Sun Exposure Series: The bad.

Written by Jared Kauffman

This week we’ll talk about the negative effects of sun exposure and how to prevent them. 


There is a correlation between sunburns and skin cancer.  If preventing cancer isn't enough for you, the sunburn itself is not particularly fun.  The easiest prevention tool is to limit exposure to no more than 20 minutes a day. 


 If you are going to be outside, there are a couple ways to shield your skin from the harmful rays. 


 I will start with the most effective and the easiest, clothing.  This is pretty obvious, clothing can protect your skin from the sun, hence the tan lines you get after being outside. However, not all clothing protects to the same degree.  UPF is a measure of protection for clothing, like SPF is for sunscreens. For example, clothing with a UPF of 50 allows 1/50th of the suns rays to pass through to your skin.  UPF is determined by the color, type and weave of the fabric.  Darker, tightly woven fabrics provide the best coverage.  A lightweight, white shirt will not do much at all, with a UPF around 7. To test a piece of clothing, hold it up to the light, if you can see right through, it probably does not have much protection.  There are plenty of outdoor companies that make clothing specifically designed for sunwear ( 


Now, I understand in the summer, most people do not, or can not for heat safety reasons, wear long pants and long sleeves.  Next, I will get into how to protect exposed skin with sunscreens. 

     There are an extraordinary amount of sunscreens on the market, all that make different claims, all with different levels of protection. 


Let's start with SPF. Although many products advertise SPFs as high as 100+, there is only a marginal and insignificant benefit greater than 50.  Moreover, these higher SPFs give consumers a false sense of protection and they end up staying in the sun far too long.  Look for a sunscreen between 30 and 50 SPF. 


Now on to ingredients.  The best screens are those that contain minerals that block and reflect that sunlight, rather than absorb or filter the light.  The two most common minerals are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  The two most common ingredients that you should avoid are retinal palmitate(Vitamin A), which has been shown to harm skin, and oxybenzone, which has been shown to disrupt hormones in the body. 


Lastly, creams versus sprays.  As convenient as they are, sprays seem to be less effective at achieving full skin coverage, and possibly contain harmful inhalants.  I would go for a cream.  The EWG has an online guide where you can search for your screen and check their rating(, They also have an app called EWGs Healthy Living). 

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