Smart Strategies for Sun Protection

Mineral sunblocks are often heavy and occlusive, making your skin more susceptible to breakouts and congestion. Chemical sunblocks can be irritating to skin, and the jury is out on their safety. The SPF number on your sunblock is not a guarantee of its protection.

What’s a sun-lover to do? I say, don’t rely solely on your sunblock cream or lotion! Plan ahead and use a variety of sun protection methods to avoid both short-term and long-term skin damage.

1. Use topical sunblock - but don’t rely on it as your only measure of protection.

Getting the maximum SPF promised by a topical sunblock depends on how well you apply it. So many people don’t apply enough sunscreen, or don’t reapply when they’re in the sun for hours at a time. For the face, you need roughly a nickel-sized amount, but I personally use a bit more to make sure I’m getting solid coverage.

For face and body, the general guideline is about 2 tablespoons of cream/lotion - or 1 shot glass full. (That depends on your size what you’re wearing!) Make sure your skin is visibly covered by the sheen of your sunblock. You also need to reapply every 2 hours , especially if you‘re out in strong sun, going swimming, or just sweating a lot. (Source: The Skin Cancer Foundation)

2. Incorporate other methods, in addition to topical sunblock.

Incorporating other methods helps to ensure solid protection. For instance, to protect against the possibility of an SPF lotion “fail,” you can add a hat, a rash guard, or a UPF umbrella. This is important for sun-sensitive folks as well as those with a history of skin cancer in the family.

For congestion and acne-prone skin, taking a break from the pasty zinc-based (mineral) blocks can be refreshing for your skin. But you need to find shade or stay inside during high UV index times (approx 11am - 4pm during the Summer). Here’s a list of different methods you can incorporate to form a smart sun protection strategy:

  • UPF clothing - I prefer UPF factor 50 for heavy sun, especially beach days.

  • Wide brim hats - Protect your face and scalp. Your part can burn and is susceptible to skin cancer. (Note. Make sure your hat is wide enough to cover your ears!)

  • UPF sun protective umbrella - Even more coverage in high index, heavy sun. Great for covering all easily burnt areas like the scalp, face, shoulders, back, and chest. 

  • Keep “siesta hours” - Go inside during the hottest part of the day when the UV index is highest. There’s wisdom in traditional practices. 

  • Eat sun protective foods - Tomato paste (as long as you‘re not allergic), green and white tea, culinary herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, etc. These choices are recommended by Dr. Rajani Katta, I love her skin and diet work. Research has shown that when eaten “regularly,” these foods reduce skin’s sensitivity to sun so you’re less likely to burn and more likely to tan!

    Please note, it’s never recommended to rely ONLY on sun protective foods as a defense against UV damage!

• Important Note. Don’t be afraid of the sun!

I think it’s important to add that the sun is not something to be afraid of. Solar energy is nourishing to our soul and spirit, and important to your body’s healthy functioning. Sunlight is our body’s premiere method of synthesizing Vitamin D, which is necessary for many internal functions. 

The goal is not to avoid the sun, just to avoid burning your skin and causing repetitive damage to your dermis.

There’s no one right way to protect yourself from the sun while also benefiting from it. It’s different for every person and every skin type. When in doubt, seek a trained, experienced practitioner to help you devise a strategy that’s best for your lifestyle. (If you have a history of skin cancer in your family, follow the advice of your doctor about how to enjoy sunlight without risks.)

I have a medium skin tone that tans and doesn’t burn easily. I love to soak up sun without protection on most of my body 3-4 times per week for about 10-15 minutes. Even when I’m intentionally getting sun, I‘ll still protect my face most of the time. Exposing the rest of my body is enough for Vitamin D production. I like the way Dr. Mercola talks about sun exposure, reminding us that while skin cancer is a problem, there are also many common disorders (with high mortality rates) that research suggests result from insufficient Vitamin D.

Usually people burn the most when they forget about sun protection, or don’t apply it on an easily forgotten body part (e.g. tops of feet, sides of body, back of the neck). So my last important strategy for sun protection is…

3. Be “aware and prepared” for sun exposure, everyday from now through Fall

Take a minute at the start of your day to consider your plans for the day, and if you’ll need light or heavy sunscreen. Consider keeping a small sunblock stick or powder in your bag, or even a UPF umbrella. (It can double for sun or rain.) When you’re at the supermarket think about throwing more herbs into your cart, or invest in a good green or white tea. As with all good self-care, preparation and planning are key.

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