Summertime is officially here! It’s time to enjoy picnics with friends and family, outdoor gardening, time at the beach or pool, riding bikes, and so many more wonderful activities – soaking up the sun. Some sunshine is great for your health; in fact, it’s important for your immune function. However, you also need to take a few precautions to enjoy the sun safely. Are you ready to learn about sun protection, especially as it relates to someone with invisible health challenges such as autoimmune disorders?
Let’s take a quick look at UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays can seep through clouds, so you’ll want to protect yourself even on cloudy days. These are the rays that are responsible for wrinkles, sunspots and that also increase your risk of skin cancer. UVB rays cause sunburns and are a major cause of skin cancer. UVB rays are typically at their worse between 10 AM – 4 PM. When you select a sunscreen, it’s best to look for one that protects you from both types of rays.
Sunshine and Immune Function
Just as too little sun can negatively impact your immune system, so can too much sun. There are studies that show too little sun might correspond to higher than average incidents of MS in the northern states, and that too much sun can trigger Lupus. Those are just two samples, but it’s easy to see the conundrum for many! If you’re interested, here’s an article “UV Radiation, Autoimmunity, and Questions Galore” from TheScientist on this very topic.
The conundrum is real! In fact, since moving to sunny Florida from the north, I have experienced significant improvement in my symptoms. However, my new endocrinologist warned me to limit my exposure to sunshine to 20 minutes a week to prevent additional autoimmune disorders from developing. A little bit of a quandary considering we live in sunny Florida!
Now, don’t let this information stop you from having fun in the sun! Just be aware, be intuitive, and begin to take note of your patterns, adapt and seek professional help when needed for your own particular circumstance.
The Importance of Sunscreen Selection
I’m a big proponent of using safer sunscreen. Your skin is your largest organ, and what you put onto your skin, impacts what is absorbed into your body. If you have any chemical sensitivities, it’s imperative that you choose your sunscreen wisely.
My Sunscreen Story
I remember back in fourth grade having to stay in from recess when all the other kids were out playing. Now this is when chicken fighting on the monkey bars was allowed, and we were pretty free to do whatever we could dream up on the playground. What kid wants to stay indoors on a sunny day when all their friends are outside having all the fun? Not me!
Exposure to the sun was causing my entire body to break out in hives, which then swelled immensely. Talk about itchy! As the hives went away, it left my skin with what looked like sucker bites. Not an entirely pleasant experience. We were told I was allergic to the sun. But awareness was much more limited then.
I was actually having a reaction to the chemicals in the sunscreens that we were using to try to protect me from the sun. Though your reaction might not be as strong as mine, the fact is, we are bombarded with chemicals and we really don’t know the entire impact they are having on our health. That’s why I look to reputable resources for help in identifying the safest sunscreens.
Recommendations for Sun Protection
The EWG has put together an entire guide relating to sunscreen safety. In it, you can learn all about the safety of different types of ingredients, including why there is a particular concern around oxybenzone, which is currently used in two-thirds of all sunscreen products!!
You’ll notice two ingredients are listed as UNSAFE FOR USE! Just look for the big RED box with the warning symbol on the page! Yep, one of these ingredients is PABA. It turns out PABA was the actual culprit that led to my reaction to the ‘sun’ – which we now know was really an allergic reaction to this ingredient.
When selecting sunscreens, you want to be aware of the chemicals you’re putting on your body.
The EWG assessed more than 1,300 products! Of those, only about 20% made the cut to being recognized as safer products (green) on their Best Beach & Sport Suncreens list.
I encourage you to take a little time to expand your knowledge on the dangers of sunscreen and to look through the list. The EWG rated 757 sunscreen products from 1 – 10. 1 is Best. 10 is Worst.
They grouped the sunscreen products into three color-coded categories:
- 264 Green products with a ranking of 1 or 2
- 305 Yellow products with a ranking of 3, 4, 5 or 6
- 188 Red products with a ranking of 7, 8, 9 or 10
What I absolutely LOVE about their database on best sunscreens is that you can click on any product and pull up a full, in-depth review. You’ll find a complete breakdown of health concerns, UVA/UVB balance, top findings and a listing of the ingredients – each with their own safety score. They even provide a link of where to buy the sunscreen!
My suggestion is two-fold:
- Find yourself and your family a sunscreen with a rating of 1 or 2. No need to put a lot of time into this. EWG has already done the work for you!
- Search for brands of sunscreen you regularly use and find where they fall. You might be surprised at how widely many of the sunscreens with the WORST rating are used.
Enjoying Your Time Outdoors
Now that you are better aware of the importance of sunscreen product safety and know what to look for, it’s time to make some fabulous memories this summer!
I’ll just leave you with these 6 tips for safely enjoying your time outdoors this summer:
- Plan your time. Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 AM & 4 PM. If you have autoimmune disorders, there’s a chance you’re also heat intolerant, and this is music to your ears!
- Cover up! Wear appropriate clothing to limit your exposure, look for naturally shaded areas, and bring umbrellas.
- Sunglasses. Yes! Don’t forget to protect your eyes from UVA/UVB rays.
- Safer Sunscreen. Do a little research and select a sunscreen you are comfortable with.
- Use Sunscreen Wisely. Apply 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply according to the directions.
- Pro Tip! Don’t use expired sunscreen or sunscreen that has been left in the car.
Summertime is a time for fun! It’s important to play. It’s important to spend time with family and friends. It’s important to experience new things. Go on that vacation. Go to that picnic. Enjoy your outdoor activities. Spend a little time expanding your knowledge, select a sunscreen from the EWG’s ‘green’ zone, and go have fun!
This information provided is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be medical or psychological advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care practitioner with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before making changes to your diet or lifestyle. See full disclaimer for more information.