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Summer is coming! Sunscreen time

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

The long-awaited summer is almost here in the Northwest, and hordes of people will be outside playing. Sunlight is essential for synthesis of Vitamin D and it makes us happy, but UV (ultraviolet) radiation causes bad effects on the skin- sunburn, photo-aging, and skin cancer. Fortunately, there are easy and safe ways to enjoy the sun while protecting our skin.

1. If possible, avoid being outdoors during peak sun times when the rays are the strongest. This is from 10AM- 2PM

2. Wear sun protective clothing and hat. The tighter the weave or knit the better the sun protection. And darker colors are generally better.

3. Apply sunscreen! The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using SPF of 30 or higher. And it needs to be broad spectrum.

Broad spectrum means it protects against both forms of UV radiation-

UVB consists of 5% of the UV radiation reaching the earth's surface. It causes sunburn, inflammation, darkening, and cancers

UVA consists of 95% of the UV radiation and contributes to photo-aging, tanning, and skin cancer.

How to choose a sunscreen? I recommend the physical sunscreens vs chemical sunscreens. (Or inorganic vs organic, respectively)

The physical sunscreens are the ones made up of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and they usually leave a film of white on your skin. (Many formulations have micronized the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to cut down on the appearance of having a white layer on your skin and be better blended and absorbed.)

I prefer the physical sunscreens over the chemical ones for the following reasons:

1. Some chemical sunscreens are not broad spectrum- the ingredient Avobenzone is the only organic one that covers ultraviolet A1. Both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide protect against UVA1

2. Some chemical sunscreens get absorbed into the body and although we do not have studies that they definitively cause problems, we do have studies that show that the four main ingredients- avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule- exceed the FDA threshold of blood concentrations in the body after regular application. I don't know about you, but I do not want those in my bloodstream.

3. Some chemical sunscreens can irritate the skin or cause a rash. The top three allergens in sunscreens are benzophenone-3, DL -alpha-tocopherol, and fragrances.

4. Some chemical sunscreens - octinoxate and oxybenzone have estrogen like effects in animal models.

5. The same octinoxate and oxybenzone are toxic to aquatic life and can be harmful to the reef. Hawaii has already banned the sale and use of sunscreens with these two ingredients, and Florida will likely follow. Most likely, other ingredients in chemical sunscreens are bad for the fish too.

If you find other ingredients combined with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that is fine too. Often, organic ingredients are added to the physical sunscreens to make the sunscreen easier to blend into the skin.

How to apply sunscreen? The "teaspoon rule" says apply 1 teaspoon to the face and neck, each upper extremity. 2 teaspoons to the torso, and 2 teaspoons to each lower extremity. Wow, that seems like a lot of sunscreen! Yep, better stock up on your favorite brands. And don't use old expired sunscreens from last summer. It is best to apply 15 - 30 min before sun exposure and reapplied every two hours. There is no such thing as "waterproof" sunscreen, just varying degrees of water resistance. "Water resistant" sunscreens wear off after 40 min or swimming or sweating.

What about all that Vitamin D, you ask? Yes, proper sunscreen application and sun protection does suppress your skin's ability to make Vit D. But no worries- You can take safe, inexpensive, and effective oral Vit D3. 1000 IU to 2000 IU daily should do the trick, but some individuals (ie dark skinned individuals or those with kidney disease) may need even more.

So enjoy the summer and have fun in the sun! But protect your skin from skin cancer and prevent premature skin aging!

Until next time- be happy and be healthy.


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