Sun bathing is a common way to enjoy the summer season, resulting in tanned skin, and increased absorption of vitamin D. However, too much sun exposure can lead to permanent skin damage, increased risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging.
To prevent skin damage from the sun, and still enjoy the healthy glow to your skin, we’ve assembled the following guidelines.
- The best way to avoid damage sun damage is to limit your exposure to the sun. However, studies show 10-15 minutes in the sun allows the body to absorb vitamin D, which boosts the immune system among other benefits. So a little sun goes a long way. This also gives you a base tan, avoiding sun burns.
- To get the look of a healthy tan without overdosing on sun exposure, try sunless tanning products or airbrushing tans from a salon. Sun tan booths, although convenient, also can damage your skin.
- For those extended summer days in the sun, select an organic sunscreen and apply to your skin. Here’s a general guideline: To protect your skin, avoid unprotected ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure particularly between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, which are the hours of peak UVR intensity. Wear sun protective clothing, including long-sleeve shirts, a hat with a three inch brim and sunglasses. Apply sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher to all unprotected skin 15-20 minutes before exposure and reapply it every two hours while exposed.
Sunscreens Are Not All Created Equal
Sunscreen lotions protect skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. These products contain a physical blocker, of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which protects the skin from UVB rays which cause the sunburn and UVA rays which damage the skin on a long-term effect, such as premature aging. The sunscreen effectiveness is greatly dependent upon the amount of physical blocker in the product, and the best quality sunscreen will have 6% or more zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
Sunscreens are made with 17 active ingredients that are in two categories: absorbers which create a chemical reaction to absorb UVR, and reflectors which are the physical barriers that reflect the rays away from the skin. The majority of sunscreens have a mixture of absorbers and reflectors, and available in creams, mousses, lotions, and moisturizers.
Daily use of sunscreen can minimize the harmful effects of UVB and UVA on DNA. They also save the important proteins like collagen, elastin, and keratin, which keeps the skin smooth and firm. Some daily moisturizers now include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as three ingredients are well known to help stop or even reverse some signs of aging.
Organic vs Chemical vs Physical Blockers
Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the ultraviolet rays and converting them from light energy to heat energy. Benzophonones, oxybenzone and cinnamates are used as UV absorbing ingredients. Research has shown however that use of chemical sunscreen is linked to higher incidence of skin cancer due to its free radical generating and DNA/hormone disrupting properties. Also, since Oxybenzone filters ultra violet light on the surface of the skin by converting to heat that can be absorbed by the skin and cause damage to the growing cells.
Physical blockers however provide a barrier against sun damage, and the most common ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are derived from naturally occurring minerals. Zinc Oxide can block against both UVA and UVB rays, while titanium dioxide only delivers protection from UVB rays.
Organic sunscreen also use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, but do not contain any chemical UV-absorbers, synthetic preservatives, benzoates, petrochemical, artificial fragrances, artificial flavors or color, and other harmful chemicals. This option is best suited for people with sensitive skin or who are concerned about cancer inducing chemical ingredients. Like physical blocking sunscreen, organic sunscreens with full UV spectrum protection and SPF 30+ are the best options.
The Science of Tanning
While UVB radiation burns the upper layers of the skin, causing sunburns, the UVA radiation cause people to tan. This happens when the UVA penetrate to the lower layers of the epidermis, where they trigger cells called melanocytes to produce melanin, which causes the brown pigment that causes tanning. Melanin is the body's way of protecting the skin from burning. While darker skin people tan easier it doesn't mean that this protects them from skin cancer and other problems. UVA rays are so dangerous because they penetrate to the dermis layer of the skin where blood vessels and nerves are found, and they also damage a person's immune system, making it harder to fight diseases and leading to illnesses like melanoma, which can quickly spread to other organs of the body if not found and treated quickly.
The rise of new melanoma cases in the United States is growing, and what use to be a disease found in people in their 50s is now showing up in people in their 20s and late teens. This is believed to be linked to the use of tanning beds and sun lamps which contain high levels of UVA rays. UVB rays are also linked to the development of melanoma because a sunburn or intense sun exposure may increase a person's chances of developing melanoma. Cancer is not the only issue associated with UV exposure. The damage linked to the radiation is linked to the main factor of premature skin aging. UV rays can also affect your eyes leading to cataracts.
In accordance with the most known ways of protecting yourself from radiation, such as applying and reapplying sunscreen, is checking with your doctor to make sure any medication you're taking such as, birth control pills and acne treatments, doesn't increase your sensitivity to the sun. Also using tanning "accelerators" or tanning pills, claiming to increase the body's production of melanin, is not recommended and should be avoided.
Sunless tanners are the best way to go if you desire a slight "glow" of a tan. Usually moisturizers containing dihydroxyacetone (DHA) will gradually stain the dead skin cells on your body, until they fall off. These tans usually last from several days to a week. Salons that offer airbrush tanning create a more natural looking tan, when matched with your skin tone. These are also hooked up to a DHA and while show up a few hours after application. It's vital to remember that these sunless tanners do not create melanin on your skin, therefore it's still vital to apply sunscreen or protection when going outside.