Sun Smarts

Independence Day! Freedom! Free to take a three-day weekend! Free to rent an over-priced summerhouse at the shore! And free to hit the beach, strip down to your teeny bikini (or banana hammock) and roast your flesh like a lobster! It’s not the best idea, but hey – it’s a free country. That holiday weekend sunburn will certainly put the red into your red, white and blue celebration.

Images from my Visia Skin Analysis. Add to that, a big fat "thank you" to my 80's tanning bed habit.

Images from my Visia Skin Analysis. Add to that, a big fat “thank you” to my 80’s tanning bed habit.

We spend summer days hanging out at the pool, the beach and the park, and typically get burned. That’s because beyond the obligatory schmear of generic sunscreen, most of us aren’t really practicing “safe sun”.
Sunburns are painful, last a few days and then they’re done…..or are they? Long after the burn is gone, deep layers of skin retain the horrific damage that has been done….and it’s not pretty.


According to The Skin Cancer Foundation:

* Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

* Five sunburns double your risk of melanoma.

* One American dies of melanoma every hour.

It can happen to anybody. So, before playing Beach Blanket Bingo with your skin, make sure you know what you are up against and practice safe sun!


Know your UV-ABC’s. The UV radiation alphabet is easy to remember.

UVA: Always and Aging

Always a concern – penetrate pretty much anything including clouds, clothes and windows. Damage occurs to the deep layer of skin, resulting in sun damage to ‘future skin’, and premature aging.

UVB: Burn

Blame burns on UVB. Damage occurs to the superficial layer of the skin.

UVC: Cancelled

Don’t worry about UVC, it is cancelled out and absorbed by the ozone and atmosphere.


You and the UVI

The UV Index (ultraviolet radiation index) primarily measures UVB radiation. The scale is intended to help you protect yourself from the sun’s radiation; avoid burning or bursting into flames. The UVI can change during the day depending on time and location. It’s color coded too!

App happy? The UV Meter app is easy to use and specific. It gives you the UVI for your exact location, and also provides indicated precautions for garment coverage, sunblock SPF and burn times.

The Skinny on Sunscreen

Nothing provides 100% protection. Period. That said, SPF ratings refer to UVB protection only. Note that above SPF 30, there is little difference in the amount of protection you get. SPF 70 and 100 frankly don’t block many more photons than SPF 30 or 45. Mostly, they confuse people – so much so that the FDA plans to cap off SPF ratings at SPF 50.


UVA protection: What’s up with that?

“Broad Spectrum” sunscreens block both UVA and UVB. The FDA has proposed a ”four-star” UVA rating system coming soon that will accurately inform consumers of the exact kind of protection they are using.

Sample of UVA four-star system

If you are unsure of the UVA protection in your sunscreen, checking the label for certain ingredients is key. However, two ingredients you should be careful with are: Avobenzone which breaks down easily, and Oxybenzone which is associated with nasty allergic reactions.

Two over the counter broad-spectrum sunscreens with amazing track records are:

Neutrogena Helioplex Therapy – with Helioplex

La Roche-Posay Anthelios – with Mexoryl

Straight up zinc oxide is my personal fav – the white version, cuz I can see exactly where I put it.


Sunny Smarts:

~ Use a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen.

~ Use two tablespoons of sunscreen to cover your entire body.

~ Use at least SPF 15,…ideally SPF 30 if you plan to be outside for a while.

~ Apply first application 30 minutes before going outside.

~ Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.

~ Don’t forget your lips – lip balms with SPF 15 all day everyday, no matter what.

~ Spray bottles are user-friendly but do not provide good coverage – go with a pump!

NOTE: Kiddies under six months old should stay out of the sun, the skin of a newborn is way too sensitive for sunscreen application.


Accessorize to Prevent Crispy Thighs

Sunglasses: Bigger is better. Year round protection for your peepers is an absolute must, plus you’ll look so kewl. No kidding, your Ray-Bans may be the only thing that stands between your eyes and cataracts, macular degeneration, or corneal burns. Yowza! Make sure your shades have 100% UV-protection – check the label!

Hat: No berets or visors! A wide brim of two or three inches is ideal, to cover the scalp, face, ears, and neck. Sorry, but baseball caps won’t cut it. They protect the face and scalp but leave the neck and ears exposed – which are high risk areas.

Shirt: Don’t assume your shirt is blocking out the sun. FYI that plain white cotton T-shirt has an SPF of 7, getting that shirt wet takes the SPF to 3! Sun protective clothes are the best option if you’re  spending a lot of time in the sun. The same goes for beach umbrellas and tents – tightly woven sun safe fabrics are the only way to ensure a true UV safe zone.

UV Swag: I tried the Sunfriend wristband with various features like programing in skin type, blah blah blah – meh. It entailed too much fussing.

Then I found these fab new GotSPF UV wristbands. They change color when exposed to UV light. Pure genius! The easy to notice color change is the perfect simple reminder to apply sunscreen – easy peasy! Check them out at Love it!

Oops! Charbroiled Bum?

Feeling the burn can be pure agony. Rarely do sunburns require medical intervention, but there are some situations when it is necessary.

Seek medical attention for:

~ High fevers – could indicate heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

~ Small children with severe burns – risk of dehydration.

~ Extremely large blisters to delicate areas such as face, genitals, and palms of hands or sole of feet (any nude beach novice can tell you that badly burned nether regions are bad news).


Sadly, the sun literally cooks protein out of skin. Nice, huh? If Grandma’s magic salve doesn’t ease the pain, there are other strategies you can try….

Basic Remedies:

~ Drink plenty of fluids.

~ Try Ibuprofen for pain and inflammation.

~ Take cool baths.

~ Apply moisturizer, a lot.

~ Stay out of the sun until the burn resolves.

DIY Home Remedy Recipes:

~ Add four cups of whole milk to your bath. The protein provides a protective protein rich film that soothes skin.

~ Cool compresses (use a face towel or washcloth) soaked in either1) ¼ cup vinegar and 1 cup water 2) 2 cups whole milk or 3) 2 cups earl grey or green tea; apply compress to burn for ten minutes. Any one of these compresses should help calm inflammation and may be repeated frequently.

~ Raw potato minced and applied as a poultice for 20min. Again, it’s a protein film thing.

~ Coconut oil (raw) applied to area before bed has been known to do wonders.

~ Lastly, always popular aloe vera can be taken one step further: freeze aloe vera gel in an ice cube tray and apply cubes to sooth burn as needed….very Pinterest-ish!

This year in the United States, it is estimated that 76,000 people will be diagnosed with invasive melanoma, and another estimated 6,400 men and 3,200 women will die from melanoma – according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The good news is that the five-year survival rate with early detection is 95%. DO SKIN CHECKS!

For more information about sun safety visit The Skin Cancer Foundation, Melanoma Research Foundation,  and American Academy of Dermatology.

Please remember:

Do monthly skin checks on yourself, ask your honey or a friend to check your back.

Get yearly full body skin checks with a dermatologist – find free skin exams here.

Limit time in the sun between 10am and 4pm.

and always USE SUNSCREEN!


It’s a free country, and that’s saying something. So go on, let your freedom flag fly, feel free to enjoy your time in the great outdoors, and remember to use sun smarts!