Summertime means simmer time for many of us as rising temperatures and (hopefully) abundant sunshine entice us to the beach, the pool, the golf course or wherever you choose to best enjoy the great outdoors.
With such freedom of activity, however, comes the personal obligation of taking care of ourselves. That starts with deciding on what to use for protection from the sun's potentially searing UVA and UVB rays, which together can cause sunburn and premature skin damage and aging.
One of the easiest things to do when at the beach or teeing it up or a five-hour round of golf is to skip the sunscreen. Few things are worse, though, than getting back to the house or hotel and suffering through the excruciating pain of a sunburned neck and arms and legs, not to mention a scorched nose, ears and/or feet for good measure.
A word to the wise before you immerse yourself in any activity that exposes you to the sun's rays for an extended period: apply sunscreen or suntan lotion (the U.S. Food & Drug Administration discourages use of the word 'sunblock'), to all exposed parts of your body. It takes just a minute or two. With this minimal extra effort, you can enjoy the day without dreading the excruciating fate that otherwise awaits you on the back end, not to mention the possible long-term effects.
According to the American Cancer Society, one on three cancers diagnosed worldwide is skin-related. Also, up to 95 percent of malignant melanomas are caused by excessive sun damage, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Protect yourself now, and perhaps you can avoid that stern scolding and treatment from the dermatologist in an alternate future.
Generally there are two kinds of sunscreen: the conspicuously whitish, icky spread-on lotions or creams and the less noticeable spray-ons out of a can. With spray-ons be careful to avoid inhalation, for you as well as those around you. Suggestion: when applying to your face, nose, neck and ears, first spray into your hands, then apply.
In choosing a sunscreen, first check for the SPF, which stands for Sun Protection Factor. Experts generally recommend a minimum of SPF 15, which means it takes your skin 15 times longer to get burned than if you had used no sun protection at all. Persons with fairer complexions, and therefore more susceptible to burning, are advised to get SPF 30 and above, although anything above SPF 50 is considered counterproductive.
Additional applications are recommended every two hours outdoors, if you've been sweating profusely, or each time you come out of the water after swimming. Remember, too, the sun's rays can get to you through clouds on an overcast day and through windows – think about that next time you are driving a long way with the sun hitting you through the driver's side window.
Ingredients to be aware of, even though they are FDA-approved and supported by the American Academy of Dermatology (according to webmd.com), are retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone.
Retinal palmitate is supposed to help reduce signs of aging, but is not a UV filter and has been linked to skin cancer in research, although such research has been questioned by experts. Oxybenzone's mission is to absorb ultraviolet light; the Environmental Working Group and other toxicologists, however, according to a cnn.com report, claim the chemical has been linked to hormone disruption and cell damage that could lead to skin cancer. Then again, "Oxybenzone is one of the few FDA-approved ingredients that provides effective broad spectrum protection from UV radiation, and has been approved for use since 1978," American Academy of Dermatology president Dr. Daniel M. Siegel says, as quoted by cnn.com. Finding an effective sunscreen without either of those ingredients might be impractical, but just be aware of what you are buying.
Take special care with young children, especially infants. "The best approach is to keep infants under six months out of the sun," FDA pediatrician Hari Cheryl Sachs, M.D. says at fda.gov. "The best protection is to keep your baby in the shade, if possible. If there's no natural shade, create your own with an umbrella or the canopy of the stroller."