Be Sun-Smart and Safe When Out in the Sun

health care self care tips Jul 25, 2018

With the Fourth of July well behind us, we really are in the thick of summertime. That means you’re likely spending more time outside, in the sun. For the most part, that is a really good thing. Being outside is so good for our physical and emotional health, but it isn’t without its risks. That is why it important to be sun-smart and safe when out in the sun!


Prolonged sun exposure damages our skin, increasing the risk for sunburn, thereby increasing our risk for skin cancer. But being in the sun can help boost our moods, and also helps the body produce Vitamin D. So how do we get the best of both worlds? How do we spend time outside reaping the benefits while minimizing the risks?

Well, generally speaking 9:00am – 3:00pm are the peak hours of daylight, making it typically the hottest part of the day, as well as the time of day when UV rays are the strongest and most likely to damage your skin. You can use weather apps to monitor UV risk; there’s even a website & free app called UVLens that breaks down the UV index and individual risk hourly based on information you provide on your skin and location.

Staying inside from 9:00am – 3:00pm is a lot to ask though, especially if you’re TRYING to spend more time outside. There are still plenty of ways to be outside safely during those hours though. Being in the shade when possible, wearing sun protective clothing (clothing & hats with UPF in them that are designed to block UVA & UVB rays when worn properly), and of course, sunscreen are all ways to minimize the risks of being in the sun. But what kind of sunscreen is best (and safest)?

There are two types of sunscreen really: physical (mineral) sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.

Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate (among others). They work by creating a chemical reaction that converts the UV rays from the sun into heat, which is released from the skin. These chemicals have been found to be toxic to the body. They are commonly used in lotion and spray form due to their ease of application. Since the chemicals are toxic though, there is the risk for skin irritation and other undesirable effects.

So what are physical sunscreens then? Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients (typically zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, zinc oxide is preferred though) that sit on top of the skin to block the UV rays. They are less likely to irritate sensitive skin or clog pores, are safe, and they typically have a long shelf life. They also last longer on the skin than chemical sunscreens, to an extent. Physical sunscreens are more likely to lose effectiveness when the skin becomes sweaty or wet, so diligent reapplication is a must (but isn’t that really necessary regardless?). Other ingredients in a sunscreen aside from the active mineral ingredients can be harmful to the body, so you still have to be careful when choosing a brand.

For those of you who skip sunscreen for Vitamin D production, sunscreen does not inhibit the body’s process of creating Vitamin D, and research has yet to correlate Vitamin D deficiency with sunscreen use. So while there are many reasons people do not have proper Vitamin D levels, wearing sunscreen is apparently not one of them.

Ok, so let’s sum this all up (and I may throw in some brief additional info):

  • Being outside is good for us.
  • You SHOULD wear some sort of sun protection when outside. Whether in the form of UPF clothing and hats or sunscreen, it is important. Even on cloudy days! (UV rays can be very strong without direct sunshine.)
    9:00am – 3:00pm is the part of the day when sun protection is most important.
  • Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients (zinc oxide being the primary one) that sit on top of the skin and block UV rays.
  • Chemical sunscreens create a chemical reaction on the skin, converting UV rays into heat.
  • Physical sunscreens are safer than chemical sunscreens, but some brands still add harmful chemicals with the natural ingredients. (Definitely do your research – that blog post linked above has some really helpful information in choosing a safe & effective sunscreen).
  • Going above SPF 50 does not increase the effectiveness of the sunscreen. Research shows that SPF 30-50 is perfectly sufficient.
    Don’t forget to re-apply!

Happy summer (to my Northern Hemisphere friends anyway)! Have fun, and don’t forget to be sun-smart!