Sunscreen, health and the environment


Summer this year was absolutely beautiful. I get so much life running through my veins (wink wink Robbie) when I dig my toes in the sand, hear the sound of the sea and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. Nothing beats that. Well, except that I live in Switzerland, so let me paint another picture. Up in the mountains, on a 360° panoramic view of peaks, emerald lakes, green valleys with wild flowers, the sound of wind and occasional cow bells. And high above, the sun. There are so many health benefits for us to bask in the sunshine all year round, but in the same time the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can be harmful to our skin. There are two types of UV rays that reach us : - UVA (about 95% of the UV rays reaching the Earth's surface) have a longer wavelength that can penetrate the middle layer of our skin, they can cause skin cells to age and can cause some indirect damage to cells’ DNA. UVA rays are present all year round, at any time of the day, and can penetrate through glass (meaning we are exposed through windows). - UVB (about 5% of the UV rays reaching the Earth's surface) have a short wavelength that reaches the outer layer of our skin, and have slightly more energy than UVA rays. They can damage the DNA in skin cells directly, are the main rays that cause sunburns, and are thought to cause most skin cancers. But they are also the ones that trigger vitamin D production in our skin, an essential vitamin to our health.

So, how do we enjoy our days in the sun and stay healthy in the same time? As with most things in life, through balance. In order to get the daily dose of vitamin D, experts recommend to spend 10 to 15 minutes in the early morning sunlight, when the UV exposure may be less damaging to the skin. They also recommend that we seek shade on hot days between 10 am and 4 pm (when UV is most intense), protect our skin with clothing, wear sunglasses and wide brim hats. As for the rest of our time in the sunlight, when it's hot outside, it is recommended that we wear sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours, or whenever washed or wiped off. There's a variety of sunscreen available on the market. Which one do we choose? The SPF is a measure of the amount of protection we get from only the sun's UVB rays. In general, a sunscreen with: - SPF 2 blocks 50 percent of UVB rays - SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays A sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA is labeled: broad spectrum. UVA rays are always present, even on cloudy and winter days, therefore if you want your skin protected at all times, you should use sunscreen on the exposed skin (mostly the face) on those days too.

There are several filters allowed for use in sunscreen. - Two of them, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are worldwide classified as generally recognized as safe and effective for use in sunscreens at concentrations of up to 25 percent. - Aminobenzoic acid and trolamine salicylate would be classified as not safe for use in sunscreen as the risks posed by these ingredients outweigh their benefits. - As for the rest, there is limite