It’s that time of year again – the weather is warm and the sun is shining! The UV index seems to be getting a little bit higher each day, which means that we need to keep in mind a bit of safety when enjoying the outdoors. I love the sun just as much as the next person, but unfortunately my skin does not. I have childhood memories of spending lots of time outside where my sister and I (both red heads with fair skin) were slathered in sunscreen and donning our hats. My parents did a good job, but once I was responsible for my own sun protection, I’ll admit I didn’t always do enough. I’ve had my fair share of sunburns unfortunately, and spending all my teenage summers working as lifeguard at an outdoor pool likely didn’t help. Now that I’m a bit older, and I like to think a bit wiser, I take sun safety much more seriously. We know that excessive sun exposure has both esthetic and health consequences ranging from premature wrinkles to skin cancer. The reality is that we can’t always avoid the sun (nor should we, the sun has health benefits too!) As a naturopathic doctor, my job isn’t just to treat symptoms or disease once they occur, but to prevent disease from occurring at all. So - how can we prevent skin damage due to the sun?
1. Choose your sun exposure wisely
The sun is at it’s strongest mid-day, so try to plan your outdoor activities for earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon. Don’t be fooled by cloudy days either, you are still getting exposed to damaging UV rays which can cause your skin to burn.
2. Cover Up
When outside, protect your skin using a hat and appropriate clothing. Don’t forget about your eyes, which are also susceptible to damage from the sun – so sunglasses are a must too! The shade works too - seek out protection from an umbrella or a generous tree.
3. Check your sunscreen label
Sunscreen can be a saviour when you are outdoors for a long period of time, but know that they are not all made equal. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual sunscreen guide with the low-down on the year’s best and worst sunscreens. You want to avoid the ones that have oxybenzone or vitamin A based compounds like retinyl palmitate/acetate/linoleate or retinol in them, as these two chemicals are thought to be carcinogenic (contribute to cancer). Additionally, avoid any that are labelled higher than SPF 50 (no additional benefit, but might mislead you to think you are more protected). Finally, those spray on sunscreens, while convenient, are bad for your lungs as a lot of the product is inhaled, so opt for lotions instead. I’ve just discovered a new brand called Goddess Garden that I am really excited about – no harsh chemicals, SPF 30 and lotion based means it meets all of the EWG’s criteria – and it actually rubs into your skin and doesn’t leave you pasty and white! (p.s. I’m not affiliated with them, just a red head who knows a good sunscreen when she sees one!)
4. Love your skin from the inside out
It’s more than likely at some point you are not going to be able to follow all of the guidelines listed above to protect your skin from the outside, so it’s additionally helpful to know what you can do to help protect your skin from the inside. We know that the sun can damage your cells, and thankfully there are compounds (hooray for antioxidants) that can help prevent and manage this damage. Lucky for us, some of the most delicious foods contain high levels of antioxidants, and other skin-loving compounds – feel free to share this picture with your family and friends so that they know what to eat to protect their skin too!