“Wait! Don’t forget the sunscreen!”  I holler at my husband before he can pull out of the driveway with our two daughters.  “We won’t be there too long, but that’ll be good to have” he responds.  I discovered a sunscreen that rolled on and has glitter in it.  Talk about a double in for two little girls who love glitter and doing things for themselves (and then I can tell where they missed).

I became a stickler about sunscreen just a couple years before having kids.  I used to be a sun worshipper.  As a teenager, the darker and tanner I could get my skin the more beautiful I felt.  I genuinely thought one measure of my beauty was rated by how tan my skin could get in the summer.  While I may have worn sunscreen a little at the start of the summer or during family spring break vacations, rarely did I wear it throughout the summer.  I’ve had sunburns as a teenager that it hurt to sit down and could probably have been rated as a true burn.

In my early 20’s I wasn’t much different.  Taking every opportunity to “lay out” by the pool and literally roast my skin, in whatever free time I could find.  There were two events that brought to light the problem with my sun worshipping.  First, I met my now husband.  He helped me very quickly realize true beauty is not how tan my skin was, or how blonde my hair.  In fact he was more concerned about staying in the shade and wearing sunscreen and encouraged me to do the same.  The second came during my clinical dietetic internship rotations.  I was working as an inpatient dietitian with incredible preceptors.  We would all gather in our office before going to lunch together.  We were waiting for our friend and when she got to our office she burst into tears.   She was our oncology dietitian.  She shared with us how she had just visited with a young woman in her early to mid 30’s with small children and was dying from brain cancer, metastasized from melanoma (skin cancer).  Our oncology dietitian was there to provide therapeutic support.   She shared that this woman kept saying “I just wish I knew then what I know now.  I would have worn sunscreen and been so much smarter about staying out of the sun.”

The Prevent Cancer Foundations states that each year, more than 96,400 people will be diagnosed with melanoma—the most dangerous type of skin cancer—and about 7,200 will die of the disease. In addition, it is estimated that more than three million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer annually—either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.

Woman in a field in front of sun

People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but some general risk factors are having-

  •             A lighter natural skin color.
  •             Family history of skin cancer.
  •             A personal history of skin cancer.
  •             Exposure to the sun through work and play.
  •             A history of sunburns, especially early in life.
  •             A history of indoor tanning.
  •             Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
  •             Blue, gray or green eyes.
  •             Blond, red or light brown hair.
  •             Certain types and a large number of moles.
  •             History of being treated with radiation.

That day, over 10 years ago, when my oncology dietitian friend shared her grief, my sun worshipping ended.  I still love to bask in the sun, however, these days that includes a wide brim hat, sunscreen and I try to stay out of the hottest part of the day.  Out of the 11 risk factors for skin cancer I could check off 9 for having them personally.  How’s that for a reality check.

woman getting skin care mask at spa

Unfortunately it’s not good enough to just grab any sunscreen off the shelf.  We will include many more blogs in the future about skincare.  Why? Because what we put on our skin matters. While many people think about our skin as a barrier, our skin is actually our body’s largest organ.  Want to know more about why what we put on our skin matters?  Here’s some fun facts courtesy of Forefront Dermatology:

  • The average person’s skin covers an area of 2 square meters.
  • Skin accounts for about 15% of your body weight.
  • The average adult has approximately 21 square feet of skin, which weighs 9 lbs and contains more than 11 miles of blood vessels.
  • The average person has about 300 million skin cells. A single square inch of skin has about 19 million cells and up to 300 sweat glands.
  • Your skin is its thickest on your feet (1.4mm) and thinnest on your eyelids (0.2mm).
  • The skin renews itself every 28 days.
  • Your skin constantly sheds dead cells, about 30,000 to 40,000 cells every minute! That’s nearly 9 lbs. per year!
  • Some sources estimate that more than half of the dust in your home is actually dead skin.
  • Dead skin comprises about a billion tons of dust in the earth’s atmosphere.
  • Your skin is home to more than 1,000 species of bacteria.
  • Skin that is severely damaged may try to heal itself by forming scar tissue, which is different from normal skin tissue because it lacks hair and sweat glands.
  • Skin can form additional thickness and toughness — a callus — if exposed to repeated friction or pressure.
  • Some of the nerves in your skin are connected to muscles instead of the brain, sending signals (through the spinal cord) to react more quickly to heat, pain, etc.
  • Your skin has at least five different types of receptors that respond to pain and touch.
  • Changes in your skin can sometimes signal changes in your overall health.

Needless to say, what you put on your skin matters.  Skin care products, including sunscreen, are lightly regulated by the FDA.  What that means is, compared to other countries, we have far less regulation on what ingredients can be used in our cosmetics, skincare and yes sunscreen.

Clean skincare ingredients

I have found it extremely difficult to teach myself how to purchase “clean” skincare products.  Many of the ingredients are a foreign language to me.  Ask me to read a food label, no problem.  Ask me to explain what the ingredients in your typical sunscreen are, I’m lost.  As a consumer I lean on the Environmental Working Group to educate me on what the ingredients are and whether or not they are safe for me.  They have a fantastic app where you can search, scan or browse products.

I personally would recommend avoiding aerosols sunscreens.  Anything that creates a mist to be inhaled into your lungs can NOT be good for you.  When our first daughter was 7 months old we used a spray sunscreen because I thought it would cover more evenly (and it stated on the back it was safe for use over 6 months of age).  This was, of course, before I had learned how to research skincare products.  In the middle of the night she woke us to wheezing and difficulty breathing.  As first time parents naturally we were terrified.  I concluded after the fact (and after an urgent care visit) that it was the aerosols sunscreen used earlier in the day.

According to the Environmental Working Group the following ingredients are generally recognized as safe in sunscreen when used primarily as a cream: Titanium dioxide, Zinc Oxide, Avobenzone.  It seems simple, but yes you can find tons of sunscreens with only 3 ingredients.  If you’re a child of the ’80s-early 90’s then you’ll have visions of movies with lifeguards who have noses covered in white sunscreen.  The good news is that most sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, these days, are considered invisible.  Therefore, you can wear the best ingredients without an obvious white cream on your skin.

This holiday weekend and before your next beach trip or river float I would highly encourage you download this EWG  best sunscreen guide here.  They have developed a full list of safe, effective sunscreens that are good for you, your children and even our creatures in our precious waters.  And remember, the you and your children are beautiful just the way you are, no sun tan needed.

In Health,