What happens when you tan or sunburn? A tan is your first line of defense against the sun. Skin damage releases melanin, which in turn increases skin pigmentation, i.e. skin gets darker. While this does provide some protection, this level of protection is only about SPF 3. Once the level of skin damage begins to cause cell death, an inflammatory process increases bloodflow to the area, resulting in the warm, red appearance of a sunburn. Tanning is more of a chronic damage whereas sunburn is more of an acute damage. Even if you aren’t worried about the increased risk of skin cancer associated with this damage, do you really want to look like Magda from there’s something about Mary? Skin damage from the sun is a BIG contributor to aging.
Don’t I have to get all of my Vitamin D from the sun? While Vitamin D is important for bone and immune health, not all of it has to come from the sun. Eggs, milk, and fish are important sources of dietary Vitamin D, and in fact, dietary intake can provide adequate levels of Vitamin D without the need for excessive sun exposure or additional supplements.
How should I put on my sunscreen and what kind should I use? Sunscreen should generally be applied about an hour before sun exposure, and you should be using a lot more than you probably think. For the face alone, a nickel-size amount is appropriate, but for the entire body, a shot glass-sized amount (a full ounce) is necessary. Also, don’t forget to reapply frequently, every 1-2 hours, to prevent sunburn.
As for the type of sunscreen, SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks about 97%, and SPF 50 blocks about 98%. Mineral sunscreen are typically more effective than chemical sunscreens. Another benefit of mineral sunscreens is that they don’t contain ingredients like oxybenzone or octinoxate that can be harmful to coral and ocean ecosystems.
If you’re absolutely against sunscreen, there are certain clothing lines geared toward SPF protection. Some long-sleeved shirts, pants and hats can also be effective protection against the sun, but remember that any area of exposed skin will still be vulnerable to UV damage.
So, should you hide in the shade all summer? Not necessarily. There’s evidence that some sun exposure may trigger release of nitric oxide and in turn lower blood pressure, but at the same time, there’s no sense in burning until you become a California raisin either. As with most things, moderation is probably key. Apply your sunscreen and don’t get sunburned, but go outside and have some fun, too. It’ll be snowing again before you know it.