image: flickr/Paolo Pino
Lately, scientists in the sunscreen industry have been in the metaphorical hot seat. Sunscreen use is at an all time high (good) but so are skin cancer rates (bad). 'Sunscreen causes cancer' would've made a much more sensational title for this post but it's actually misuse of sunscreen that's adding to cancer's success. People have a false sense of protection with sunscreens. Instead we should be getting smaller doses of sun and covering up more.
my high SPF sunscreen blocks the sun's radiation
There are different types of radiation from the sun. SPF (the sunscreen measurement we're most familiar with) refers to the level of protection against Ultraviolet B rays (UVB). This is great for stopping the burn because UVB rays are the ones that damage the skin and cause sunburn. Unfortunately, roughly 95% of the sun’s rays are the dastardly UVA rays that cause wrinkling and sagging. More importantly, they also trigger cell mutations that may initiate skin cancer. Sunscreens offer such minimal protection against UVA rays that in most cases is not even indicated on the bottle.
I'm not burnt so I'm fine
Sunscreen provides a filter allowing us to spend all day in the sun and moderate the rate of tan, from beige to brown sugar. But the sun's rays that burn you are different from the ones that contribute to cancer. Think of sun burn as a smoke alarm. If you've been in the sun long enough to get burnt, you've been out long enough for UVAs to do damage. If you turn off your smoke alarm (aka putting on sunscreen) you won't know if the kitchen's on fire.
the sun is bad for you
Staying out of the sun all day could be as detrimental to your health as staying in the sun all day. When sunlight touches your skin, your body makes vitamin D (you may not have heard about it because no-one's worked out how to make money out of it). Vitamin D plays an amazing role in preventing osteoporosis and breast cancer. Try to get small doses, often. Don't try to cram a year's worth of sun into one day at the beach.
protect yourself against uva
Sunscreen messes with your body's natural defenses against the sun's radiation: a sunburn is a gentle reminder to get out of the sun before the bad radiation shows up. The best way to protect yourself from UVA radiation but still get a good dose of vitamin D is to adopt the philosophy of “everything in moderation”. Go out in the sun (sans sunscreen) but don't stay out too long. When determining 'how long is too long' take these factors into consideration:
- your skin tone
- the heat of the day, cloud coverage etc.
- the time of day (burn time will be longer in the evenings and early mornings)
- location (In New Zealand the burn time is announced as part of the weather report and is usually under 10 minutes)
Make the most of hats (to protect the delicate skin around your eyes), shady trees or a shirt to enjoy the outdoors without putting yourself at risk. Maybe we can even bring back the parasol.
avoid wrinkles (& the big C) with this gear
Our Sunbeam and Sun Blocker tops have a UPF rating of 45- 50 (the top rating possible). This means that they block upwards of 97.5 of UVA & UVB rays.