This article was written by our aesthetician extraordinaire, Kimberly Smith.
I know that it is virtually impossible to avoid sun exposure in Arizona no matter what the season. I am constantly amazed at the lack of information or the amount of inaccurate information out there about simple changes you can make to avoid skin damage during the summer season. First and foremost is the amount of time we can safely be exposed to the sun. In addition, the worst time to be outside jogging, hiking, swimming, or hanging out on a patio is between the hours of 10 AM to 4 PM.
I realize that many of you want to make your daily quotas of vitamin D naturally by catching the sun’s rays. My answer is, “of course you do, but you can do that outside the destructive 10-4 time frame, plus you may be surprised at how much vitamin D can be synthesized in a mere 15-minute period.” Or for that matter, over the course of a normal day going in and out of buildings even with your sunscreen slathered on. The point is, that certain skin types (such as my own) have a high risk factor for skin cancer due to hereditary factors and should NEVER be outside during daylight hours without sunscreen.
The truth is that more deadly melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed in Arizona than in any other state in our country. Our state is #2 in the WORLD! Sunscreen is supposed to protect us from harmful UV radiation from the sun, but as more people use it, the incidence of skin cancer continues to rise. This fact alone has to make you think – do sunscreens really provide skin cancer protection? Or could the chemicals in them actually be contributing to causing skin cancer? I consider these chemical sunscreens to be THE WORST and I don’t know why they even exist. Here in the United States, the FDA does not regulate sunscreen products (they are categorized as cosmetics) as rigorously as pharmaceuticals or food – allowing cosmetic companies to get away with using all types of chemical ingredients that are not used and in some cases banned in other countries.
Chemical Sunscreen vs. Sun Block
Regarding the subject of sun protection, my simple recommendation is using a physical block with no exception. Look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide based mineral sunscreens, which do not penetrate the skin and provide UVA protection against the sun’s most damaging rays.
So while dermatologists strongly recommend the use of sunscreens, be sure to also take this into consideration: your skin is a filter of sorts. Our skin will absorb some of these potentially toxic ingredients contained in the sunscreen and eventually can end up in your bloodstream and be transported to various organs in your body. Even if chemical sunscreen ingredients weren’t potentially carcinogenic, the mechanism by which they “protect” you is also not particularly helpful and, as stated previously, may ultimately be harmful.
Chemical blocks are UV absorbers, so naturally they absorb the sun’s rays instead of reflecting them like a physical block would do. If you wear a chemical sunscreen, you will end up with worse hyper-pigmentation issues than if you consistently applied a physical block with zinc and/or titanium as its only active ingredient(s). If you are outside with exposed areas of skin, you will need to apply roughly a shot glass size to your entire exposed area approximately every 2 hours with an SPF of 30-45. If you are in and out of buildings running errands or in an office, that same SPF will last a regular 9-5 day.
The level of SPF you need also depends on your activity and knowing about your skin’s natural genetic strength. In other words, if you’re fair-skinned and have light eyes (like me), you need to be really careful. Conversely, don’t assume that if you have olive or darker skin tone with brown eyes that you don’t have to worry because in this climate – believe me you still do! The calculation you need to make is this: think back to a time that you were in the sun without sunscreen. How long were you out before you started to get a burn? For most people, that would be 20 minutes. Multiply that by the number of SPF you’re using and that is how long you should be protected outside as long as you are not sweating it off and/or wiping it off.
Clothing has a natural SPF of about 7 depending on the type of fabric and color. However, SPF clothing is now available. I would caution anyone in regards to believing claims made about SPF clothing because washing frequently will begin to break down the treated fabric. I would invest more in a jacket or a hat because they will protect you longer. Hopefully, all of this information helps. Life is for living, so go out and have fun – just try to do it more responsibly if you want your skin to stay healthy and look great in the long run!