Have you been playing peek-a-boo with the sun? Reports of a disappearing ozone layer and increasing incidences of skin cancer conflict with concerns about vitamin D deficiencies, making the news on sun exposure completely confusing. What do you really need to know to be safe and happy in the summer sun?
Most of us are familiar with the three S’s: Slap, Slop, and Slip. The Australian Cancer Council’s campaign to “Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat” have become household words and a core sun-smart message.
Slip, Slap for Cover
Wearing sun-protective clothing can be your first defence against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Choose darker colours and try to cover your head, arms, and legs, if possible.
Tightly woven synthetic fabrics made from nylon or polyester provide maximum photoprotection, while cotton blends in a tight weave may be equally photo-protective but are often more comfortable in hot and humid conditions. Some specially designed sun-protective garments sport tags listing their sun protection factor (SPF).
A photoprotective laundry additive is also available. A single treatment sustains an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 for approximately 20 launderings.
Slop Some Sunscreen
For body parts not screened by protective clothing, sunscreens offer a range of skin protection. There are two kinds of sunscreen agents: chemical and physical.
Chemical sunscreen agents–with chemical formulas as the active ingredients–absorb the UV and visible sun rays.
Physical sunscreen agents–which use fine mineral powders such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide–reflect, scatter, absorb, or block UV radiation.
These traditional physical sunblocks have been shunned in the past because they are white in colour. (Remember that lifeguard on the beach with the white nose?) This effect is reduced in current formulations by decreasing the particle size of the agent. When used in nanoparticle form (one millionth of a millimetre), they can’t be seen on the skin but still retain the sun-screening properties of the coarser material and provide an alternative to chemical sunscreens.
Currently, about 70 percent of sunscreens with titanium dioxide and 30 percent with zinc oxide contain these agents in nanoparticle form. Titanium dioxide has been used in this way since at least 1990 and zinc oxide, since 1999. According to the Australian government’s Department on Health and Aging, there is no evidence that sunscreens containing these materials pose any risk to the people using them, but just to be sure, look for natural sunscreens in your favourite health food store.
Embrace Some Sun
Finally, don’t hide yourself away entirely. A good dose of unfiltered sunshine is necessary to provide your body with its required stores of vitamin D. Research has shown that vitamin D from sunlight may protect against several kinds of internal cancers.
Some experts are advising people to get modest daily doses of unscreened sunshine all year round, including summer, when the sun’s rays are strongest. Never, though, stay exposed to the point of sunburning or blistering.
With some sensible pre-cautions, you can safely say “Good day, sunshine.”