Oh the sun. I have such a love/hate relationship with the sun.... on the one hand, gorgeous blue skies, sunny days, walks and hikes, meals on patios... on the other hand, all kinds of skin damage, including early aging and skin cancer. *gulp*
As a very fair-skinned child, my mama raised me right to wear sunscreen! And wear it I did, when I went to the pool or beach, or when I knew I was going to be outside for a while... I was the annoying kid at summer camp, pestering her cabin-mates to put sunscreen on her back. By the time I was twenty, I was wearing sunscreen almost daily. All good, right?? Go me.
BUT WAIT.... it's not so simple! Over the past ten years or so, sunscreen has become so incredibly complicated and controversial, it's almost seems like a bad joke. In fact, that sunscreen I was wearing so carefully through my childhood and adolescence contained almost no protection against UVA rays -- the most damaging rays -- at all. Some sunscreens on the shelves of our bathrooms and stores still don't. Additionally...
Did you know that many of the ingredients in drugstore sunscreen have been flagged as containing likely carcinogens? And did you know that sunscreen tends to wear off way more easily than we tend to think, and should be reapplied every 2 hours? That means reapplying twice in an afternoon, when water is NOT involved. We all totally do that, right? *rolls eyes* And furthermore, did you know that you are supposed to use a whole shot glass worth of sunscreen on your body when you're going to the beach? And a whole teaspoon just on your face and neck? In other words, a 4 oz bottle of sunscreen should only last four applications... maybe just one day if you're wearing something skimpy and reapplying as directed. And oh goodie, even when you're covered in sunscreen, there's still your scalp, lips, ears, and eyes to worry about.
Oh man. It's enough to make anybody feel a little crazy.
I switched to using all-natural sunscreens (with titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as the active ingredient) several years ago, which at least removes the "am I giving myself cancer while preventing cancer??" conundrum! However, if you've used natural sunscreens before, you probably already know what I'm about to say next..... That gunk don't breath! If you have ever walked by me and bumped into me on a sidewalk while I was wearing a natural sunscreen, I apologize profusely, because it probably felt like brushing up against a slime monster. Not only is the sunscreen gunky in and of itself, it also traps your perspiration under that layer, making your skin gradually take on the consistency of a wet sponge, if a sponge was smooth and slick. Ugh!
The other perk of natural sunscreen is that it tends to leave you ghostly white. Even if you thought you were already pretty spookishly pale already, let me assure you, there's nothing like a nice natural SPF to bring out your inner ghoul. For those folks lucky enough to NOT to have skin the shade of a piece of paper to begin with, I imagine that applying this type of sunscreen might look a lot like wearing mayonnaise. Blurg.
Here's an embarrassing story to finish illustrating the point... Back when I used to drive my car wearing natural sunscreen, the inside of the poor vehicle was polka-dotted. Because every time a knee or an elbow, an arm or a leg, came in contact with the interior of the car, it would leave a smear of sunscreen as a souvenir. May I recommend natural sunscreen as a stand-in for paint? It works more or less the same way.
So what's the solution? Most drugstore brands are right out, because hello! the whole point is to avoid cancer!, and natural sunscreens turn the wearer into the Creature from the Pasty-White Lagoon... What do we do????
Don't despair! We can all heave a big, collective sigh of relief, because there is a third option... clothing with built-in SPF! And no, this isn't the sun-protection equivalent of a burka... and no, this isn't your grandma's rash-guard either! You really can look good and be protected from the sun at the same time, I promise. Check out my post about UPF clothing, and the stylish sun-protected brand Summerskin, here!
A quick few quick notes about sunscreen and sun damage from someone who does too much research:
- I still recommend a natural sunscreen, slime and all, over a standard chemical sunscreen. There's scary stuff in those innocuous looking bottles, pictures of adorable half-naked-babies not withstanding. To lessen the goop factor, you can look for a product formulated with nano-particles of zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, but be aware that some people are worried these can be more easily absorbed into the body. So far the evidence I have seen is tending to disprove that concern, but I mention it to be fair.
- Environmental Working Group does an awesome yearly guide to sunscreens, so be sure to check that out for information on the best and the worst of sun protection. See how your sunscreen compares!
- Some people worry about sunscreen blocking vitamin D, but in general even people who religiously apply sunscreen aren't applying enough to cause a problem. One teaspoon for face and neck, one teaspoon for every other major body part (2 arms roughly count as one body part) is one respected guideline, but most people apply considerably less and so have no need to worry about a vitamin D deficiency. This of course might not be the case for you, so ask your doctor if you're concerned.
- YES, you DO need protection from the sun even if it is cloudy out. In fact, you are still being bombarded by UVA rays even when you are standing in the rain. A quick review - UVB gives you a sunburn and UVA is the sunlight that penetrates the deepest into your skin, causing aging and cancer. It isn't blocked by clouds or by glass, so you also need to be aware of windows. I know, it sucks.
- As I mentioned above, don't forget scalp, lips, ears, and eyes when it comes to sun protection! UV exposure leads to cataracts and other awful eye problems, so be sure to wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection. Hats are the easiest way to protect the scalp and ears, but you will still want a good lip balm with SPF since it takes a HUGE hat to keep the sun from hitting the lower half of your face. This is my favorite -- Cotz Lip Spf 45-- it goes on smoothly and doesn't turn your lips white.
- Hurray, matte lipstick does work fairly well for protecting your lips from sun damage! But shiny lipgloss can actually intensify the sun's rays and cause more damage, so be careful of that.
- You might have the impression that sun damage is something only we folks with pasty-pale complexions have to worry about, but actually skin cancer effects people of all ethnicities... so please be aware and cautious no matter your skin tone!
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