Woman enjoying the summer sun.

Skin Health: How to Survive the Summer Sun

The summer sun has finally found us, and it is time for all of our favorite outdoor activities. Here in the north east we have plenty of them to keep us busy. Whether it be hiking, camping, surfing, or barbecuing, we will make up any excuse to enjoy the fresh air while we have warm weather. However, with all this fun, it is sometimes easy to forget safety. So get out your checklist and make sure everything is in order, like checking life vests for holes, making sure trail maps are up to date, and not letting Grandpa Fred start the grill (your siding still hasn't recovered from last years “fireball incident”).

These are all super important, but on your long list of safety precautions did you remember to add, “practice healthy sun habits”? I hope so, because over 3 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. In fact every hour someone dies of skin cancer. So protecting your skin from the sun is a serious thing. And even though sunburns have been shown to directly increase rates of skin cancer, that doesn’t mean we can’t play in the sun and get a great tan. It just means we need to be smart about it. These simple steps will help you survive the summer sun without paying for it later.

Gradual Introduction to the Sun

It’s the first great beach day of the year and you and your friends run out to get your “base tan”. Your skin hasn't seen the sun in at least 7 months, but you don’t care. By the end of the day you are sporting the lobster look, and tell everyone that it's okay because you “just need to get my first burn and then I tan”. This is a terrible habit that so many people take part in.

Some research has shown that gradually introducing your skin to the sun's rays in short bursts, is the healthiest way to be in the sun and prevent skin cancer at the same time. By starting with only 15-30 minutes in the sun and for a few days, you are building up a healthy tolerance for your skin. In a week or two you will be able to spend the whole day in the sun without frying.

Use Non-Toxic Sunscreen

Usually the first precaution most of us take in the fight against skin cancer is to put on sunscreen, but did you know that the same sunscreen you think is protecting you, can actually be doing you harm? That’s right, many of the most popular sunscreens contain chemicals such as oxybenzone and parabens. These can, over time, cause a disruption to the endocrine system. The endocrine system controls hormones like estrogen and testosterone, as well as the thyroid gland. If that wasn’t bad enough, some of these chemicals can also cause the formation of free-radicals, cells that have been directly linked to cancer.

Although this sounds scary, don't completely rule out wearing sunscreens, because burns are still bad news for skin health. There are plenty of all natural brands that do not use unhealthy chemicals. These better options have a variety of ingredients, such as zinc and titanium, that are natural and safe for long term use.

Stay Hydrated

Hydrated skin is happy skin. Although, it is well known that staying hydrated is a great way to help sunburn heal quicker, did you know it is also a great way to prevent sunburn? When our skin burns it is because it loses moisture from being exposed to UV rays. So moisturize your skin before you go in the sun. That means apply hydrating lotion the night before, or morning of outdoor activities, and stay hydrated throughout the day.

Avoid Direct Sun Exposure

Okay, I know this one doesn’t sound as fun but, believe it or not, you do not need direct sunlight to get a tan. UV light can be just a strong, if not stronger when reflecting off of surfaces such as the sand or the water. These reflecting surfaces can double your sun exposure. However, by staying in the shade you reduce the amount of UV exposure and your risk of getting burned. So stay under an umbrella, or wear a hat whenever possible to protect yourself from getting double exposure.

This summer, don't forget that protecting your skin from the sun is just as important as all of your other safety precautions. Hiding from the sun to prevent burns and skin cancer is a thing of the past. You can survive the summer sun happy and tan by gradually introducing your skin to the sun, using healthy sunscreens, staying hydrated, and keeping cool in the shade!

The information in this article is for general educational purposes only, and should not be construed or interpreted as medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any medical condition or treatment, and before undertaking a new heathcare regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article or any linked materials.

Anna Mahoney is a Licensed Acupuncturist with a Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition from Rutgers University. In her practice, she focuses on bringing her patients back to health through Chinese Medicine, nutritional counseling, and overall wellness care. In her personal life, she is a passionate cook, musician, yogi, and athlete. Anna lives in New Jersey, with her husband, John, and their dog, Betty. Anna blogs at The Green Banana.