I recently came across a shocking study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology’s: most Americans do not know how to properly apply sunscreen. You can read it here. Even those with a history of skin cancer are not as savvy as one might think.
Ok, I guess I am a bit guilty of this, too. While I’m really committed to putting sunscreen on often, I sometimes forget about my children. When we were in Costa Rica and Nicaragua several weeks ago, my 16-year old wanted to get a good tan. I argued with her incessantly on putting on sunscreen. She did, but not often enough and after awhile, I gave up. She came home looking like a leper. She was peeling on her face and she looked frightening. She was self-conscious about it, too. Thank goodness we had three days before she had to return to school and the worst of it was over. Still, we both learned a lesson– applying sunscreen properly and often was not debatable.
However you look at it, getting a sunburn is bad. It’s bad for the skin, good for skin cancer, and it hurts. Avoid this at all cost.
A few summers ago, I went on vacation to Washington, DC and it was literally 105 degrees, sunny and humid. I never left my hotel room without a hat on my head and an umbrella. I also reapplied sunscreen multiple times throughout the day. I remember one afternoon standing an hour outside on a hot sidewalk under the blazing sun waiting to get into the National Archives. I purchased that small umbrella from a street vendor and it was a lifesaver! I carried it with me during the rest of the trip and, these days, if I know I’m going to be walking in the blazing sun, an umbrella is in my backpack ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
In summary, make sure you get outdoors and enjoy the weather (this is good for you!) but stay in the shade and perhaps do your outdoor activities in the mornings or evenings when the sun is at its weakest. Also, consider wearing protective clothing, like swimsuits with rash-guards, hats, sunglasses and tops with sleeves. And never leave the house or hotel room without properly sunscreening.
Benefits of sun exposure
There are numerous benefits to some sun exposure. First, we get fresh “real” vitamin D. The warmth and light of the sun is also a natural mood booster. (Got depression? Get outdoors, get some natural sunlight, and see if you don’t feel a bit better “that fast.”) Personally, I am a big fan of summer for these reasons. I love going for walks and hikes, hanging out poolside or at the beach with my kids, and reading a good book on my deck. But… I also use precautions. Gone are the days that I visit tanning salons (I cannot believe I used to do this regularly), use baby oil as a sun enhancer, and spend hours laying out during maximum sun intensity (typically between 11A-2P). I used to go on beach-type vacations and pretty much ruin them because my number one priority was making sure I went home with a Big Huge Impressive Tan instead of doing fun stuff. Dear Lord, how dumb. These days, I nearly always wear a hat, sit under an umbrella or in the shade, don sunglasses that block out UVA and UVB rays, and apply sunscreen liberally. I still manage to get tan but I can’t tell you the last time I burned (or even got pink). Hooray!
Tips for staying sun-safe (also applies for your children, who have even more sensitive skin than most adults)
- Wear a hat. Make it part of your wardrobe. There are so many fashionable options.
- Wear sunglasses to keep your eyes safe, as well as the sensitive skin beneath your eyes protected. Buy glasses that offer maximum protection even if they cost a bit more. It’s worth it! (Again, who doesn’t enjoy finding great shades to wear with your outfit. This is fun!)
- Use sunscreen lip balm and apply it throughout the day. Lips get burned, too, and it is extremely painful when this happens
- Stay in the shade
- Consider walking under an umbrella or pitching an umbrella at the pool or beach and sit under it
- Stay out of the sun during peak hours (generally 11A-2P) as much as possible
- Cover your feet. If you’re wearing flip-flops or sandals, load them up with sunscreen
- Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, nose, face and hands (fingers, too!)
- Wear proper clothes. If you’re going to be in the water for a long time, you may want to put on a T-shirt or rash-guard for maximum protection
Tips for Proper Sunscreen Use
- Personally, I choose organic or chemical-free sunscreens. They are more expensive but I think they’re worth it. I buy mine at Costco and Walmart, so know that they are easy to find. I also buy several types: spray-on (easy for reaching my back and getting it on my kids), lotion, face balms, and lip balms. Also, find one with an SPF of 15 or greater and one that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays. Waterproof sunscreens are also a good idea but know that they go on much thicker. If you have oily skin or acne, consider a water-based sunscreen. Bottom line: Not all sunscreens are the same so find one that you love and you’re willing to use often. For kids, your easiest choice may be the spray-on along with a balm for under-the-eyes, cheeks, lips and tips of ears.
- Put on sunscreen 30-minutes before sun exposure (if you forget, put it on as soon as possible!). Don’t let your children get in the car without sunscreen applied. Also, keep some sunscreen in your car and handbag so you have it handy at all times.
- Once you’ve been in the pool or working out, sunscreen wears off fast. Reapply sunscreen after sweating a lot or, if you’re in the water, get out every 30-minutes or so and reapply. Remind your children to get out of the water every 30 minutes for a sunscreen refresh.
- Even if you’re not exercising or getting in the water, you should reapply sunscreen a few times per day regardless. It’s simply common sense.
- Look at expiration dates on your sunscreen. Keep them out of the sun. And when in doubt, toss them and start with a new bottle. Your skin and health is too important to scrimp!
- If possible, have someone help you apply your sunscreen so you don’t miss spots. Places that are easily forgotten are: scalp (especially down the part line), ears, nose, lips, tops of your feet, fingers and hands. Places that are hard to reach (obviously) are your back and the backs of your legs. Really, aim to sunscreen-up on every piece of skin exposure. (I typically put on sunscreen before I put on a stitch of clothing, that way I don’t get it on my clothes and it’s easier to cover my entire body. I re-apply sunscreen with clothes or a swimsuit on, however! Also, in the summer, I put sunscreen on not long after toweling off from my morning shower. It is part of my routine and I never forget.)
Enjoy your summer! It’s my favorite time of the year and I can’t wait to spend more time outdoors and get some quality time with my daughters. But make sure to do it wisely and safely.