Sun protection

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As we all enjoy the sun and the warm weather, we also need to recognize the value of sun protection and the role it plays in keeping us healthy. People of all cultures, ages, sexes and skin colors embrace the sun's warmth for it's wonderful life giving energies from one end of the globe to the other. For holidays and leisure activities we hardly ever outwardly seek or embrace the rain, cold, sleet, or snow, whilst we flock to where the sun is likely to shine.

Just 50 - 60 years ago, when many people started responding to the sun tanning craze, not many of us understood the potential harm that the sun's rays could provide. Today, the threat of skin cancer from the sun's harmful Ultra Violet (UV) rays, plus the increased desire for one's skin to never age, has resulted in most people being more aware of the need for the right sun protection.

So how can we effectively protect ourselves from the sun? There are many options available to keep your skin from becoming over exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays. The most commonly used and highly reliable methods of sun protection are:

  • Well informed use of sunscreens
  • Protective clothing and hats
  • Sunless tanning
  • Avoiding the sun altogether! or at least limiting one's exposure to the sun

There is a lot of information about sunscreens that is confusing. A key example is the understanding that the higher the SPF (sun protection factor), the more likely the sunscreen will protect you against both UVA and UVB rays.

This is very far from the truth! SPF only protects you from UVB rays for a start. Predominantly, sunscreens do not provide for any protection against UVA rays. UVB rays are short-wave radiation waves that cause sunburn and potentially skin cancer with lengths of 290-320 nanometers on the UV spectrum. The longer UVA rays cause deeper damage and premature skin aging as well as skin cancer. To get a sunscreen that provides sun protection for both UVA and UVB, look for a products with ingredients that specifically protect against UVA rays, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Another common falsely held belief is that a high SPF, say 50 or higher, will provide significantly more sun protection than the most popular SPF 30.

The reality is that a SPF 30 provides about 97% protection against UVB rays, whereas a SPF 50 or 60 only provides 98%. An SPF 100 provides for nearly 99%.

However, too much protection from the sun's rays reaching you can actually put your health at risk. You actually NEED exposure to sunlight in order for your body to manufacture vitamin D from the UVB rays. This nutrient is increasingly being recognized as vital in protecting ourselves from many types of cancers.

So how do you ensure that you are getting sufficient sun exposure to top up your vitamin D levels, while still protecting your skin from burning from the sun's UVB rays and ageing from it's UVA rays? The answer is through responsible sun protection habits, eating vitamin D rich foods (eg. eggs and fish) or daily supplements. Beyond this, you can enhance your natural protection capabilities with a healthy intake of antioxidants.

So when choosing a sunscreen, try and get one that is very high in antioxidants to support your skin when faced with the sun's onslaught.

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