practice what I preach, I stocked up on some new sunscreen.  I am using Goddess Garden (love the name!) for my face and Badger Sport Sunscreen on my body.   I really like both of them.

 My Top Ten Picks for Sunscreen

1.  All Good
– Sport
– Sunscreen Butter
– Kids Sunscreen
2.  Aveeno
– Baby Continuous Protection Lotion
3.  Badger
– Sport Sunscreen Cream
– Baby Sunscreen Cream, Chamomile
and Calendula
4.  Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen
– Baby SPF 30
-Sensitive SPF 30
5.  Goddess Garden
– Organics Everyday Natural Sunscreen
– Organics Facial Sunscreen
– Organics Kids Sunscreen
– Organics Sport
6.  Kiss My Face
– Organics Kids Mineral Sunscreen
7.  MyChelle Dermaceuticals Sunshield Stick
8.  Neutrogena
– Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen
– Zinc Dry Touch Sunscreen
9.  Soleo Organics Sunscreen
10.  Tom’s of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion

Researching this article really opened my eyes to the fact that I need to be much more diligent about preventing sun damage.  I can already see the effects on my skin from past years and I certainly don’t want to add to that.  Over 1 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year.  I am determined to keep myself off of that list!  How about you?  Hit reply and let me know your thoughts.

Have fun and stay safe this summer!