Sun Protection Basics for Recreating in the Colorado High Country

sunThink of aging and the effects of free-radical damage (oxidation) simply, as browning.

You see it happen to apples when exposed to air and you see it with oils (they go rancid more quickly if they are exposed to light, heat, etc) as they become more and more yellow, then brown. You see it in humans as brown spots. Eventually, the little brown spots start to bunch and you have an “age spot” or other observable aging in the skin.

Defend against browning!

Defense #1
Your first defense against this “browning” is anti-oxidants. They have this wonderful ability to counter the effects of free radicals and the damage (browning) they cause. The more antioxidants you can expose your skin and body to in general, the less browning (read: “aging”) you will have and the more healthy and youthful your skin will appear. Consuming organic vegetables regularly is a great way to protect your whole body from free-radical damage, as they are loaded with anti-oxidative vitamins, bioflavonoids, and minerals.

Using vitamins topically, especially Vitamins A, C and E, effectively counters the effects of free-radicals, as well as supporting the collagen and elastin production in the skin, which reduces the onset and further development of fine lines and deep wrinkles caused by photo-damage.

Defense #2
Your second defense against browning/aging in the skin is daily sun protection, especially in high altitude environments like Summit County.

There are 3 types of UV sunrays. Think of them this way: UVA– causes Aging is it effects the deeper layers of our skin and takes longer for the damage to surface, UVB– causes Burning, which damages the skin but in more superficial ways which eventually shows up as photo damage as well, and UVC– cause Cancer, which clearly is not a good type of sun ray.

We are exposed to the browning rays (UVA-aging) while we sit in our cars, on gondolas and even in our homes through the glass. Those types of glass do not filter out UVA rays so the more often you have sun-blocks on your skin, the less exposure and browning you will have. Starting your day with a moisturizer that has sun protection, and/or using a mineral foundation are a couple of ways you can incorporate sun protection without adding time to your daily routine.

Sun protection ingredients

There is currently much confusion over the types of sun protection ingredients. It can be simplified into what is toxic and what is not.

It can be further simplified by categorizing into what ingredients block and all three types of damaging UV rays and which ingredients do not. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are natural ingredients and reflect the suns rays thereby blocking the entire spectrum of UV rays and are also completely nontoxic. Additionally, they are non-comedogenic (do not clog pores), nonallergenic, nonirritating and Zinc Oxide has the added benefit of being anti-inflammatory.

More commonly though, you will find sun screens using chemicals in the “-zone” and “-ate” families, such as octinoxate, octicinnamate, oxybenzone, and avobenzone. These chemicals do not reflect, but absorb the UV radiation energy, which is usually released as free radicals as they absorb into the body and only offer screening of UVB and some UVA rays. These chemicals are linked to increased cancer rates, hormone imbalances, dysfunctions in sexual development and function as well as birth defects because of their estrogen-like effects.

So what does one do when recreating, sporting and otherwise enjoying the beautiful outdoor playground of Colorado to minimize sun damage and free radical exposure?

In an ideal world, you would cover yourself head to toe with a product containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, vitamins, and anti oxidants every day before outdoor play or everyday living (such as Sanitas’ Solar Block ;).

In the real world, you do the best you can.

Protect your face and other vulnerable, thin-skinned areas of the body with a good block with anti oxidants such as Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. For the rest of the body, an alternative would be to use a sweat resistant, water resistant spray-on sunscreen with an SPF of 15 and reapply appropriately (the chemicals absorb less in a spray-on versus a lotion).

The higher the SPF, the higher the toxicity and you only get about 2% more sun protection as you go from an SPF 15 (95%) to an SPF 30(97%). Keep in mind that the toxicity levels at an SPF 50 or higher is at an astounding 99-100% toxicity with only 1-2% more protection than lower SPF numbers!

Also consider this for perspective: if you normally burn in 10 minutes without sun protection, using an SPF 15 product on your body would give you 150 minutes of sun protection before you need to reapply. That’s over 2 hours! How hard is it to reapply in 2 hours, especially with the spray-on screen products?

An SPF of 50 would give the same person 500 minutes (8 hours!) of protection before they would need to reapply, but at the expense of 99.6% toxicity exposure.

Another consideration for perspective is that sun-protection products with these chemicals in them are required by the FDA to label as them as “unsuitable for children under the age of 6 months” because of toxicity levels. All of that being said, for adults if the situation requires the use of “screen” types of sun protection over “block” types, use the lowest number possible to be protected, reapply accordingly, and please wash them off as soon as you are out of the sun.

Remember, this is the skin you live in and you only get one set!

Consuming and using anti oxidants combined with sensible skin protection is the key to healthy, beautiful skin and balanced bodies.

Let’s live, play, and enjoy the sun and outdoors of Colorado sensibly so we can continue to recreate for decades to come.

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