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Here Comes the Sun

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Ah, summer! Time to pack away the long johns and the woollens - and slip into a long-sleeved shirt and pants, to cower in the shade under your extra-wide brimmed tight-weave sun hat while you reminisce about the days when sunburn, ski.

Ah, summer! Time to pack away the long johns and the woollens - and slip into a long-sleeved shirt and pants, to cower in the shade under your extra-wide brimmed tight-weave sun hat while you reminisce about the days when sunburn, skin damage, and cancer didn’t damper the spirit of the season.

To put things in perspective, the long-sleeved shirt and pants are still a great idea when you’re puttering in the garden or enjoying a backyard barbecue with friends. The ensemble is not going to work, however, if you want to savour an afternoon at the beach or lounge by the pool. You’ll have to find another way to protect exposed skin, and that comes in the form of sunscreen.

Is Sunscreen Safe?

Some commercial sunscreens contain ingredients that are proven in studies to mutate into toxic substances when exposed to sunlight. Because some mutagens could be carcinogenic, various sunscreen options may protect against sunburn while increasing the risk of sunlight-related cancers. As well, while most products broadcast their ability to protect against burning UVB rays (ultraviolet rays of relatively short wavelength), be aware that UVA rays (ultraviolet rays of longer wavelength) also burn and are responsible for skin aging. You’ll want to do some homework and learn to read labels.

Sunscreen Alternatives

Studies confirm that applying vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol acetate) to the skin protects against UVB radiation, decreases the development of cancer, and helps to reverse signs of skin photo-aging. Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) applied topically has proven to protect against sunburn, limit sun-induced DNA damage, speed healing of sunburned skin, and delay the onset of skin tumours as well as reduce wrinkling caused by UVB rays.

Research also confirms that the green tea polyphenol epigallacatechin-3-gallate protects against oxidative cellular and genotoxic damage from UVA radiation. Further, a 2003 study supports the topical application of zinc, silymarin, and soy isoflavones to boost sunscreen and anticarcenogenic skin protection. Or follow the lead of Hawaiians who have been using the natural sunscreen properties of coconut oil to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays for centuries.

The Food Factor

What you put inside your body also impacts your ability to avoid a painful burn. Because cell-damaging free radicals are a natural byproduct of exposure to the sun, you’ll want to make sure that you have adequate antioxidants in a varied diet to keep them at bay. Harvard Medical School research in 2002 indicates that the antioxidant lutein found in dark green leafy vegetables can protect skin from some of the damaging effects of the sun. Combined dietary supplementation of vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene may build your defences against sun damage as well.

Avoid certain foods before you head for the great outdoors. Citrus fruits, lichens, and figs, along with some wild herbs and plants, including fennel, dill, celery, and buttercup contain psoralens, which actually amplify the effects of sunburn.

Sun Sensitivity

Likewise, some medications also trigger photosensitivities causing toxic or allergic reaction. Always read package insert information or ask your pharmacist about possible interaction with the sun before taking diuretics, antihistamines, arthritis medication, and antibiotics. Remember that some ingredients in shampoos, cosmetics, perfumes, aftershaves, hair sprays, and even contact lens solutions may react with sunlight.

You should also save your favourite frosty alcoholic beverage for a time when you are out of sun’s reach, as alcohol dehydrates skin, making it more susceptible to burning. Instead, keep your skin adequately hydrated by drinking pure, filtered water to help prevent damage and improve healing whether you’re in the sun or not.

Here comes the sun, as the song goes, and it’s all right.

Do-It-Yourself Sunscreen

Mix together 2 oz (60 ml) each jojoba, sesame, and coconut oil, and add 10 drops carrot seed oil. Add 8 drops each lavender and geranium essential oils; then add 1 tsp (5 ml) vitamin E. Store for the season in a tightly capped amber bottle in a cool, dry place. Yields about 6 oz (150 ml).

Don’t Be Stingy!

Adults should cover their bodies with at least 1 oz (30 ml) of sunscreen, and use another 1 Tbsp (15 ml) to cover the face. Be sure to reapply every two hours, particularly after swimming or heavy perspiration. Avoid the sun’s most powerful rays between 10 am and 3 pm and remember that sunscreen does not allow you unlimited time in the sun.

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