Okay, it’s Melanoma Monday and May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s crazy to think that skin cancer is the MOST COMMON cancer in the United States. It’s also the most PREVENTABLE! Here are a few facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
  • 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70
  • More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined
  • About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun
  • On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns
  • Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent

How Much Sun is Too Much Sun?

With all of my nutrition background, I know the importance of Vitamin D. And, our best source for creating Vitamin D is sun exposure. But, that doesn’t mean prolonged exposure. Most experts recommend 10-15 minutes/day. Beyond that, we really have to be careful. I grew up in the era of tanning. Tan skin was the rage. Indoor tanning salons became popular when I was in high school. Using baby oil or olive oil on my skin at the beach growing up in Santa Cruz, was not uncommon. And, it’s fair to say – I’ve had more than my fair share of sunburns – especially as a fair skinned, freckled gal. At 50…well, let’s just say – I wish I had known then what I know now. My cute little freckles are now smeary age spots. And I know my skin’s elasticity would be a lot better had I not had so much early skin damage. Statistically, I have double the risk of melanoma. And, I have since learned that 90% of skin aging is caused by the sun. (So, I think it’s safe to say I have double the risk of that, too! UGH!) Even so, I tend to think of sunscreen as something I need on sunny days when I’m going to spend a lot of time outdoors or going for a long run. But, if it’s cloudy or cold, I don’t think of it. However, even a cloudy day exposes us to UVA rays – and these are the ones that contribute to premature skin aging. They penetrate both clouds and glass. These are the rays to really look out for and protect ourselves from if we want to prevent premature skin aging.

Most of my life, sunscreens were greasy and had that very distinct ‘sunscreen’ smell. I understood the importance of using it on beach/pool days, but I would have NEVER worn that stuff in my daily routine.

Thankfully – sunscreens have come a long way. The texture, the smell, etc. That said – we’re also learning that all of those new chemicals and formulas are wrecking havoc on our health and our environment.

We’re talking penetrating our blood stream, showing up in breast milk, bleaching coral reefs. In fact, this past year, Hawaii has banned one of the most common sunscreen ingredients – oxybenzone – because of what all of this increased sunscreen use is doing to the coral reefs and marine life.

Sunscreen 101

We don’t want skin cancer, but we also don’t want other health issues or other cancers due to our use of sunscreen. So, what do you need to know?

* Choose Broad Spectrum
Broad spectrum means it protects against both UVA and UVB. This provides defense against both sunburn AND premature skin aging.

* Understand SPF
We tend to think that the higher the SPF, the higher the protection, right? And, the longer we can expose our skin. But – this is one of the most misunderstood things about sunscreen.

First, SPF levels are talking about UVB – protection against sunburn (not UVA – the rays associated with premature aging).

  • SPF 15 = Blocks 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 = Blocks 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 = Blocks 98% of UVB rays

You can see that there is no such thing as 100% sun protection. So, going from an SPF 30 to an SPF 50 is only 1% more protection. And, anything above SPF 50 doesn’t take you closer to 100. Just keep this in mind as you shop.

* Chemical vs. Mineral
There are two kinds of sunscreen protection. One is chemical and the other is mineral (or physical). Chemical sunscreens are sun filters. They absorb the sun’s UV energy and release it back into the air as heat.

How will you know if you are using a chemical sunscreen? The vast majority of sunscreens on the market are chemical sunscreens. Look for the active ingredients:

  • Avobenzone
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octocrylene

Mineral sunscreens are physical particles that sit on the surface of your skin and scatter or reflect the sun’s rays.

How do you know if your sunscreen is mineral? Look for the main ingredients to be:

  • Zinc Oxide
  • Titanium Dioxide

* Learn to Read Labels
Unfortunately, marketing can be very tricky when it comes to sunscreen. You can’t rely on the big print stuff on the label. You really have to learn to look at the ingredient list and know what’s in there. It’s not just about what’s NOT in your products, but what IS in your products. Check the ingredient list for parabens, fragrance, retinal palmitate and other ingredients from The NEVER List.

* Don’t Blindly Follow your Dermatologist Advice
Don’t get me wrong on this one. Of course! Listen to your dermatologist. But, keep in mind that they are not necessarily trained in this stuff either. It’s new information. We are all playing ‘catch up’. Dermatologist tend to recommend products based on avoiding skin sensitivity and whatever has been presented/recommended to them.

When I started studying nutrition, I learned how little doctors know about nutrition. Many have received minimal training (as in only a couple classes out of those many years of medical training) on the topic of nutrition. Hopefully that will start to change, but for now, we have to watch out for ourselves and work together WITH our doctors.

When my daughter was diagnosed with discoid lupus…my dermatologist gave us an intense training on how to avoid the sun….but she NEVER told us about diet. And, when all was said and done, changing our daughter’s diet, made it so she can be in the sun without fear. So – just know that dermatologists are learning along with the rest of us. Work with them. But, don’t just blindly follow advice that goes counter to what you have learned.

My dad just came home from the dermatologist last month with a sunscreen that was recommended by his dermatologist. But, when I read the ingredients to him…it had ‘fragrance’, several parabens, PEGs and EDTA (to name a few). It was also a chemical sunscreen – not a mineral based sunscreen. So – just beware….doctors are not totally caught up yet. Let’s help them and work WITH them.

* Check with Environmental Working Group
A great resource is the Environmental Working Group. They put out a Sunscreen Guide every year. Definitely check that out. It can really help to have a third-party resource when it comes to choosing safer because reading labels & deciphering marketing ploys can be a challenge.

My Favorite Sunscreen

Yes, you probably guessed it! My favorite sunscreens are Beautycounter sunscreens. I’ve tried A LOT of different brands, but Beautycounter’s sunscreens feel and smell so great that I don’t mind slathering them on my skin.

They smell wonderful. They go on light. They aren’t greasy or sticky. They have a high concentration of non-nano particle zinc oxide – so they work incredibly well and are less likely to penetrate into your bloodstream.

Our lotion even received an Allure Best of Beauty award. 🙂

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