Sun Exposure – Good or Bad?
Sun, Sand and Sea – How to Enjoy Safely All Year Round
Thinking of a relaxing vacation? Or better yet, are you dreaming of living near the water? Spain is a culture that loves the sun, sand and sangria. Ever wonder why people are not as depressed if they spend time outdoors?
In Mallorca, we have over 300 days of sunshine a year. Most people think of sun exposure damage only happening in the summer, but whether you walk to your car, take a swim or a hike - you are exposed to its radiation year-round. While this is great for mental health and sexy tan, the sun is a fickle lover that can burn you, leaving you with skin cancers and eye damage.
The sun's ultraviolent (UV) radiation from the sun is invisible and potentially deadly. It passes through your skin and damages your cells. While we might think we look more attractive and feel better with a bronzed skin, sunburns and tans are actually a sign of dermatological damage.
The challenge is that we need some sun for good mental and physical health: The eye is the only major organ, other than the skin, that is directly exposed to sunlight and through it we "harvest" the vitamin D3 the human body needs for healthy bones and good mental health: People who live in the Nordic countries are recommended to take Vitamin D supplements. Here in Mallorca, we get Vitamin D for free the natural way.
What’s the risk? #
According to MD Anderson Center in Madrid, more than 5,000 people in Spain were diagnosed with melanoma in 2015. Experts expect that number to rise here by 10% a year for the next 20 years. “The good news is,” says Dr. Pilar Lopez Criado, Medical Oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, “that this increase in incidence does not translate into an increase in mortality due to the greater number of diagnoses.” Melanoma takes about 20 years to develop after continued exposure to the sun so an ounce of prevention is good medicine.
Protect yourself #
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat
- Stay out of the direct sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Use SPF 15 or higher sunscreen
- Wear light colored protective clothing
- Never use sunlamps or tanning beds
- Always wear wraparound sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection when outdoors
- Take an umbrella to the beach or pool. Rent one if you don’t own one. The price is worth it and most beaches – except for Formentor – are affordable.
- Make sure to cover the tops of your feet, too. Flip flops leave your feet exposed Ouch.
- Take all the suggestions above and make them requirements if you have children with you. Children must be protected when outdoors.
The Eyes Have It #
Extended exposure to the sun's UV rays has been linked to eye damage, including cataracts, macular degeneration, and other conditions that can cause temporary vision loss. If you have another chronic condition that causes dry eye syndrome, the sunlight can be super painful. The best over-the-counter eye lubricant I have found is Bepanthol. This is available at any Farmacia and worth its weight in gold for instant relief. Remember to use the lubricant and then wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. They will protect you and create the aura of movie-star. Enjoy the looks you get.
Best Lotions and Potions #
Pre-Sun Treatment: I spent buckets of money on sunscreens and oils. What happened? I would get a rash or itchy redness once I went out into the sun because I would have photo-allergic reaction or contact dermatitis, meaning that the sunscreen product in combination with UVA/B rays caused me to develop an allergic reaction. Turns out this is common and might happen to you, too.
Look to avoid these ingredients: Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), the most widely used UVA blocking agent, is the most common cause of sunscreen-induced photo-allergic contact dermatitis. Other sunscreen agents known to induce photo-allergic reactions are the benzophenones, cinnamates, and dibenzoylmethanes. Look for ones with the fewest added ingredients. Try to avoid fragrances. Although rarely used these days, always avoid PABA-containing products.
Use these ingredients: Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are inorganic filters which have excellent coverage for UVA1, UVA2 and UVB. I suggest either one or a combination of these ingredients, as they will offer broad-spectrum protection with minimal irritation, sensitization, and skin penetration.
Post-Sun Treatment: Aloe. This is by far the best treatment for a burn AFTER you cover yourself with apple cider vinegar. Either take a bath in 2 cups vinegar to a tub of cool to lukewarm water or use cotton balls and slather straight vinegar all over your burned parts. Apple cider vinegar takes out the sting of a burn and cools the skin. It also will leave you with a beautiful tan, if you are not so blistered you peel. Cucumber is also a good remedy if you do get blistered.
Last Thought #
The Sun exacerbates the effects of alcohol. Not only will you dry out your skin but you will get seriously dehydrated and be at extreme risk of heat stroke. You need to drink plenty of water when out in the sun. If you don’t drink enough water, you may notice symptoms of dizziness, headache and nausea. To prevent this, just make sure you have at least a litter of water with you at all times.
I’ve come a long way from baby oil and iodine of my youth with lemon to streak my brunette hair to olive oil in my early years in Mallorca to taking care to protect my body with sunscreens. I hope to avoid more damage. If I do end up in trouble, I just noticed that my health insurance by Sanitas has coverage for MD Anderson Madrid. At least I will be able to get good medical care in the event I suffer from the naivety of my youth.
Photo credit: Shutterstock