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Sunscreen Confidential

Did you know that your skin is the largest organ of your body? Your skin is amazing! As the boundary between our insides and the outside world, it has a very important job to do. Despite this fact, it can be hard to remember that just like other parts of our body, our skin needs TLC too. Luckily the number one way to care for and protect your skin is just to shield it from too much sun.

Sunshine on your skin feels wonderful, it's true, but too much of a good thing can be destructive. From minor sun damage like painful sunburns, premature aging and wrinkles, to serious, even life-threatening forms of skin cancer, our skin and the sun have a delicate relationship. The good news is that it's easy to prevent these concerns by practicing sun safety. Great sunscreens are increasingly available in nontoxic, environmentally friendly formulations, making it easy to make sun safety a daily habit.

Just the facts

There are two main types of radiation that come from the sun, UVA and UVB rays. UVB radiation is the culprit behind that familiar red and blistering burn, while UVA radiation penetrates deep into the skin, where it can accelerate signs of aging and eventually lead to skin cancer. By the time UVB radiation has burnt the surface, UVA rays may have already damaged skin cells in deeper layers.

You might be familiar with sunscreens listing an "SPF" or sun protection factor. This number only refers to degree of protection against UVB rays. It’s important to choose sunscreens that block both UVB and UVA rays—products usually described as “broad spectrum protection” sunscreens.

EWG is on the case

Not all broad spectrum sunscreens work equally well, and many sunscreens, broad spectrum or not, contain ingredients which are considered endocrine disruptors. Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides a Guide to Sunscreens which rates the safety and efficacy of about 1,700 skin care products that are marketed as having sun protection benefits.

In fact, EWG has a great collection of information, articles and resources to help you make good decisions about sun exposure. For example, did you know that you should use sunscreen every day, even on overcast days or while you’re traveling by car? Car windows do not block the sun’s radiation. Or that kids are especially vulnerable to sun? Studies show that just a few blistering sunburns in childhood can double a person’s chances of developing skin cancer in adulthood. Check out their Sun Safety Campaign for more tips like these. 

Shady business

Sunscreen is important, but you can also care for your skin by taking “shade breaks” beneath a tree or sun umbrella, or make your own shade by covering up with a wide brimmed hat and long sleeves. Since ultraviolet (UV) radiation can penetrate some fabrics, read up on sun protective clothing. Jeans and tightly woven knits are great for short term exposure, but if you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may wish to invest in lightweight, airy clothing that has built in UPF (UV protection factor). You can find it at recreational outfitters like the co-op, R.E.I.

And don't forget your sunglasses! Not only will you look cool, glasses with UV protection shield your eyes and surrounding skin, which are vulnerable to damage. UV rays peak at midday, so plan your time in the sun for early morning or late afternoon.

Finally, check your skin regularly for new or changing moles or spots, and ask your primary care physician how often you should see a dermatologist for professional skin cancer screenings.

Case closed

Shifting to behaviors that prioritize caring for your skin is a great example of the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." You only get one skin to live in—why not treat it well?

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