From rainy Seattle days, to summer barbecues and beach outings, the sun is everywhere you are. Protecting yourself from the sun is essential to skin cancer prevention, and luckily there are many ways to do that. Firstly, it is important to realize that about 9 out of 10 of cases of skin cancer stem from exposure to the sun’s harmful UV radiation. It is also important to realize that our skin isn’t the only thing being damaged by the sun. It can cause harm to our eyes, cause burns, heat exhaustion, rashes, wrinkles, and as mentioned, cancer. Moving on to the bright side—no pun intended—there are some benefits to the sun as well. As we know, it is a natural source of vitamin D production, can lift your mood, lift seasonal affective disorder, can be a stress reliever (often associated with being outside) and it can help you sleep better. Now lets learn how we can protect ourselves, and our families, to stay safe from those harmful UV rays.
Protecting our skin:
Clothing: This is our first line of defense, and an important step to consider before walking outside! Hats, long sleeves, pants, short sleeves, and shorts; they are all important protecting factors against the sun. There are some amazing clothing choices out there that have a UV block (called UPF—Ultraviolet Protection Factor) in the fabric itself. Like SPF, a higher UPF is going to block more UV rays. Luckily, this clothing is made to be light and airy for those hot summer days. REI is a great place to look for these items. You can also make your own at home! You can add Sun Guard right into your laundry detergent when washing your everyday clothing. It contains a type of sunscreen and its protection lasts through 20 washes. Another note: if it is not a hot day, but the sun is still shining, it is best to wear long garments with dark colors, as they have a naturally higher blocking effect from the sun’s UV rays.
Sunscreen: Sunscreen is the next step to protecting yourself against the sun. It is a combination of ingredients made to create a layer to keep the sun’s UV rays from reaching your skin. There are two types of UV rays: ultraviolet A (UVA: long-wave: skin aging, skin cancer) and ultraviolet B (UVB: shortwave: sunburns, skin cancer). Different sunscreens contain different amounts of both, or one or the other, and vary in the degree in which they fight these rays. “Broad Spectrum” means that the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. As far as the Sun Protectant Factor, many studies suggest that using an SPF of 15-30 is sufficient, although you may choose to use a higher factor, especially for children. Reapply your sunscreen every two hours and after you’ve been in water. It is important to wear lip balm with SPF in it to protect your lips. Another note: monitor the UV Index forecasts for your area every day so you know if it is safe to be outside. A higher UV index of 6 or 7 means that it is unsafe to be outside unprotected.
Shade: Find shade or bring it with you. Whether you are at the beach or in your backyard, it is essential to find a spot of shade that you can go to when need be. It is important to take breaks from the sun—use this time to reapply your sunscreen! Shade can be anything from a tree, to a pop-up beach tent, to a roof, to your hat. For the beach, there may be shade there, but to be safe, bring an umbrella with you. Another note: plan around the sun. This means not going outside at peak UV radiation, which is between 10am and 4pm.
Protecting our eyes:
Hats: Fashionable and ever important for protecting our eyes. Wear one with a wider brim than 3” for optimal sun protection. Have your children get into the habit of throwing one on every time they go outside to play. (Same rule with sunscreen!)
Sunglasses: Wear UV protected sunglasses everyday. It is so harmful for our eyes to be looking into the sun’s direction and directly absorbing the UV rays. Again, get your kids to wear a pair too!
Protecting our health:
Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion and dehydration are real problems. Getting too hot from running around or being outside on a hot day for too long can really affect our health. It is important to stay hydrated and take regular breaks in the shade.
Make your own sunscreen!
- ½ cup almond or olive oil
- ¼ cup coconut oil (natural SPF 4)
- ¼ cup beeswax
- 2 tablespoons non-nano zinc oxide powder (Amazon)
- Optional: up to 1 teaspoon Red Raspberry Seed Oil
- Optional: up to 1 teaspoon Carrot Seed Oil
- Optional: up to 1 teaspoon Vitamin E oil
- Optional: 2 tablespoons Shea Butter (natural SPF 4-5)
- Optional: Essential Oils, Vanilla Extract or other natural extracts
- Combine ingredients except zinc oxide in a pint sized or larger glass jar.
- Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and place over medium heat.
- Put a lid on the jar loosely and place in the pan with the water.
- Shake or stir occasionally to incorporate. When all ingredients are completely melted, add the zinc oxide, stir in well and pour into jar.
- Stir a few times as it cools to make sure zinc oxide is incorporated.
- Use as you would regular sunscreen. Best if used within six months.
This sunscreen is probably best for everyday life, not a day at the beach, due to its low SPF. However, add two tablespoons of non-nano zinc oxide to any bottle of lotion to greatly increase the SPF.
Recipe via Wellness Mama
Sunscreen According to the Environmental Working Guide (EWG)
Best natural sunscreen brands:
Badger*, Coola*, California Baby, Jason, Alba Botanica*, La Roche-Posay*, The Honest Company*, Babyganics, Nature’s Gate, Mustela, derma e.
(Not exclusive, full list here)
“Hall of Shame” sunscreens (i.e. DON’T BUY):
Banana Boat, Coppertone, CVS, Neutrogena, NO-AD, Ocean Potion, Equate, Kroger, Up & Up.
Also on the list were: Spray sunscreens—due to risk of inhalation and partial coverage; SPF above 50—SPF effectiveness tops out at 30-50; Oxybenzone—due to risk of hormonal disruptions; Retinyl Palmitate—due to damage and risk of cancer.
Stay protected, happy, and healthy,
Bastyr University Student Intern