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Are You a Tanner Kid?

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Do you remember your first bad sunburn? I do. We spent a day on the beach in the Florida sun after a friend's mom doused my fair skin in baby oil, the same way she did her own olive-skinned daughters. They were tanned; I was red, blistered, and very unhappy. That early sunburn counts, as it turns out.

Do you remember your first bad sunburn? I do. We spent a day on the beach in the Florida sun after a friend's mom doused my fair skin in baby oil, the same way she did her own olive-skinned daughters. They were tanned; I was red, blistered, and very unhappy.

That early sunburn counts, as it turns out. Most of our lifetime sun damage occurs before we turn 18. By that point, the stage is already set for future damage wrinkling, brown spots, and the dreaded skin cancer.

Frankly, it doesn't seem fair! In summer we want to relax and chill out, not worry about getting cancer. It's also the time when we're outside most often, enjoying the glorious days and wanting to look our best.

A Little Bit's Okay

The good news: a bit of sun exposure is actually good for you. Sunlight allows our bodies to synthesize vitamin D, a nutrient that's tough to get any other way. In fact, not enough vitamin D may sometimes be responsible for conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A few minutes of sunshine every day provides us with this important nutrient.

But beyond those first few minutes, you've got to start being more careful. Thankfully, that doesn't mean hiding under a tree all day.

The Sun Protection Factor

Let's talk about sunscreen. It's hard to find agreement on this issue. Some say don't leave home without it, others say it gives people a false sense of security and they stay out in the sun too long. Still others warn that some of the chemicals in commercial sunscreens may actually react with sun exposure and generate what are known as free radicals, damaging your DNA. Gee, thanks!

Luckily, many natural substances have protective properties, and it's these you should look for when shopping for sunscreen. Your health food store or natural retailer will have a wide variety of these products and should be able to recommend something to suit your needs. Look for ingredients like:

  • vitamins A, C, and E (help fight free radical damage)
  • sesame oil and shea butter (work as natural sunscreens)
  • zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (these mineral-based sunscreens block and scatter the sun's rays).

Whatever you choose, remember that you can't rely on sunscreen alone to protect you. Ultimately, it's up to you to be safe and smart about the sun. Have a great summer!

Some Sun Basics

  • Try to let go of the "bronzed beauty" goal. A tan might look healthy now, but it won't in a few years. Ever go on a vacation and see scary people who look like old suitcases? That's the future for those who bake in the sun all day. Besides, don't we all have better things to do than lie there sweating?
  • Hats and sunglasses offer a lot of protection and keep you feeling and looking trendy.
  • Try to avoid the midday sun (between eleven and two). It's too darn hot to be out there anyway. This is a great time to catch a movie or walk around the mall.
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