Summer in the south is in full swing. July and August (and a lot of times September… October… and maybe even parts of November) are highly unanticipated as it generally feels we’re going to melt within seconds of stepping out the door; we either find ourselves aggressively avoiding having to step foot outside or spending hours down at the pool or water parks to try and keep cool.
But, even in the heat of the summer, there are some pros and cons to being out in the sun. The most well-known benefit of sunlight is that it’s how we obtain Vitamin D. However, what’s probably in the forefront of our minds is the sunburns, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and the ever-famous skin cancer. Now, don’t get me wrong – these are all valid health concerns that we should be cautious of – but caution should not equal fear or complete avoidance, because we might also be causing some harm to our health, as well.
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THE DEAL WITH VITAMIN D
As I have previously mentioned, Vitamin D is most commonly obtained through sunlight. While it can be found naturally in some foods (generally in fatty fish), it is not common. Most times you’ll see that Vitamin D has been added (fortified) to food products that contain plenty of calcium, such as milk/dairy, orange juice, and even breakfast cereals since they are usually consumed with milk (National Institutes of Health).
When sunlight comes into contact with your skin, Vitamin D synthesis occurs. Once it goes through the activation process in either the liver or kidneys, it stimulates calcium absorption. Everyone is well aware that calcium is crucial for bone health in terms of growth and remodeling, but it is also important for cell growth, neuromuscular/brain and immune function, and decreasing inflammation (National Institutes of Health). Additionally, studies show getting appropriate amounts of Vitamin D decreases risk of osteoporosis, certain cancers, and can even alleviate symptoms of depression (William, David K). The NIH recommends being exposed to sunlight without sunscreen for 5-30 minutes between 10AM-3PM twice a week to get adequate amounts of Vitamin D.
There are certain groups that are at risk for Vitamin D deficiencies such as the elderly, individuals with dark skin tones, those with conditions regarding fat malabsorption, those who have a BMI greater than 30, and people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery (National Institutes of Health). Vitamin D supplements are available, but as with most supplements, they are generally only recommended if you are truly deficient. If you are curious to know whether you are deficient or not, you can always ask your physician to check for it in the lab work for your annual physical.
There’s a lot of controversy over sunscreen these days. I Googled “sunscreen news” and saw mostly negative headlines saying things like, Are You Getting Burned by Your Sunscreen? and Most Sunscreen Products Don’t Even Work. I know last summer everyone was up in arms over the chemicals in sunscreen and how they are probably causing more instances of skin cancer than overexposure to the sun. The bottom line is that it’s hard to keep up anymore – we almost feel like we just have to decide between the lesser of two evils. There’s a lot to keep in mind when trying to choose a sunscreen.
SUN PROTECTION FACTOR (SPF)
So, first a little science – there are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. Sunscreens currently only protect against UVB rays, leaving UVA rays to still do its damage (bummer, right?) For this reason, it is important to remain cautious while spending lots of time out in the sun, especially when using higher SPF sunscreens as they can lead to a false sense of hope regarding how much protection you’re actually getting (EWG Sun Safety Campaign). The American Cancer Society recommends picking a sunscreen that is 30 SPF or greater, which protects against 97% of UVB rays; 50 SPF against 98%, and 100 SPF against 99%. It is important to note that no sunscreen will provide complete and total protection.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
Studies are showing that a majority of common chemicals in sunscreens lead to hormone disruption – the big bads being oxybenzone and octinoxate. Homosalate has shown some hormone disruption, but it’s hazard score lower than that of oxybenzone and octinoxate (EWG). A lot of the brand name sunscreens are guilty of using these ingredients – Coppertone, Sun Bum, Banana Boat, even Neutrogena and Aveeno.
So now that I’ve probably scared you, there are alternatives. Ingredients like titanium dioxide (if in a lotion versus a spray), zinc oxide and avobenzone are much safer as they have not displayed evidence of hormone disruption. They also have more protection against UVA rays.
- Neutrogena does offer a Sheer Zinc version that is 18.24% Zinc Oxide versus their regular sunscreen that is 3% Avobenzone, 8% Homosalate, 5% Octisalate, 4% Octocrylene, and 4% Oxybenzone.
- Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection for Sensitive Skin offers a 21.6% Zinc Oxide solution as a opposed to their regular baby sunscreen that is 3% Avobenzone, 10% Homosalate, 5% Octisalate, 2.8% Octocrylene, and 6% Oxybenzone.
- Again – you might have to turn to a baby sunscreen. Babo Botanicals sunscreen is clear and unscented in addition to being 22.5% Zinc Oxide, so this might be good for those of you who really like going a more natural route with your healthcare.
- My sister introduced me to Luv that Sun and I’ve been using it for the last two summers. It’s especially good for anyone who’s especially environmentally friendly as they don’t test their products on animals. The red bottle is 3.5% Titanium Dioxide and 4% Zinc Dioxide, and their blue bottle is 1.8% Avobenzone, 5% Octocrylene, and 7% Homosalate.
- This is the Eau Thermale Avène Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen I received in my summer FabFitFun box (I get most of my favorite beauty products I didn’t know I needed from it!) It has a matte finish so it doesn’t make me feel super greasy and it’s easy to put under your makeup if your foundation doesn’t have much of it’s own protection. 3% Avobenzone, 13% Homosalate, 5% Octisalate, and 10% Octocrylene.
UP AND COMING
While I was doing my research for this post, I came across articles discussing the findings of a DNA-based sunscreen. Not only does it’s protection ability improve the longer you wear it, but it supposedly helps keep the skin from drying out (Binghamton University, 2017). It’s some incredibly recent news, but I thought that the concept was interesting and worth mentioning.
ENJOY THE REST OF YOUR SUMMER, AND REMEMBER TO WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN 🙂