Summer is the perfect time to soak up vitamin D, but take precautions against excessive exposure.© Jeff Maloney/Photodisc
But as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Stratospheric Protection Division makes clear, the sun’s rays are the major factor for the one in five Americans who develop skin cancer. Excessive ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure can cause premature aging of the skin, cataracts, skin cancers and immune system suppression. The skin is not alone in its vulnerability to the sun: The American Academy of Ophthalmology says excessive exposure to UV radiation can also painfully burn the cornea of the eye (see "Natural Eye Care," Your Health, this issue).
The EPA attributes 80 percent of all sun damage to UVB rays, which are most often associated with sunburns. But UVA rays, though less damaging in the short term, are not to be ignored. They penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays, reaching the dermis directly and wreaking havoc by drying out sweat glands, altering your collagen and elastin, giving you permanent wrinkles and causing serious damage to the DNA of dermal cells.
Fortunately for your skin, there are many courses of action you can take to minimize or avoid sun damage. Perhaps the most obvious solution is to stay inside, away from the sun. But calls for solar abstinence seldom work; most of us like to be outdoors, especially during warm weather. So the next best thing is to minimize your sun exposure to the hours before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m., when UV rays are at their lowest levels.
And remember that the sun does not discriminate between a sunbather and someone taking the dog for a walk; incidental sun exposure, such as gardening, shopping or driving with your arm out the window, adds up to long-term sun damage. The EPA says that even on overcast days, 30 to 60 percent of the sun’s rays can penetrate to the Earth’s surface. So be sure to wear a hat, sunglasses and other protective clothing. And while you’re doing those things, also put on a broad-spectrum sunscreen, with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15, to absorb both UVA and UVB rays.
The Natural Choice
Using a natural sunscreen can help protect not only your skin, but also our waterways. Synthetic ingredients such as caffeine, animal feed additives, pharmaceuticals, and yes, sunscreen lotions, are accumulating in oceans, lakes and streams. These emerging contaminants have been found at low levels, but the U.S. Geological Survey, the EPA and other researchers are concerned about the cumulative effects of these chemicals on aquatic environments, as well as on human health. Switching to a more natural skin care product won’t single-handedly rid water systems of toxic chemicals, but at least you won’t be contributing to the problem. You also won’t have to worry about the effects of excess chemicals on you or your child’s skin.
Before you start plowing bewildered through aisles lined with neon-colored bottles reeking of coconut oil, E has found a number of natural summer skin care products that can make your search easier. Unless you favor the pasty sunblocks containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, your sunscreen probably uses some amount of chemical ingredients and so is not 100 percent natural. But some manufacturers use as many natural ingredients as possible and keep chemicals to a minimum. The sunscreens and sunblocks mentioned here protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and most do not contain the potentially allergy-inducing, synthetic PABA. None of the products were tested on animals or contain animal by-products.
Aubrey Organics" Sun Shade Ultra 15 sunblock ($6.97, 4 oz.) is completely natural and is made with herbals, essential oils and natural vitamins. Aubrey also carries a Green Tea Sunblock for Children with SPF 25 ($7.65, 4 oz.). Bebé Baudelaire’s waterproof, SPF 25 Sunshield ($6.50, 4 oz.) is made mostly of water, aloe vera gel and sunflower oil. Rachel Perry’s Environmental Skin Protector, SPF 18 ($27, 4 oz.), is a light cream made from antioxidants such as noni juice, pine bark extract, grape seed extract, beta glucan (derived from yeast and oats) and natural vegetable oils. Kiss My Face (KMF) has a "solar system" of products including oat-based, chemical-free sunblocks with SPF 18 ($9, 4 oz.) or SPF 30 ($10, 4 oz.), which are naturally waterproof and hypoallergenic. The oat beta glucan in the sunblocks has been found to decrease the chances of sunburn by 80 percent. For those of you who want a tan without putting in the sun time, KMF offers Instant Sunless Tanner ($10, 4 oz.). With SPF 8, it is lightly scented with mango-nut oil, and walnut extract is the main ingredient that gives extra color to your skin. All Terrain’s line of petroleum-free performance sunblocks—TerraSport and AquaSport (both $7.95 to $9.95, 3.5 oz.)—are water resistant and contain zinc oxide, the ingredient that offers full protection against UVA/UVB rays. The sunblocks have no alcohol or added fragrance, so they don’t sting your eyes. JASON’s all natural, water-resistant Sun Block SPF 16 ($8, 4 oz.) offers protection for those who want maximum color while not sacrificing their skin to the sun gods. JASON’s Kid’s Block, SPF 46 ($10, 4 oz.), is extra sensitive for children’s skin. Also, the company’s Sunless Tanning lotion is enriched with SPF 16 ($9, 4 oz.). ShiKai’s Daytime Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15 ($8.40, 3.5 oz.) provides sun protection while using borage and avocado oils to moisturize your skin and face. Azida also carries a moisturizing sunscreen, SPF 15 ($12.50, 8 oz.), that uses hemp oil to soften your skin.
While you’re slathering on the sun lotion, don’t forget your lips! Besides protecting the skin, lip balms can also prevent cold sores. All Terrain’s Lip Armor Lip Balm SPF 15 ($2.35) contains shea butter, hemp oil, sweet almond oil, beeswax and zinc oxide, keeping UVA/UVB rays (and bugs!) away from your mouth. JASON’s Natural Lip Protector, SPF 20 ($4), comes on a cord for easy traveling.
If you still manage to get burned by the sun, or if your sun-drenched skin just needs a pick-me-up, try KMF’s After Sun Aloe Soother ($6, 4 oz.). It is 95 percent aloe, combined with jewelweed extract and yucca glauca root extract. Baudelaire’s Jardin de l"Olivier line has an After Sun Oil ($15, 4.2 oz.) that uses the moisturizing properties of olive oil to rehydrate your skin. Or treat your sun- and wind-burned skin to JASON’s 98% Aloe Vera Gel ($3.50 to $10.50, 4 to 16 oz.) or Aubrey’s 100% Pure and Certified Organic Aloe Vera Gel ($7.50, 4 oz.).
Beating the Bugs
Summer and bugs tend to go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean your skin has to fall victim to them. Stop! Insect Repellent from Intromark Incorporated is free of DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, the active ingredient in many insect repellants), so you can relax about the possible adverse health reactions caused by that chemical. Instead, the active ingredient in Stop! comes from the neem tree. Its leaves and bark are imported from India and combined with citronella, pennyroyal, eucalyptus, lemongrass and cedarwood—five herbs with insect-repe
lling reputations. The repellent is available as a lotion ($6, 4 oz.) or soap ($4). KMF offers two products to help you ward off the summer vermin—the natural bug spray Sunswat ($9, 4 oz.), which pulls double duty as SPF 15 sunblock, and the tick-and-insect repellent Swy Flotter ($8, 4 oz.). Neither spray contains DEET. JASON’s Goodbye Bugs SPF 30 ($9, 4 oz.) also keeps critters and sunburns away, and All Terrain’s Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent ($7.49, 4 oz.) is DEET-free, petrochemical-free and uses five essential oils to repel insects. It’s available as a pump spray or lotion.
KATHERINE KERLIN is associate editor of E.