Sun Safety

May 20, 2022

The long-awaited summer season is almost here. Winter is not terrible and spring and autumn are pretty nice, but let’s face it—summer is amazing in New England.  Watch out Good Harbor and Cranes Beaches—here we come!

I am very fair-skinned, and have never tanned.  I just burn and peel.  When I was a kid, we didn’t have “sunscreen.”  Rather, we had sun lotion and tanning oils.  The lotion gave us the impression that we would end the day at the beach with a beautiful golden brown glow.  A day at the beach usually ended with me the color of a fire engine, headachy, and chilled.  A couple of children’s aspirins, a large glass of water, a cool shower, and a thick layer of Noxzema cream were my mother’s treatment for sunburn.

Nowadays, we understand more about how to spend the day safely in the sun, and there is a plethora of effective sunscreens available.  You can get an SPF anywhere from 5 to 100+.  The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for any extended outdoor activity. It’s important to apply a liberal amount of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.  Extremely fair people and those with a high risk of cancer or other skin disease should consider higher SPF levels for any time in the sun.

In the past several years, there have been reports about the safety of sunscreens.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did a study that found that chemicals in some sunscreens are absorbed into the bloodstream.  Further studies are being done to see if these chemicals are harmful when they enter our bodies.  The report sounds very scary, but it is too early to know what it all means.

Dermatologists still say that sunscreen protection before spending time outdoors is a must—despite these new concerns. “Sunscreen is one of the major components of sun protection,” Noelani González, MD, an instructor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, reports. At this time, sunscreen’s ability to reduce the risk of developing melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer— outweighs the concerns raised in the new studies.

If a person is concerned about these new findings, sunscreens with physical or mineral blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which aren’t absorbed by the skin and are considered safe by the FDA, are available and are effective.  New products aren’t like what we used in the 1970s.  On a light skinned person, they are barely visible.  On darker skin, they can be visible.  But, they provide protection.  If using a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, you should avoid spray on types.  These products are safe on the skin, but should not be inhaled.

Homemade sunscreens have become popular on social media sites such as Pinterest.  A study from researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, OH, and the Brooks College of Health at the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville, FL, found that many of the saved posts on Pinterest (called “pins”) regarding DIY sunscreen suggested that some of the homemade products were effective. However, the researchers found that 68% of the pins promoting DIY sunscreens did not ensure appropriate protection against ultraviolet radiation.

Ultimately, clothing, hats and sunglasses are the best protection from the sun.  As much as possible, it is recommended that we cover up with more than just a chemical screen.  However, sunscreen provides protection when it’s not practical or desirable to be covered by fabric.