Hey guess what – summer is already here! This weekend, grills will be fired up, picnics will be unpacked, boats will be dropped in, and hordes of people will descend on beaches up and down the Shore. We're also a month away from the longest day of the year and the hottest three-month stretch. Everything we love about summer revolves around the longer, warmer days and nights. Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of those activities happen outside, under the hot sun. Which means the chances of having your own melanoma blog one day just went up - if you're not careful.
I will spare everyone the preachy "don't end up like me" shtick and get right into how you can best put yourself in position to avoid long-term skin damage that can ultimately lead to melanoma.
First, what are the important things to know?
OK smart guy, so HOW do I stay safe?
Is there anything else I should know? Glad you asked; as a matter of fact, there is. There is a lot of debate in the oncology world about toxins and cancer; some of the more integrative practitioners fully believe that a toxic body is the root cause of cancers. While I am not 100% sold on that, when we have Johnson & Johnson hiding formaldehyde in their baby shampoo, I'm not really trusting chemicals put in our personal care products, either. So, what is good and bad in sun protection?
First, any sun protection is better than no sun protection – you are more likely to get cancer from unprotected sun exposure than chemicals in sunscreen. That being said, there are shades of grey. Current research suggests that two minerals are the safest – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They are notable because their molecular structure makes them too big to be absorbed into your skin, so they sit on top of your skin and reflect the sun's rays away. That white stuff on a lifeguard's nose? Zinc oxide, or some form of zinc protective cream. Most sunscreens with either/both of these ingredients are referred to as Physical Barrier sunscreens, since they reflect UV light, rather than absorbing it.
Common sunscreen chemicals like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A) have been linked to toxicity and are designed to be absorbed into your body through the skin. Guess what? Those chemicals are cheaper than the Physical Barrier minerals, so your beach bag is likely filled with sunscreens containing one of these chemicals. For sunscreens – and anything related to toxins and your personal care – the Environmental Working Group website is the gold standard for information on products and ingredients. Their 2013 Sunscreen Guide can offer far more in-depth information than this blog, or anything else I have seen. You will find recommended brands there, and can look up every sunscreen you have (and other personal care products) for levels of toxicity in each ingredient.
Finally, and directly from the ewg.org website: "The best sunscreen is a hat and a shirt." There is a reason that fishermen, lawn maintenance workers, and others who are out in the summer sun are wearing loose, baggy shirts and pants that cover their arms and legs, and a bucket hat to match the ensemble. You don't need to bundle up or wear heavy clothes – just something that has sleeves. There are plenty of SPF shirts that are cool even in the summer; heck, even Target has some inexpensive ones, if the pricier models by Columbia, Under Armor, etc… are out of your budget. Look, tans look nice, even I admit that. Long sleeves and hats at the pool, beach, or park? They may be less stylish to the MTV clowns, but are you really out there to impress strangers with your bravado challenging ultraviolet rays?
So this summer, pack that broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen. Bring along the floppy hat. Toss on the long sleeve shirt during the midday pelting of UV rays. Ignore the example set by countless sun worshippers, as if their tan is enviable. Chances are, their future dermatological problems won't be.