Love the sun? You're not alone. In a recent survey, 75 percent of Americans said they thought sun exposure was healthy. It's true that sun exposure boosts vitamin D production, enhances immunity, improves mood, and increases nighttime production of melatonin, a natural hormone that enhances sleep and slows down the aging process. But too much sun damages skin and eyes, and increases cancer risk.
The trick is to enjoy the outdoors while minimizing the damage. Try these 12 easy ways to make your summer safer:
1. Cover up. A white T-shirt has an SPF of about 7; dark blue or bright orange clothing has more. Tightly woven fabric offers the best protection-if you can see light through the fabric, it won't protect you. Or look for UPF (UV protection factor) rated clothing.
2. Check the time. The sun's rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so plan ahead, and wear protective clothing during peak times.
3. Use safe sunscreen. Some conventional sunblocks contain ingredients that can increase the rate of tumor formation, disrupt the endocrine system, or lead to DNA damage. Choose natural and/or organic formulas based on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that are free of paragons and nanoparticles.
4. Slather it on. Use enough sunscreen to generously coat all exposed skin-about one ounce of sunscreen for the average person. Apply it 15 minutes before going outside, and re-apply every two hours, especially after swimming.
5. Wear a hat. Choose a wide-brimmed one that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. If you wear a baseball cap, protect your ears and neck with a good quality sunscreen. Canvas or other tightly woven fabric, rather than straw, filters out the sun's rays best.
6. Seek shade. Hang out under an umbrella, tree, or covered area, especially during peak sun hours. But be aware that UV rays can be reflected off of water, sand, and concrete-so you can burn in the shade.
7. Drink green tea. It contains polyphenols that have been shown to inhibit cancer, including skin cancer, probably by enhancing DNA repair. Topical application of green tea also has protective effects.
8. Stay dry. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the word "waterproof" from sunscreen labels last year because it's completely misleading. Don't count on sunscreen to protect you in the water-protective clothing is a better option. Try http://www.sunprecautions.com.
9. Take your vitamins. Vitamin A or mixed carotenoid supplements may prevent melanoma, the potentially fatal form of skin cancer. In one large study, people who took vitamin A or mixed carotenoids were 40 percent less likely to develop melanoma than those who didn't. And the effects were more pronounced in women than men. Use caution, however, as high doses of vitamin A can cause liver toxicity.
10. Treat burns. Try lavender oil, diluted with 10 parts water, applied directly to skin. Aloe vera gel offers immediate cooling and soothing-keep some in the refrigerator for increased relief. And calendula salve helps heal sun-damaged skin fast.
11. Wear shades. UV rays can burn the surface of the eye and increase the risk of cataracts. Always wear sunglasses that offer 100 percent UV ray protection. Wraparound styles are best.
12. Don't be fooled by clouds. About 60-80 percent of UV rays pass through thin clouds. UVA rays also penetrate glass, so you should use sunscreen even when you're indoors near windows or in the car for a long time (such as during a road trip).
It's our 75th birthday!
Follow along with us this year as we celebrate all things 75 each month. To learn more about how Better Nutrition started (in 1938) and our plans for a special commemorative issue, click here.
Lisa Turner is a certified food psychology coach, nutritional healer, intuitive eating consultant, and author. She has written five books on food and nutrition and developed the Inspired Eats iPhone app. Visit her online at inspiredeating.com.