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Green and Simple: A Guide to Summer Skin Safety

As you head out to the garden, coast along the bike trail, bask on the beach, or perch on the bleachers at a ball game, make sure that you’re covered -- your skin, that is.

Although summer is not yet here, it would be hard to convince most plants, animals and people that it is not, except for the kids who are still in school.  

I saw my first firefly last night, ripe strawberries in a school garden today, and then there are warmer-than-usual temperatures. Regardless of how you feel about it, we are bound to see more summer-like days in the coming weeks, even before the summer solstice on June 20, which happens to be the last day of school for most Alexandria City Public School students.

So, as you head out to the garden, coast along the bike trail, bask on the beach, soak up the sun at the pool at  or perch on the bleachers at a ball game, make sure that you’re covered.

Last year I wrote about my , in which I recommended a then-new iPhone app from the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research and advocacy group that aims "to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment." The app was designed to help consumers make informed choices when selecting sun-related skin protection products.  

One might think that things could not change so dramatically in just a year, but with new products on the market, new regulations, the results of new studies about sun damage and skin cancer and the like, a look at the new 2012 Sunscreen Guide is, indeed, in order. The fact that EWG just published it’s 6th annual guide, suggests that things do change sufficiently to warrant an annual update.

Last year, EWG recommended only 20 percent of the sunscreens that it tested. This year, that number is up to 25 percent of the 257 brands and more than 1,800 products that the group tested this year. The details of what changed and why are available in the full EWG report

It's not clear whether or not sunscreen actually prevents cancer. Although the Food and Drug Administration’s rules allow sunscreen marketers to advertise that their products can reduce risks associated with skin cancer and sun-related aging, there is insufficient evidence that sunscreen alone helps to reduce the risks. In fact, as the EWG explains, studies indicate that some people who use sunscreen have higher levels of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, though the cause is unclear. Some theories, include users over estimating the level of protection of the sunscreen because of high SPF numbers and/or improper insufficient application leading to over exposure. Or free radicals created by user’s bodies when the chemicals in the sunscreen are broken down in sunlight.

Amidst all of the contradictions and confusion, there is some agreement: the first line of defense should be protection. These tips shared in , still hold true:

  1. Wear clothing that provides the best skin coverage: long-sleeved shirts and long pants, if practical.
  2. Wear a hat that shades your face, ears and neck.
  3. Wear sunglasses that offer protection against UVA and UVB rays … as close to 100 percent as you can find. The Centers for Disease Control recommends wrap-around frames for maximum coverage. 
  4. Seek shade during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when UV exposure is highest. 

This, of course, must be balanced with our need for some sun, which our bodies need to produce vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Vitamin D deficiency, which has garnered a good deal of attentinon in recent years, has been linked to a myriad of maladies, including several types of cancer, depression and heart disease ... but that's another column!

Today, let's get set to be safe in the sun this summer.

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