With so many outdoor plans in the summer, how can we protect ourselves and our children from getting too much sun and damaging our skin (now or many years from now)?

How Do We Prevent Too Much Sun?

We need some sunshine, but really not that much, so what do we do to protect our skin from too much sun? We want to prevent sunburns, skin damage, and skin cancer. Many of us turn to sunscreen to protect our skin, but that has a few problems we need to consider as well.

The Problems With Sunscreens

The first problem is that sunscreens have several chemicals that are harmful to our skin and our entire body. They impact our entire body because they can penetrate the skin and get stored in fatty tissues. Studies have found the chemicals from sunscreen in blood, urine, and breastmilk. On the skin, they can cause an allergic reaction, but two of the chemicals in particular are hormone-disruptors, which can change the balance of hormones in our bodies and harm our health.

The second problem is that these same chemicals that are harmful to us are also harmful to the environment. Hawaii passed a bill banning two ingredients that are commonly used in sunscreen because of the environmental impact they are having on the coral reefs. Our environment is so connected to what we do that putting on sunscreen for a day at the beach, then running into the water where most of that sunscreen will get washed off in the waves is killing the coral reefs.

The third problem is that sunscreens often aren’t as effective as they need to be because we don’t apply them properly or because we don’t reapply often enough.

How Do We Protect Our Skin?

With all those problems, let’s be clear, sunscreen should be your last defense against too much sun exposure. So where should you start?

Infographic on the methods of sun protection

Clothes

Cover up with clothes to protect your skin. Wear a shirt, pants, a broad-brimmed hat, and sunglasses. There are a variety of options for protective clothing that can accommodate the activity you are doing.

Even if you are spending a few hours at the pool, you can wear a rashguard and swim shorts or a swim skirt. All of those can go in the water, so you can still enjoy the pool, but you can protect your skin.

The sun-protection of clothing is rated based on a scale called UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). A white cotton t-shirt has a UPF of around 10 and denim jeans have a UPF of 1700. The weight of the fabric, the tightness of the weave, and the color all contribute to the UPF. There are also clothes that are specially formatted to have a UPF of 50 or above. The Environmental Working Group advises against clothing that has chemicals added to it, so read the labels carefully and choose UPF clothing without chemicals.

Your sunglasses need to block 100% of UV rays. Read the labels to choose the glasses that will protect your eyes. Eye doctors counsel everyone to choose Jackie O style sunglasses instead of John Lennon style (meaning choose glasses that cover a large part of your face).

Shade

Find the shade. Take a large sun umbrella or canopy to the beach with you to create your own shade. Grab a chair under the pergola at the pool. Choose a table under the shelter at the park instead of one in the sun. Get used to looking around the area and choosing a spot that will give you some shade and sun protection.

Wear a broad-brimmed hat to shade your face. But pay attention to the angle of the sun so that your chin or nose doesn’t get burned. And remember that water, sand, snow, and concrete reflect the sun, so even with a hat, your face will need more protection if you are getting reflected rays.

Stay out of the sun during peak hours

The sun is at peak force from 10 am until 3 pm. If you are on a beach vacation, it is a great idea to get into the habit of going out in the morning, heading back inside for lunch and relaxing inside for several hours, and then heading out after 3 pm.

Sunscreen

Remember that sunscreen shouldn’t be your only defense against the sun. You should use it only after you’ve got all the other protections in place.

  1. Pay attention to how you are applying your sunscreen. The guidelines are to use two tablespoons (about a shot glass full) to cover your body, and to reapply every two hours or after you swim or sweat.
  2. Don’t be fooled by an SPF of 70+, it doesn’t mean that you can be outside all day without getting a sunburn. Studies are showing that people don’t apply enough to actually get that SPF, and you’ll still have to reapply.
  3. The EWG warns against spray-on sunscreens. You can inhale the particles and there isn’t enough research to know the long-term effects of breathing them.
  4. Choose sunscreen without harmful chemical ingredients. Avoid oxybenzone, octinoxate, butylparaben, retinyl palmitate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor.

The Environmental Working Group creates a sunscreen guide every year and rates the available sunscreens based on the chemicals, effectiveness, and environmental impact. They also offer the best sunscreen in different categories, so you can choose the best one for your activity.

What are your fun in the sun plans this summer? Let us know in the comments!

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