Natural Summer Skin Care
Family outings, backyard barbeques, and long lazy afternoons at the beach – they all add up to summer. However, these kinds of activities also add up to increased exposure to the sun. And, while you may think that a bronze glow may make you look like a maternal goddess, there are some factors to consider before you stretch out on that lounge chair or tanning bed.
More Than Skin Deep
First, it should be noted that there is no hard evidence that ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has any impact on a developing fetus since most UV rays only penetrate the outer layer of skin. However, some researchers are looking at a possible link between intense and prolonged UVR exposure and neural tube defects, such as spinal bifida, due to a break down of folate in the mother’s body. It’s been well established that folate, or folic acid, plays a very important role during pregnancy in the prevention of such birth defects.
One must also face the fact that increased levels of estrogen and progesterone may trigger an increased production of melanin, a pigment that serves as the skin’s natural sunscreen. Okay, so this is good news, right? Well, not necessarily. While this increased pigmentation may afford you with some added protection from UVR, you may find the reflection in the mirror staring back at you wearing the “mask of pregnancy.” Seventy percent of all pregnant women develop this condition, known as chloasma. Combine this with sun worshipping and you may achieve an uneven mottled effect. Not a pretty picture.
Did I mention that one in five of us will develop skin cancer at some point during our lives? In fact, the American Cancer Society puts the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, as the most frequently occurring cancer in women aged 25 to 29. For women aged 30 to 34, melanoma is second only to breast cancer.
So, should you huddle up under a blanket every time you walk outside, or stay indoors with the shades down? Of course not! Sunlight is good for you, but in reasonable doses. Let’s look at some ways that you can have fun in the sun while still letting common sense prevail.
Sunblock or Sunscreen?
Both offer needed protection from harmful UV rays, however they’re formulated to work differently. Sunscreen permits the absorption of small amounts of UV rays, but filters them into benign infrared wavelengths. Sunblocks, on the other hand, scatter sunrays and reflect them away from your skin. Choose the latter if you’re very light skinned.
And what does that SPF number mean anyway? Most people assume the higher the number the more protection-potent the product is, but that’s not the case at all. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and all it tells you is how long you can safely stay in the sun without risking damage to your skin.
To figure out the best SPF for you follow this simple formula: SPF x the time it takes for you to burn at mid-day (in minutes). For instance, if it typically takes 15 minutes for your skin to show signs of redness when unprotected at noon, then an SPF of 15 will provide adequate protection for 225 minutes (15 x 15), or 3 hours and 45 minutes. And, when your time is up, it’s up. No amount of reapplying the product will extend your sun safety zone.
Don’t be misled into thinking that tanning salons offer a safer alternative to sun bathing either. The bulbs used in tanning beds do emit UV rays and a mere 10 minutes in a bed – are you ready for this? – is equivalent to three hours in natural sunlight.
Although the risk of absorbing questionable ingredients sometimes found in skincare products is small, you may want to consider using natural suntan products during this time. PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), a vitamin B derivative, is the only FDA-approved natural sunscreen agent. But, numerous studies have demonstrated that many botanical-based ingredients are effective when applied topically before and after sun exposure. Sesame oil, for instance is a natural sunscreen and extracts from lichens and green algae absorb UV rays. Other ingredients you might find in a natural sunscreen product include green tea, octyl silicylate (obtained from wintergreen, willow, and sweet birch), silymarin (from milk thistle), octyl methoxycinnamate (derived from cinnamon or cassia), and a variety of herbal extracts with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, including eucalyptus, aloe vera, black walnut, chamomile, and lavender.
Have fun out there. And don’t forget your hat!