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SAFE FUN IN THE SUMMER SUN

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Yesterday at my grandson’s birthday party, I donned my bathing suit and went in a pool, something I haven’t done in a long time. But it was a 90+ degree day so it was definitely worth it.  I even had a squirt gun fight with one boy.  And there were lots of boys. . . and squirt guns, nerf guns, an obstacle course, presents, ice cream and party food—you know, the works!! It was a PARTY!! While it was fun to sit back and relax, I couldn’t help but think about wellness and healthy lifestyles. My wellness meter was working overtime. A long afternoon in the sun can be fun, but it can also be detrimental if you don’t take precautions. So, here are some tips for a healthy summer using natural, plant-based products to protect your family.

SUNSCREEN – Here’s what you need to know about sunscreen. You NEED to KNOW about sunscreen.  There are so many choices, how do you know what to choose?

TWO KINDS OF RAYS – Most people look at SPF (sun protection factor) when purchasing sunscreen. SPF is only rated for UVB rays (the ones that cause sunburns.) This is why it’s important to understand that SPF is not the only protection you need from the sun. UVA rays are the more damaging sun rays, as they cause more long term damage and premature aging. To protect you from both types of rays, look for a sunscreen that is Broad Spectrum.

SPF FACTOR – Next people look at the SPF Factor. What level of protection is needed?  What do the numbers mean? “If you are wearing an SPF of 2 you will incur that same amount of damage in 2 hours that you would have incurred in one hour without any SPF. An SPF of 10 will get you 10 hours, SPF 30 will get you 30 hours, etc. Here’s the thing, SPF is not linear (i.e. you don’t get 10 times more protection going from SPF 1 to 10 or 10 to 100).  When you apply SPF 10, you are blocking approximately 90% of UVB rays. SPF 15, approximately 93%; SPF 30, approximately 97%; and SPF 50, 98%.  So applying an SPF of 30 only gives you 7% more protection than SPF 10.” [https://lindseyelmore.com/mineral-sunscreen-lotion/]  No matter which level of protection you choose, the number isn’t as important as the application.

FREQUENCY OF APPLICATION – Regardless of SPF Factor, sunscreen needs to be applied appropriately and often to be effective.  Generally, you should apply every 80-90 minutes.  If you are swimming, you may need to apply more often.  The higher SPF number does not protect you longer.  People often think they don’t need to reapply because they are not burning. However, by not reapplying, they are actually getting more exposure to UVA rays, which are more damaging. But there’s other damage that can be done, even when you are protected. What is IN your sunscreen?

INGREDIENTS – When choosing a sunscreen, it is critical to look at the ingredient list.  Ingredients may be a more important factor than SPF because what is put on the skin soaks into the body.  Chemical sunscreens may contain parabens, petrochemicals, phthalates, animal-derived ingredients, and synthetic fragrances, dyes, and preservatives.  To avoid these, choose a sunscreen that is free from chemicals and contains non-nano zinc oxide (UV Protection) so it won’t absorb into blood stream and cells.  Non-nano particles are too small to penetrate the skin.  A Mineral Sunscreen with non-nano zinc oxide particles that offer broad spectrum protection (UVB and UVA) will offer protection and help you avoid chemical sunscreens, which are cause for concern. Concern about these chemicals extends to their impact the environment.  A recent New York Times article  revealed that some sunscreens have been banned in Hawaii. Because large numbers of people wear them and then swim in the ocean, the sunscreens are harming the coral reef.  Hawaii is banning sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.  If sunscreen in the ocean is hurting the coral reef, it makes me wonder what it is doing to our skin and bodies!  “Over the course of 12 years, EWG  (Environmental Working Group) has uncovered mounting evidence that one common sunscreen chemical, oxybenzone, poses a hazard to human health and the environment. It is an allergen and a hormone disruptor that soaks through skin and is measured in the body of nearly every American.” [https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/executive-summary/#.WzlEsdJKg2w]

SUN HATS – We have been told for years to wear sunscreen to avoid skin cancer, but sunscreen alone is not enough, even when you have a good one.  You need to take other precautions. Everyone should wear a hat.  A ball cap is good, but a sun hat is better because it covers the back of your neck and your ears, too.  I know those of us that grew up playing outside daily never wore hats have a hard time adopting this in practice, even if we agree in theory. But you need a sun hat. Get one.  Wear it.  You’ll look younger in the long run.  Make your spouse, kids, grandkids, and friends wear one, too.  It is not fun to have to go and have cancer scraped from your body.  I know several people who have had to deal with this.  Save yourself the trouble.  Buy a hat!

UPF CLOTHING – UPF is similar to SPF. It’s a label given to clothes that are considered sun-safe. Is this a good idea?  As I began to researching this for my blog, thinking it sounded logical, I discovered disagreement.  Here’s why.  Yes, covering up is a good idea; however, if clothing has been protected against the sun, then what is in it?  Does it have the same chemicals and nano particles that you just avoided by buying a safe sunscreen?  Older articles tend to discount this kind of clothing as ineffective, especially after a few washings.  A more recent article suggests that washing clothing with UPF can actually increase the protective factor due to shrinkage of fabric.  Another article suggests that sun-safe clothing is safe because of the weave of the fabric.  If it is tight enough to block the light, then it’s good. Ultimately, most any clothing that covers the body is more protective that no clothing.  I remember wearing t-shirts over my swimsuit at times when I was a child.  And I often wear a long sleeve cotton shirt these days when I go out to garden. However, don’t just use a lightweight white cotton t-shirt. It only has an SPF of 5.  Doctors agree that denim offers the best protection, but who goes to the beach in jeans?

SUNBURN TREATMENT – Despite all your best intentions, you were having so much party fun you got sunburned.  What do you use to treat your skin?  If you are sunburned, you will want something cool and soothing.  If you are not sunburned, you still need to put moisture back in your body.  Many of the same toxic ingredients that occur in sunscreen are found in other skin care products, so read labels with care and avoid the chemicals mentioned above.  Natural products with essential oils are a good choice. And drink lots of water to re-hydrate.

INSECTS – What is a summer party without bugs?  Insect repellent is something else that goes on your skin.  So, guess what?  You need to read the labels.  If you can’t pronounce it, it probably isn’t good for your skin.  A Google search will reveal lots of articles about repellents and ingredients.  Some say they are safe; others say they aren’t.  What I found interesting from my brief perusal is that the writer/editor usually has some stake in the results, so it is difficult to judge whether the information is unbiased. Peer-reviewed research indicates caution. For general back yard fun, it seems appropriate to me to use more natural, plant-based solutions, like essential oils and essential oil products.

CUTS AND SCRAPES – With a crowd full of kids, a cement pool, nerf guns, and the high speed running around a yard that comes with a party, accidents are bound to happen.  For soothing and calming skin and crying, it’s good to have a supply of lavender essential oil on hand.  You could also use a misting spray that’s good for both cuts and scrapes, as well as sunburns. Again, read labels and make sure you are using plant-based, chemical-free products.

TOO MUCH PARTY? – Remember all that party food I talked about?  Maybe the kids can handle it, but too much party food is always hard on my digestive system.  Add to that a hot day in the sun, and sometimes tummies are not happy.  Essential oils can support the digestive system, and I always have a few on hand to meet the need.  My favorite is peppermint, but you could also try lemon, fennel, ginger, or a blend of oils for digestive support.

Summer activities and enjoying the great outdoors are fun after a long winter.  But when you are preparing for that outdoor party, a beach vacation, or any other outside activity, take the precautions you need for sun protection so you and your loved ones can enjoy the party without having to worry about your long term health. With a few wise choices, you will have lots of summer fun for years to come.

Ah, my wellness meter is happy now.

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