Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to protect your skin this summer...

Skin cancer statistics are everywhere and sunscreen advertisements have new restrictions this year.  These restrictions include testing for sunscreens labeled as broad spectrum and doing away with label terms such as "sweat-proof", "water-proof", and "sun-block". In addition sunblocks can no longer state that they have over 50 SPF or that they can protect for over two hours without application since heat exposure from sun will deactivate the active ingredients. Everyone knows that you need to wear sunscreen to protect yourself from burning in the sun and thus from skin cancer, however many don't know that studies have shown that medium sun exposure without burning will actually DECREASE your risk of melanoma, a specific kind of skin cancer. Here's a chart of skin cancer trends in the US over the years. 

There are two different types of sun rays to protect yourself from, UVA and UVB. UVA makes up about 95% of sun rays throughout the day and causes damage to the underlying skin layers. It is also thought to be the culprit for premature aging. UVB rays are responsible for helping your skin to produce the Vitamin D your body needs but they are usually low in the morning and evening but high at midday. But at any part of the day UVA rays are at high levels and usually constant so you have to be careful about getting your Vitamin D.

So what's the big deal about Vitamin D? Vitamin D supports your cardiovascular, bone, teeth, and immune system health. It also promotes healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in memory loss and learning disorders and many other health conditions. Read more here. In order to make sure you're getting enough Vitamin D you need these key ingredients: magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin A, zinc, and boron. If you don't have enough it may put you at risk for Vitamin D deficiency or disuse of Vitamin D in your body.

Many people rely on sunscreen to help combat damaging rays, however they don't realize that there are plenty of chemicals in the formulas they are applying on their skin and if they aren't getting sun exposure without sunscreen they can be blocking 99% of their natural vitamin D production. Many of these chemicals in sunscreen have been linked to cancers and other damaging health concerns. For example, octyl methoxycinnamate or OMC has been found to kill the cells of mice even at low levels while butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane has also shown toxic properties. Check your sunscreen labels for methoxy formulas, parabens, any form of salicyclates, or any form of benzone. These are questionable ingredients that can cause harm to your skin, coral reefs, and our water system.

 So what can you do to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer while making sure you're getting the Vitamin D you need?

1) Get 10-30 minutes of sunlight exposure without sunscreen two to three time per week in order for your skin to get exposure to produce vitamin D. Start out aiming for 10 minutes if you have pale or easy burning skin or in the beginning of summer. Aim for 30 if you have darker or olive colored skin that takes awhile to burn.

2) Check the label on your sunscreen even if it says its "natural" and make sure to apply it regularly while outside. Check labels for methoxy formulas, parabens, any form of salicyclates, or any form of benzone which can cause damage to your skin. Safe alternatives include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

3) Try to stay in the shade when the sun is directly overhead as the rays are most powerful at this point and can cause damage even if you're wearing sunscreen.

4) Wear wide brimmed hats and clothing that covers a lot of skin if you're going to be outside for a long period of time so that you can limit your skin and sunscreen exposure. White has long been toted to help to reflect rays however if the weave is open and you can see light through it the protection will be lacking.

5) Store sunscreen in a cool place as heat or sun exposure to the bottle may actually deactivate the ingredients and make it less effective.

6) Read the lables on your pills as many can increase the effects of UVA rays. Many medications such as ibruprofen, naproxen, certain antibiotics, birth control, and diuretics can cause your skin to burn easier. If you need a pain killer opt for a natural alternative such as Pain-X.

7) Don't forget to protect your pets! Make sure they stay in the shade and have plenty of water. Also look for symptoms of sunburn such as redness or tenderness of skin and cracking on the ears or loss of fur.

Note: If you do get burned, safe and effective ways to cool the skin after a burn include cool water, witch hazel, and aloe vera gel. There are aerosols and sprays available if your skin does burn and is hard to touch.