It’s summer for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Canada, the United States and France are celebrating our national holidays in the next couple of weeks. The great vacation migrations have begun.

Did you pack your sunscreen and big, dark glasses and big, floppy hat along with your swimsuit, funky flip flops and adorable beaded sarong to take to the beach?

Do you remember to use them every day while gardening, travelling between home and office, or for running to the store?

Are you heeding the warnings about sun damage and using lots of sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds?

I didn’t want to write what is fast becoming my “annual sunscreen rant”. But from some of the threads and discussions here at, I fear that many of you are still putting yourselves at risk for skin cancer and premature sun damage. For example:

“I started to tan again on Friday and then did it again on Saturday. Apparently the place just put in new bulbs cause my butt is way red and it hurts so bad I nearly started to cry in the shower.”

“I still think getting some base color so I don’ burn for a week straight is a lot safer then just showing up all fresh and new and frying all my skin off.”

Let’s be clear about this right up front — getting a tan, ANY tan, from any source, means that your skin is damaged. And it will NOT offer you any protection from getting a burn. You are still at risk for possibly developing skin cancer.

Recent studies indicate that skin cancer rates are climbing. Many people have misinterpreted this data to mean that sunscreens don’t work. This is a myth. Sunscreen doesn’t work because most people don’t use enough of it properly.

Take a one-ounce shot glass like those used in a bar to measure alcohol. Fill it up to the brim with broad-spectrum sunscreen; preferably with a sun protection factor of 30, which blocks about 95% of radiation.

That is the MINIMUM amount you should be using when you will be out in the sun. Apply it evenly over ALL exposed skin, 15 to 20 minutes before going outside.

If you are going to be swimming or doing any activity that will make you sweat in the summer’s heat, choose a waterproof or water-resistant formula and make sure you reapply sunscreen after towelling off.

Another recurrent myth I’ve seen in the CurlTalk forums:

“If you use the Bare Minerals makeup, that works as sunscreen.”

Bare Minerals claims an SPF of 15 for their foundation, while Jane Iredale claims SPF 20. Neither Aromaleigh nor Glo Minerals state an SPF for their foundations, though each company states that they offer “broad spectrum” protection.

But, as I point out often, do you put your foundation EVENLY all over your face, neck and ears?

Don’t rely on your foundation, mineral or otherwise, to provide you with protection from the sun.

That phrase “broad spectrum” is also important. The SPF ratings on most products only measure protection from UVB radiation, the type that causes sunburn. UVA radiation is the deeply penetrating type that causes aging. Look for a product that protects against both types of radiation. The Coppertone Spectra sunscreens with micronized zinc offer this type of protection, as does Neutrogena’s new Ultra Sheer with Helioplex.

Consider your clothing options too. Rit, the company that makes fabric dyes to use at home, manufactures a product called Sun Guard that treats fabric with a compound called Tinosorb. It offers an SPF of 30 for up to 20 washings. This product is available directly from the company website for American consumers only.

The colour of your clothing also makes a difference. In a Consumer Reports article on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation website last month, it was reported that blue clothing is five times more effective than white clothing at blocking UV rays, because blue absorbs more light.

In the May 2006 issue of Allure magazine, in a special section called “Sun & Skin S.O.S”, is an article called “The Book of My Body” by Katherine Harrison. Harrison developed malignant melanoma at the age of 25 after spending her teen years baking herself in the sun. While her diagnosis was made 20 years ago, a study published last summer in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that skin cancer rates are rising at an alarming rate in women under the age of 40. The researchers from the Mayo Clinic In Rochester, Minnesota found that rates for basal cell carcinoma tripled between 1976 and 2003, and that the rates for squamous cell carcinoma quadrupled during the same period.*

And a study at Dartmouth Medical School published in the British Medical Journal last September found an alarming increase in rates of melanoma in Medicare users in the US between 1986 and 2001.*

While basal cell and squamous cancers are not as serious as melanoma, if left untreated, they can be disfiguring or fatal.

I’m going to offer one more post from another CurlTalker. Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to meet a young woman that I have “known” here for the 7 years that she and I have been members. When posting about our meeting, I remarked that she seemed more like my sister than my daughter, even though I am old enough to be her mother. This was her reply:

“I seemed more like a sister than a daughter because she LOOKS SO YOUNG!!! Everyone here should listen to her sunblock advice — it’s working 100% for her!”

Sun exposure is what ages our skin. Don’t spend $100 buying a jar of some new “miracle” product to reverse sun damage. Spend $10 on a bottle of sunscreen and use it properly to prevent the damage in the first place. With the other $90 buy a great hat and fabulous sun glasses and some Sun Guard to wash into your clothes.

Enjoy the summer safely! For more information:

*Citations: JAMA, August 10, 2005; 294: 681-690 / BMJ 2005; 331:481 (3 September”>

Cozy Friedman

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