Thursday, September 9, 2004

Protecting Your Skin with Sunscreens

With the uncertainty of the weather for the next few days my nude hiking activities are being curbed . . . it's not worth it to get caught in a sudden thunderstorm in the mountains. Instead, I'm sitting here after a long day, staring at my suntan and I thought, might as well post some material about suntanning that might help future sun-whorshippers . . . even if they now have to wait till next summer to catch the rays. The material in this post is adapted from an article by Sue Frederick at

Most of us realize the risks of sun exposure. However, a healthy, active lifestyle often keeps us spending time outdoors for walking, running, hiking or enjoying other leisure activities. It's essential to understand how to best protect your skin from harmful rays. Natural sunscreens have many advantages for skin protection. Here's why…

As everyone knows, the sun's ultraviolet, or UV, rays stimulate the skin's pigment-producing cells to produce extra melanin, our skin's defense against burning. This process takes several hours, and it's usually two to three days before tanning from a single day completely appears. Your skin continues to produce new cells until the sun's effects are eliminated. This is the reason your tan fades after a few days out of the sun.

The more your skin is exposed to the sun, the more it produces protective cells. If you burn, your skin works overtimes manufacturing cells, and you eventually peel.

On the other hand, building a tan gradually with several 15-minute to one-hour exposures allows the skin to slowly create new cells that stay around much longer. Then you'll have a nice summer tan.

Repeated sun exposure can age skin. The sun's rays penetrate your skin's inner layers, damaging the collagen and elastic fibers, causing wrinkles. Plus, just as your bathing suit dries quickly on a sunny day, your skin loses moisture, increasing risk of skin wrinkling. How can you best play in the sun safely?

Apply sunscreen that matches your skin type and Sun Protection Factor (SPF). A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rating system, SPF indicates how much more time you can spend in the sun without burning. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF of 7 should let you stay in the sun seven times longer than you could without sunscreen. You'll find SPF factors ranging from 2 to 40 and above.

You should also know your skin type before purchasing sunscreens. Type 1 skin burns and freckles but never tans. If you're red haired with blue or gray eyes, you may fit into this category and should use a sunscreen with the highest SPF rating.

Type 2 eventually develops a tan but always burns after 20 to 30 minutes in the sun. Type 2s are light blondes with blue or green eyes and should stick to a high SPF sunscreen.

Skin cancer occurrence drops drastically at Type 3. People with this skin usually have dark blond or light brown hair and blue, green or brown eyes. They can develop a dark tan but will burn moderately, so should begin with a high SPF sunscreen and gradually work down.

Type 4 is naturally dark complected, has brown hair and eyes and always tans dark brown. Still, they can burn minimally and should start tanning with an SPF of 12 and work down.

With Middle Eastern or Latin American ancestry, Type 5 hardly ever burns but should use a slight sunscreen of SPF 4.

Type 6, with black hair and dark skin, usually never burns but should play it safe with a sunscreen of SPF 4.

Benefits of Natural Sunscreens

High-quality, natural suntan and after-sun products are found in abundance at natural foods stores or on websites such as From avocado oil to botanicals such as rosemary and comfrey, these ingredients soothe and protect your skin. Many also are waterproof.

Some plant oils contain natural sunscreens. Sesame oil resists 30 percent of UV rays, while coconut oil, peanut oil, olive oil, and cottonseed oil block out about 20 percent. Mineral oil, derived from petroleum doesn't resist any UV rays and dissolves the sebum secreted from oil glands that helps inhibit water evaporation from the skin.

Cocoa butter can moisturize and soften your skin. As an ingredient in sunscreens, it offers protection from drying sun and wind. Vitamin E fights free radicals, helping to prevent skin damage from too much sun.

For additional protection, most suntan lotions contain PABA (Para-Amino-Benzoic Acid), a sunscreen that's part of the B-vitamin complex. A few people experience allergic reactions to PABA, so be sure to test new products on a small patch of your skin. There are PABA-free lotions using benzophenone as an alternative sunscreen.

Aloe Vera is included in many natural sun-care products for its soothing, healing qualities. Known as the burn plant, the gel from aloe is believed to stimulate skin and assist in new cell growth. Use it to relieve sunburn, blisters or heat rash, or mix with PABA for a moisturizing sunscreen.

Australia's tea tree oil, an ancient Aboriginal remedy, is an effective antiseptic, fungicide and germicide. It's a component of many sunscreen lotions and after-sun creams and may relieve sunburn by increasing blood flow in capillaries, bringing nutrients to damaged skin.

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