The sun provides some wonderful health benefits, but as I’ve recently shared in previous blogs, there is good reason to protect yourself from its skin damaging UV rays. Here are the main ways to protect yourself when in the sun.
Sunscreen can definitely be helpful in protecting your skin from the UV rays, but some sunscreen has toxic chemicals that should be avoided. For example, a recent study published in Environmental Science Technology has demonstrated that the common sunscreen ingredients, methoxycinnamate, oxybenzone and PABA are estrogenic chemicals linked to cancer.
Mineral sunscreens are preferable, as they are considered “broad spectrum” and protect against both UVB and UVA rays. They contain titanium or zinc, which do not breakdown in sunlight and are therefore more effective at also blocking UVA rays. These minerals are non allergenic and not usually absorbed into the bloodstream so they don’t affect the body’s hormones.
You can’t go wrong by wearing a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing when in the sun. There is even special clothing that is enhanced with greater protection against UV radiation and laundry detergent that adds sunscreen to your clothes. The laundry detergent doesn’t add much, but a plain white Tshirt that normally only provides 8 SPF can be boosted up to 15 SPF with a sunscreen detergent. The main benefit to SPF laundry detergent is that it’ll help keep some SPF in the garment for longer, as it does tend to start to slowly wear off after 3 or 4 washings.
UPF vs SPF
Most commonly you’ll see the terms UPF (Ultra Violet Protection) on sun protective clothing, while the sunscreens say SPF (Sun Protection Factor). UPF measures a fabric’s protection against both UVA and UVB. Sunscreen’s SPF only rates its protection against UVB rays, which cause sunburn.
What does the number mean?
A UPF rating of 25 means that only 1/25th (or 4%) of the UV radiation can penetrate the fabric, giving a 96% protection against both UVA and UVB rays. A minimum UPF 15 clothing is good (94% protection), but 50+ (98%) is excellent, especially considering the effectiveness of sun protection will lessen over time, you’ll have longer lasting protection.
Regarding the measurement of sun protection, SPF is a bit more variable as the number is calculated based on increasing the amount of time you can spend in the sun before getting sunburned. For example, if the average person would burn after 20 minutes in the sun, a sunscreen with SPF 30 is supposed to protect against sunburn for about 10 hours. This effectiveness varies widely because some people’s skin burns more easily, the mid day hours have more intense UVB rays, and even most water repellant sunscreens wear off with sweat and water. Also, the SPF calculation does not account for the UVA rays.
Most people haven’t considered that foods and supplements that can actually help protect your skin, too. The American Cancer Society states that oxidative damage can increase your cancer risk, including skin cancer. Fortunately, there are lots of delicious, healthy foods that help reduce oxidation.
These are some suggestions for foods and the antioxidants they contain that help your skin:
Salmon and fish oil contain astaxanthin and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Green and white tea contains catechins.
- Red wine, blueberries and red grapes contain resveratrol.
- Almonds, asparagus and pumpkin seeds contains Vitamin E
- Carrots and red bell peppers contain Beta carotene.
I hope you take these sun protection tips and have a safe, fun summer!
Steven Davison M.D.
Board Certified Plastic Surgeon