What You Should Know About Sunscreen


You should know what you are putting on your skin.

Most of us are willing to do whatever it takes to protect our bodies and stay healthy. For most people, this means heeding our dermatologists’ advice and using ample amounts of sunscreen before we go into the sun for any length of time.

The sun is typically blamed for being biggest offender when it comes to skin damage, most notably when it comes to an aged appearance. Not without reason; anybody who has ever had a sunburn can attest to the power the sun wields when it comes to damaging our skin. It seems as though using sunscreen is our best––and really only––line of defense.

This seems somewhat conflicting though, because we know that the sun can be good for us too. For example, when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight, our bodies produce vitamin D, an essential hormone for bone health, protection against cancer and other health benefits. Absence of sun is known to affect our mood too, so much so that the term Seasonal Affective Disorder was coined to describe the depression some people experience during the darker, colder, low-sunlight months in certain parts of the country. 

There are some common sense measures anyone can take it when it comes to being in the sun. The analogy Doug Kaufmann often uses is that, “You wouldn’t light a match and then hold it until it burns your finger.” The same can be said for allowing bare skin to be exposed to direct sunlight. 

So what about the times we know that we will be in the sun? Should we slather on sunscreen with abandon and hope for the best? 

You should never use this or any other site as a replacement for a qualified medical professional’s advice, dermatologist or otherwise. However, there are some things that we should be aware of in regards to sunscreen. 

1. Sunscreen does not protect against all forms of skin damage, and is likely inadequate to protect against melanoma. 

Most scientists are in agreement that sunscreen itself is insufficient to prevent skin cancer; rates of melanoma have tripled in the previous 35 years, all the while we have been encouraged to use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. Furthermore, while sunscreen can prevent your skin from burning, it does not prevent all forms of skin damage caused by the sun. Simply put, sun screen is not a panacea, and if you are serious about protecting the health of your skin, sunscreen alone is not enough to protect you from the sun. 

2. Sunscreen contains some chemicals that are likely best to avoid. 

Some chemicals that are contained in sunscreen are known to be unhealthy. The worst offender is likely oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is a known hormone disrupter that is commonly used in sunscreen. Its presence is regularly detected in the systems of those who use sunscreen containing this chemical, so it is known that it is absorbed by the body (and stays there). Another chemical in sunscreen, retinyl palmitate (also called retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol), can actually trigger the growth of skin cancers in the presence of the sun. 

3. Higher SPF does not always equal better protection. 

Studies show that sunscreens with higher SPF ratings provide marginally better protection than lower SPF sunscreens, if any. The problem is that higher SPF sunscreens can lead consumers to believe they are better protected than they actually are against the sun’s rays. Higher SPF sunscreens are also more concentrated in many of the harmful chemicals sunscreens contain.

4. Sunscreen can affect Vitamin D Levels

While sunscreen can prevent your skin from burning, it can also prevent your body from producing vitamin D in the presence of sunlight. The production of vitamin D is one of the most beneficial aspects of sunlight exposure; if you prevent this from happening every time you go out in the sun, you may be not be getting the recommended amount of vitamin D your body needs for optimum health. 

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself From The Sun

So what about the times we know that we will be in the sun? Do we leave our bare skin to the mercy of the sun’s rays? It is necessary to use common sense when getting exposure to sun. There are a few things you can do to both enjoy the sun and receive its benefits without compromising your health. 

1. Check the UV. 

Many weather apps for you phone will tell you what the UV ray level is in your area. Typically, morning and evening are the times when the UV will be the lowest. Choose to spend time in the sun during these times. This might also be the best time to soak up the rays for the purpose of vitamin D production. Only 20-30 minutes of sunlight on exposed skin three times a week is enough to get optimal levels of vitamin D. Lower UV ray periods may be beneficial for this type of exposure. 

2. Play In The Shade. 

Whether it is beneath a tree, tent or umbrella, look for shaded areas to spend time outdoors during high UV periods like the middle of the afternoon. 

3. Wear Protective Clothing. 

This can mean long sleeves (like swim shirts), wide brimmed hats and sunglasses. Physical barriers are a sure way to protect exposed skin from the damage of the sun’s rays. 

4. Consider Your Diet.