ASK DOCTOR MARTY Here Comes the Sun

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Beach Day.

QUESTION: It’s that time of the year. I know I need sunscreen to protect my skin from the sun, but I’m concerned about chemicals. What should I look for in a sunscreen?

ANSWER: No one wants to think about skin cancer or premature aging of our skin (a.k.a. wrinkles!) But you are wise to love the skin you’re in and take care of it. It’s important, especially here in our wonderful sunshine state. And skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S.

Sunscreen Basics 101. The two primary types of sunscreen are:

  • Chemical sunscreens that absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • Physical sunscreens that reflect, instead of absorb, the sun’s rays (zinc dioxide and titanium dioxide)

All sunscreens should be rated with an SPF number. SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF rating tells you how long it would take for your skin to burn if it has been applied as directed. So, a product that has an SPF of 15 means that it will take 15 times longer to start looking like a lobster (or crawfish if you’re from Louisiana) than if you had no sunscreen.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), both types of sunscreens are effective. But many of us have skin that is sensitive to chemicals and a growing number of people want to reduce their “chemical load” whenever they can. Parents often have to deal with their children’s sensitive skin and want to reduce the chemicals that impact their children. For these reasons, an increasing number of sun seekers are using natural sunscreens. Natural sunscreens can be found in health food stores and in some of our big-box stores and grocery stores. Look for sunscreens that are water resistant and free from oxybenzone, octinoxate, parabens, phthalates, sulfates and artificial colors and fragrance.

This time of the year, we sometimes forget our skin is getting used to those rays again, and  especially, sensitive to the sun. We forget that even when we’re under an umbrella, the reflection from our beautiful blue green water and white sand adds to the sun’s capability to give us a serious sunburn. This time of year, we are also blessed with friends and relatives who come to visit. Do I hear a snicker or two out there over the word “blessed”? At any rate, be kind to them and give them a heads up.

And make sure that whatever you use, it has not outlived its usefulness. Check the expiration date. And make sure you apply as often as directed on the package. Also make sure you protect your eyes from the sun with UV-blocking sunglasses and a hat or visor.

Hot Tip: A hat and long-sleeve shirt can be very effective in sun protection. For those of you who are picturing a heavy denim shirt and some strange looks at the beach, picture a light summery shirt that reminds you of a tropical getaway.

Stay well.

Marty Kernion, Ph.D. is not a medical doctor. She has a doctorate in naturopathy. Naturopathy uses natural, gentle ways to bring our bodies back into balance so that they have the God-given ability to heal themselves. She is a retired professor of herbal medicine and nutrition and has written 39 college level courses in natural approaches to health. She has published two books on natural health. She can be reached on for scheduling a class or consultation, or for sending in your questions for this column.

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