Sunshine and You: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Remember the days of tanning with baby oil? Hopefully, we all know better now, but the issue of sun exposure is still a bit controversial. On the one hand, we are told to avoid it at all costs because of skin damage and cancer risks. On the other, we hear that we really need it for Vitamin D.
So what’s the truth here, and what are the optimal choices we can make when it comes to the sun? Here is a quick guide to the most important things you need to know about what’s both good and bad about sun exposure, as well as how to avoid its beauty-robbing effects.
Vitamin D, a critical nutrient that actually helps protect us from cancer and many other diseases, is produced by the skin in response to the UVB rays that are strongest at midday. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, the proper dose of sun exposure is very short and involves about 10-20 minutes (or just until our skin starts to get slightly pink) of exposing our arms and legs to the sun, between 10am and 2pm each day, for optimal levels of Vitamin D.
Think of UVB as the healthy wavelengths that help your skin produce Vitamin D. So this “dose” of sun exposure, without sunscreen, actually contributes to health because of the all-important Vitamin D. But again, the dose should be very short because we want to avoid burning and limit our exposure to the harmful UVA rays.
For most of the world that can’t get this kind of sun exposure for most of the year, there is always supplementation of Vitamin D3. (But of course, producing it naturally is best.)
This is the more familiar news about why sun protection is SO necessary! We hear all the time about how UVA rays penetrate the skin with free radical damage, which can directly contribute to both premature aging and skin cancer. So, other than the short daily dose of Vitamin D, we really do want to protect ourselves from the sun as much as possible.
While it’s probably not possible to completely avoid exposure, we can definitely line up the right products to protect us in the forms of safe sunscreens, SPF lip balms and moisturizers; there are also hats, clothing, umbrellas, and other physical barriers that have been specifically designed for healthy sun protection.
And ideally, we will use these products nearly all the time because:
the harmful UVA rays are constant during all hours of daylight and all year round (unlike the friendly UVBs that are low in the morning and late afternoon)
UVAs are present even on cloudy days
these rays penetrate windows, so sun protection is needed even while indoors and driving
Protecting Our Skin From Wrinkles, Dark Spots, and More
Yes, we mentioned premature aging, which sun exposure definitely promotes, and which generally diminishes our beauty. None of us want that! So here’s what I suggest:
reduce as much sun exposure as you can, except the recommended daily “dose”
definitely protect your face and eyes from the sun AT ALL TIMES; the fragile skin around the eyes is particularly sensitive to photoaging damage from the sun
wear the right sunglasses to avoid squinting, which promotes wrinkling
consider a (non-toxic) facial moisturizer with an SPF for full-time coverage and protection
use hats, clothing, and umbrellas as physical barriers from the sun
if you must be out in the sun, make sure to choose non-toxic sunscreen products – and use them properly
Most commercial sunscreen products contain chemical ingredients that can actually promote skin cancer (learn more about those here). As a quick guide, steer clear of chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate/octyl methoxycinnamate, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone; as well as petroleum, mineral oil, and parabens.
To avoid these toxic chemicals, choose a sunscreen that uses mineral (like zinc oxide) rather than chemical ingredients, as these are both safer and more effective. While mineral sunscreen products used to be somewhat greasy and harder to use, today’s products have been re-formulated for both performance and ease.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) offers some excellent guidance for choosing healthy products, and we’re offering some of our favorite face, lip and body options right here.
And finally, from the American Academy of Dermatology, here are some tips for the best ways to use sunscreens:
Choose products with an SPF of 30 that are water-resistant and provide broad-spectrum coverage
Apply before going outdoors for optimal protection
Apply enough! Most people need about an ounce for full body coverage
Protect all bare skin: don’t forget ears, neck, tops of feet, etc.
Lips need SPF of at least 15
Reapply at least every 2 hours or right after swimming or perspiring