Safe Summer Sun Strategies

As sun doesn't often make an appearance in the Cleveland area, many of us may be tempted to spend as much time in it as possible when it's here. However, it is increasingly important to take precautions when out of doors to prevent skin damage from UV rays, and hopefully, not harm the environment in the process. Skin cancer is now the most common cancer in the US, with more than one million cases each year, some of them fatal. Though UVB rays are the cause of both sun burn and skin cancer, UVA rays are believed to exacerbate UVBs effects. Thus, it is important to use sunscreens that are effective against both, termed "broad spectrum" coverage.

There are two types of active ingredients in sunscreens: chemical UV absorbers and physical UV blockers. Many of the chemical absorbers are known to act like estrogen in the body, or otherwise disrupt normal hormones. These sunscreens, often used because of their supposed imperviousness to water, end up in lakes, rivers, and oceans, where they can also disrupt the hormones of sea creatures and contribute to the bleaching of coral reefs. Fish exposed to these chemicals end up in many of our diets, increasing our exposure even more. Chemicals that are particularly dangerous are PABA, benzophenone, and parabens, but parabens are especially difficult to avoid. Blocks, on the other hand, employ zinc or titanium oxides to block UV rays without absorbing into the skin or bloodstream. Look out for oxybenzone, however, which can be absorbed by your body.

If you can, avoid the sun when it is at its strongest - 10am - 4pm. This is especially true on days with a UV Advisory, resulting from a high UV Index. The UV Index measures the intensity of solar radiation in an area and ranges from 1 to 11, with 11 representing extreme intensity. UV Alerts are issued when intensity is higher than the statistical norm and is greater than 6. When staying indoors isn't plausible, which, with cookouts, picnics, pool parties, and graduation parties aplenty this time of year, probably will be often, keep these tips in mind:

Apply sunscreen (of at least SPF 15) 30 minutes before going into the sun. Don't be decieved by a partly overcast day; the sun's rays can still cause damage even when it's cloudy out.

Don't forget sensitive areas like ears, feet, the backs of knees, and hands.

Re-apply every two hours and after contact with water (or after you've been sweating). Claims that sunscreens are waterproof are not regulated or proven, so they are often inaccurate. Remember also that water and sand are reflective surfaces that may further intensify sun exposure.

Don't use on children under 6 months of age. Keep these kids in the shade or indoors, or dress them in protective clothing. Clothes are often better than sunscreen, when dry, especially less stretchy, heavy ones with a tight weave and dark colors (though, admittedly, all four of these characteristics taken together don't make for a very cool summer wardrobe).

Remember sunglasses, preferably with UV protection.

If you get a spray tan or use sunless tanning lotion, remember that you still need sunscreen when spending time outdoors. And though these tanning methods spare your body the UVA and UVB rays, they may contain harmful dyes, so be mindful.

When buying sunscreen/sunblock, consider an organic or all-natural brand, like Burt's Bees, Juice Organics, Bare Essentials, or Aveda. The Environmental Working Group tested over 800 sunscreens for effectiveness, and found many to be lacking. Their shopper's guide (available here lists their Top 10, along with general advice on sunscreen use.

And, lastly, don't take these warnings as a sign to stay inside 24/7 - spending time in the sun means absorption of vitamin D, and is healthy for about 10-15 minutes, 3 times a week. Enjoy your time in the sun, just do it safely, for yourself and the environment.


Read More on Conservation Corner
Volume 4, Issue 14, Posted 1:07 PM, 06.25.2008