Vampires may have a reputation for coveting the darkness, but, for those who covet fun in the sun, it's the season to take a bite out of life. When summer arrives and temperatures begin to rise, we head outdoors and usually…into the sun.
On a recent afternoon, a group of sun lovers dotted Manor Park. Children played in the water, built sand castles, and bargained for ice cream. Eva Murtagh was decked out in goggles, a bathing suit, and, on her face she wore a dose of zinc oxide applied by her mother Rose, who explained that she chooses zinc oxide for her children's faces "because of the absence of so many chemicals." For the rest of their bodies, she opts for Mercola's Natural Sunscreen.
With three beach-loving children, Murtagh has done her share of research on sunscreens. She relies upon the Environmental Working Group to guide her choices. According to a EWG press release, sunscreens may not be as safe or provide the protection most people expect. EWG points to a surge in exaggerated SPF—Sun Protection Factor—claims above 50 and more openness about potentially hazardous ingredients to support their statement. Out of a total of 1,400 products with SPF tested by the organization, only 39 received their coveted "green" rating for safety and efficacy, and all contain the minerals zinc or titanium. Read more here.
Summer fun does not have to lead to sunburn — or melanoma — if you know how to protect your skin. Whether you are a tan fan like George Hamilton or a slave to the shade à la Nicole Kidman, you should be cautious of the amount of time spent under the sun, so here are a few things you should know:
There are two types of ultraviolet rays that have two different effects on the skin. UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin damaging collagen that can result in leathery, sagging skin and premature wrinkles. UVA can be thought of as the "aging ray." UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and cause sunburns. Think of UVB as the "burning ray."
Sunscreen products work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sun's rays on the skin. They are available in many forms, including ointments, creams, gels, lotions, sprays, and sticks. All are labeled with SPF numbers. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection from sunburn caused mostly by UVB rays, but this does not increase the length of time for sun exposure.
There is a general misconception that sunscreens and sunblocks are the same. While they have similar properties, the two have their own distinct identities. Sunblocks are most often opaque in color and stronger than sunscreens. They are referred to as "broard spectrum" sunscreens. They are able to block the majority of UVA and UVB sun rays and should contain ingredients like Parsol 1789, ecamsule, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen which includes seeking the shade and covering up with clothing. "Slip! Slop! Slap! … and Wrap" is the name of a health campaign started in Australia in 1981. It has since become the catch phrase for many organizations that reminds people of the four key methods they can use to protect themselves from UV radiation: " Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them from ultraviolet light."
While it does not endorse any one particular sunscreen product over the other, the American Cancer Society does recommend the use of sunscreen and strongly advises following Slip!, Slop!, Slap!…and Wrap for optimum protection.
Despite the EWG ratings, many parents make their sunscreen choices based on price, availability, and recommendations. Such was the case for Gretchen Lebowitz, who was spending the afternoon with her son, her friend Jackie, and the Murtaghs. Jackie suggested Coppertone Water Babies for children which Lebowitz applies before leaving the house and then reapplies after the children have spent some time on the beach and in the water. For herself, she chooses Neutrogena and Shiseido Sun Protection products.
Penny and her children Max and Ella were enjoying the day on the beach. She was armed with Coppertone Sport, Neutrogena sunscreen for the face, and an oil-free sunblock stick- SPF30. She will use no sunscreen with an SPF lower than 30. The entire family uses the products which she has chosen because they rub in easily, are reasonably priced, and are readily available.
Harbor Island Beach played host to a sprinkling of sun lovers. Although the beach was actually closed – the result of a rainstorm the evening before – nothing could hold back the sun-loving community. Although the water was off limits, the sand was open for business. Anna and her son Max were at the beach at 11:15 a.m. and planned on staying until 3 p.m. Mom was armed with Banana Boat tanning oil for herself and Sun Pals SPF 45 for Max. She will not use anything with a lower SPF for her son and tries to restrict his sun exposure to 2 hours.
At Harbor Island Park, Christy Gebhart was attending a farewell party with children and friends. There were pizza, cold drinks, and sunscreen: Banana Boat Babies for the children and moisturizing sunscreen Ovagai for her face. Other options included Coppertone Water Babies and Blue Lizard Australian sunscreen SPF 45-50.
"It's thick and minus some of the preservatives, and is more natural than some of the others. It stays on well," she said, citing price and "whatever is available" as selection factors.
The sun-worshipping community appears passionate about their rays and their sunscreens. Overwhelmingly, Neutrogena and Coppertone Water Babies were the sunscreens of choice among most…that is, except for sun goddess Claire, her sister Michelle, and friends Christine and Tina. Claire says she can be found everyday at Harbor Island Beach where she has spent almost every summer day for more than 60 years.
She uses sun lotion with SPF 15. Her sister Michelle eschews the use of any sun block, labeling them to "too thick and sticky. They clog up your pores and just make you hotter than it already is. If I put it on, I'll faint." She will, however, use a sunscreen stick on her lips. Christine also uses a stick on her Nike "swoosh" tattoo "to prevent it from fading." Tina uses sunblock everyday but worries little about SPF numbers. "It's more important to keep putting it on during the day than what the number is."
In addition to the 2010 sunscreen guide, EWG's website provides a Hall of Shame with the names of sunscreens to avoid. Also in the Hall of Shame is the Food and Drug Administration. The agency receives this dubious distinction for its failure to move forward with sunscreen regulations. The agency did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In a recent statement by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), Dr. William D. James, AAD president, notes that dermatologists recommend the use of a broad spectrum sunscreen as "an important tool in the fight against skin cancer." Predicting that there will be one million new cases of skin cancer in the country this year, the AAD strongly suggests that we generously apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 before we venture into the sunshine. Furthermore, we should seek out shade and wear protective clothing.
Bottom line: When spending time in the sun, be sure to apply the most potent weapon against the UV rays—your common sense.