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Summer’s here! What feels better than a bright sunny day? However, don’t forget the sun is still a force to be reckoned with, and as with many things, moderation is key.
Here is the what you need to know about keeping you and your family healthy for all of your summertime fun:
1. Skin cancer is not prevented by using sunscreen.
Despite increased use of sunscreen, the rate of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – have tripled over the past 35 years. Most scientists and public health agencies have found very little evidence that sunscreen prevents most types of skin cancer. What sunscreens do, when used correctly, is help prevent sunburn – a major risk factor for melanoma. Sunscreen is only one measure, of several, needed for optimal sun protection.
Action plan: Prioritize other measures of self-protection, including:
- wearing lightweight long-sleeved clothing to protect your skin from the sun’s rays
- moderating your time spent outdoors mid-day, when the sun’s rays are the most direct and the hottest, which is good for vitamin D production, but also the time when you are most vulnerable to sun damage
- doing outdoor activities in the shade
- considering the UV index when making your plans
- wearing sunglasses protect your eyes
2. Beware products with a high SPF rating.
Products with high SPF numbers pose many problems. The formulations are usually slanted in favour of only protecting against UVB radiation, without offering balanced protection against the skin damage that is caused by UVA radiation. There is a high degree of discrepancy in the range of SPF offered by any products depending on testing methods and amount of product used, which worsens as SPF numbers increase. Consumers also get lulled into a false sense of security when using high SPF products and tend to use too little and too infrequently to obtain the sun protection required for their exposure. At present, the FDA is considering banning the sale of sunscreens with SPF values greater than 50+, calling higher SPF values “inherently misleading.” Australia, Europe, Japan and Canada already cap their labels at a maximum of “50+”.
Action plan: Choose products with an SPF between 30-50 and don’t forget to liberally reapply often based on your exposure/needs. Skip the spray-on sunscreens, since they evaporate too quickly to be consistently effective.
3. A common vitamin A sunscreen additive can actually speed development of skin cancer.
The sunscreen industry adds a form of vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) to 16 percent of beach and sport sunscreens, 14 percent of moisturizers with SPF and 10 percent of lip products. An excess of preformed vitamin A has been known to cause cause a number of health problems, including liver damage, brittle nails, hair loss, osteoporosis and hip fractures in older adults. Though normally added to products for its antioxidant qualities, studies indicate that retinyl palmitate may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight.
Action plan: Avoid sunscreens and other cosmetic products containing vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinoic acid.
4. Improve your UVA protection by going European.
European sunscreen makers can formulate their products with any of seven chemicals that filter UVA rays, compared to their American counterparts that use only three. Therefore, American made products do not offer the same protection for UVA rays.
Action plan: Choose a sunscreen with a wide range of UVA and UVB protection.
5. SPF measures protection from sunburn, but not all types of sun damage.
Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can generate free radicals, accelerate aging, cause sunburn and may cause skin cancer. Sunscreen does mitigate some of this damage, but it is mostly effective in preventing sunburn, reflected by its SPF.
Action plan: Be careful about how much sun exposure you get, regardless of sunscreen use.
6. Be wary of sunscreen ingredients.
Sunscreens are either “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and often contain hormone disruptors, and “natural” sunscreens, made from zinc and titanium, that may contain nanoparticles to prevent you from looking like Casper the Ghost on the beach. Since it only takes seventeen seconds for any substance you put on your skin to be absorbed into the bloodstream, be discerning about what kinds of sunscreens you are using for you and your loved ones.
Action plan: Use mineral-only products (offerings have doubled since 2007) which offer protection against both UVA and UVB, generally don’t contain harmful additives. Not sure? Click here to check out your favourite brand’s rating.
7. You need sun exposure to make vitamin D.
Vitamin D, technically a hormone, strengthens bones and the immune system and reduces risks of breast, colon, kidney and ovarian cancers and perhaps other disorders. It is estimated that about a quarter of North Americans have borderline low levels of this important nutrient. Persons with darker skin, breast-fed infants and the elderly are more prone to having less than optimal levels for good health.
Action plan: Check your blood levels for your vitamin D status and supplement accordingly.
Follow these guidelines for a safe and enjoyable season. Happy summer!