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Here Comes the Sun

Santorini.jpgIt's summer, it’s time for the beach! Obviously, we all know by now that we should be wearing sunscreen to protect from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but with so many sunscreens, which is the best? Here are some criteria to help with your decision:

  • Protect against UVA and UVB rays: UVBs are better known because they cause sunburn and wrinkles, but UVAs are just as bad. UVAs damage the collagen that gives skin its elasticity. So opt for a broad spectrum sunscreen.
  • Choose a sunscreen with a physical blocker: There are chemical and physical sunscreens. When exposed to sunlight, chemical sunscreens generate free radicals that increase the likelihood of developing cancer. Other chemicals have also been shown to mimic estrogen and to be endocrine disruptors for fish. Chemical sunscreen ingredients include: avobenzone, cinnamates, octocrylene, oxybenzone, PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), padimate-O, and alicylates. Physical blockers, on the other hand, contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Some studies state that titanium dioxide might also react with other sunscreen chemicals to further free radical production (i.e. cancer-causing cells). The best choice seems to be zinc oxide, and the latest advances virtually eliminate the white discoloration that used to be associated with using it. Here are some examples of brands and one more.
  • Inorganic is better than organic in this case: Probably the only time I will suggest going inorganic. This is another way of saying the same thing as the previous bullet, but it’s important to be aware of this terminology. Organic sunscreens are partially absorbed by the skin and work by absorbing light within the epidermis. “Organic” means that the sunscreen is made of carbon and hydrogen. The chemical sunscreens are organic. Inorganic sunscreens are the mineral based non-chemical pigments such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They work by creating a physical barrier between the skin and the sun, reflecting sunlight away from the skin.
  • Don’t go higher than SPF 30: The protective level of a sunscreen plateaus around SPF 30-32, so anything more is just as effective as SPF 30.
  • If in the water, use water-resistant sunscreen: Per FDA requirements, “water resistant” means that the sunscreen retains its SPF rating after 40 minutes in the water whereas “very water resistant” means it last up to 80 minutes.
  • Reapply every 2 hours: After a couple of hours, the sunscreen sinks into the layers of the skin cells and is no longer on the surface to protect against UV light. The sunscreen particles trapped beneath the skin’s surface react with the UV light and create more free radicals than the UV light would cause alone. The way to prevent this is to reapply so that the rays don’t get under the first layer.
  • Consider natural alternatives: Of course! Natural topical products such as green tea extract, turmeric, and licorice root extract offer protection against premature skin aging and skin cancer.
  • Use other protection methods: Wear a hat and sunglasses and avoid the 10am to 3pm period, when the sun is strongest.