it seems safe to say that summer has finally arrived, at least for the south, and after all the cold we’ve had the first thing a lot of people want to do is get out in the sun, take a vacation to somewhere sunny, or head to the tanning bed to get a “summer glow”. I wanted to talk about proper sun care because it is the most important thing you can do for your skin.
there are three types of uv rays- uva, uvb, and uvc. uvc rays are blocked by the earth’s atmosphere in most places, so they are not a huge concern. however, the other two types are responsible for nearly all of what is considered “normal aging”.
uvb rays are very strong but do not penetrate as deeply as uva rays. they are the type of rays strongest during the summer from 11 to 4 and are responsible for sunburns.
uva rays penetrate very deeply into the skin, damaging cell dna, collagen, and elastin. tanning beds can emit two to five times the amount of uva rays than the sun! (source)
melanin cells are what give skin color. they reside in the deepest layer of the epidermis, the stratum basale. they are the immune system of the skin, and whenever damage occurs they produce more melanin than they would normally. this is very, very important because it means that when the skin gets darker, damage has already occurred. even if it isn’t from a tanning bed, a tan is a sign of skin damage. when melanin cells are severely damaged they can either malfunction completely, creating an absence of color in one place, or produce far too much color, creating a dark spot. this is referred to as hypo or hyperpigmentation.
(just as a side note- everyone has the same number of melanin cells. people with darker skin have melanin cells that naturally produce more melanin than the melanin cells of people with lighter colored skin.)
sun damage creates weakness and destruction of collagen and elastin, the framework of the skin. when collagen and elastin are damaged, they create sags and cracks in the “trampoline” holding up the skin, creating lines, wrinkles, and sagging. uv rays also damage the dna of skin cells, which leads to cancer. it is true that people with more melanin naturally occurring in their skin are less likely to get skin cancer, and in many cases, age more gracefully than those with comparable skin containing less melanin. however cases of skin cancer in darker skin are usually much more serious and more likely to result in death. read more about skin cancer here. if you develop any type of mark or spot on your skin that appears suddenly, will not heal, or begins to rapidly change, please see a dermatologist. it is also important to visit a dermatologist yearly to ensure skin health.
staying out of the sun isn’t always possible of course, and even if you don’t plan to be outside at all during the day, it is still paramount to wear some form of spf daily. even driving, walking to and from the car, and being near windows will expose you to uva rays which can penetrate glass (unless it is uv protected, which is available in some cars now). here‘s a great illustration of how important it is to protect yourself, even if you don’t plan to be in direct sun.
the best types of sunscreens contain the physical sunblocks zinc and titanium dioxide. these minerals create a physical barrier between the skin and the entire spectrum of uv rays. they won’t absorb into the skin or break down in the sun. some people are sensitive or allergic to titanium dioxide, so in the case of an allergy stick to a sunscreen with only zinc. zinc is anti-bacterial, soothing, and anti-inflammatory. these products probably won’t be as user friendly as conventional sunscreens, but it is worth it to keep unnecessary chemicals of and out of your skin and bloodstream. chemical sunscreens also have a high rate of allergic reaction. it is not fun to relax on a towel after a nice swim in the ocean and suddenly begin itching uncontrollably for half an hour, or to apply sunscreen and immediately begin sneezing and have a runny nose for the rest of the day- trust me!
since these physical sunscreens rely on minerals as uv protection, a product is lying if it calls itself organic with these ingredients in it, since obviously they are inorganic. however it is important that the complementary ingredients in the product are organic if possible, and a good sunscreen contains anti-oxidants and other calming ingredients to treat and protect the skin.
if you are concerned about your vitamin d levels, here is a list of foods that contain lots of it. this is a post for a different time, but I do NOT support or recommend dairy products as a source of calcium- dairy products actually leach calcium from the bones as they are so acidic the body has to use its own store of calcium to balance the pH of the blood. (article, article)