With all the excitement that comes with summer’s long days and warm nights is the increase of sun exposure. Sun exposure can provide vitamin D which is important to maintain healthy bones and teeth as well as support a healthy immune system. With that being said, using sunscreen is essential and actually does not prevent all UV exposure which means you can still get vitamin D from the sun with sunscreen on. There are also vitamin D dietary supplements you can take and you can even get some vitamin D from eating foods such as: cod, salmon, tuna, eggs, and mushrooms. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, most people can get enough vitamin D with just 10-15 minutes of daily sun exposure.
Understanding the importance of vitamin D, I know there are sun lovers who enjoy the sun simply for the wonderful, warm sensation it brings them. Being in the sun can increase your serotonin level. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can send signals to your brain producing feelings of happiness, self-confidence, and decrease worry when your levels are high; when your serotonin levels are low, you can feel depressed, down, and anxious. Exercise and physical activity can also increase serotonin levels so enjoying the sun is definitely not the only way to increase serotonin, but it can help! With the benefits of sun expose comes negatives including the risk of skin cancer and damaging/premature aging skin. That’s where sunscreen comes into play. There are different levels of sunscreen protection which can provide between 93% to 98% of sun protection from UV rays when used correctly. There are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB. UVB rays cause sunburn and a majority of skin cancers while UVA rays contribute to premature skin aging and wrinkles (University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics). SPF 15 protects against 93% of all UVB rays, SPF 30 protects against 97% of UVB rays, and SPF 50 protects against 98% of UVB rays (Skin Cancer Foundation). 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70, so it is necessary to protect your skin from the suns harmful rays as much and as early as possible. Unfortunately no sunscreen can protect against all UV rays which is why protective clothing such as hats and sunglasses (along with shade) are always important.
There are many varieties of sunscreen ranging from different SPF’s to different ingredients. More recently, there has been news regarding potentially harmful chemicals found in sunscreens (typically in sunscreens with a SPF higher than 50). Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the two most toxic chemicals found in a majority of sunscreens. These chemicals are currently regulated and considered safe by the FDA, but there needs to be more research on how these chemicals, which get absorbed into our bloodstream through applying sunscreen onto our skin, affects us. Nevertheless, these chemicals do cause damage to the coral reef in the ocean and it is important to protect ourselves, our family, and the environment.
Fortunately there are mineral sunscreens, known as physical blockers, which protect against both UVA/UVB rays. Chemical blockers, which usually contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, get absorbed into your skin to create a chemical reaction to protect against UVA/UVB rays. Both chemical and physical blockers are successful at protecting against most UV rays, but the reason I am choosing to use mineral based sunscreen is because these are less damaging to the environment and do not get absorbed into the skin like the chemical formulas. Mineral based sunscreens usually contain either zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredient. There are plenty of mineral based sunscreens that can be purchased at your local drug store including common brands like neutrogena and coppertone. These two are also hypoallergenic for sensitive and acne prone skin. A majority of these mineral based sunscreens are water resistant for up to 80 minutes just like the chemical based sunscreens which is definitely important during the summer months! I chose to switch to mineral based sunscreens to help protect the coral reef and to protect myself from absorbing these chemicals into my bloodstream.
All in all, it is necessary to wear sunscreen and sun protection throughout the year while outdoors to decrease the risk of developing skin cancer and to prevent premature aging of the skin. Enjoy your summer!
Jessica Winker, MPH