We should talk. Did you know your lifetime odds for developing skin cancer are a whopping 1 in 5?
Treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers – melanoma is the most life-threatening form – jumped by almost 77 percent from 1992 to 2006. And even more startling: From 1970 to 2009, melanoma diagnosis increased by 800 percent in young women and 400 percent in young men.
Thankfully, regularly using sunscreen can slash that risk. And so can never, ever going anywhere near a tanning bed! But with store shelves packed with hundreds of brands of sunscreens in all kinds of formulations, choosing the right one can be downright confusing. Here’s how to stay safe in the sun this summer:
1. Choose a sunscreen with minerals: We’re concerned about chemical sunscreens with active ingredients that are absorbed into the skin and, in small amounts, into the bloodstream. Some act as endocrine disruptors, mimicking hormones in the body. We don’t know yet what the health effects could be, so play it safe. Look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both. These finely crushed minerals work by reflecting and scattering the sun’s ultraviolet rays like a protective shield. In contrast, other sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays, releasing the damaging energy as heat. Our top choice is zinc oxide because it’s best at blocking both UV-A rays, which harm cells deep in the skin, and UV-B rays, which cause sunburn.
2. Avoid chalky-looking skin: Go micronized. Like you, we prefer invisible protection over a thick white coating that’ll leave you looking like an extra from “Beach Blanket Bingo.” So buy a sunscreen containing micronized zinc oxide that won’t leave you looking smeary. (There is some concern that nanoparticles of zinc oxide, and also of titanium dioxide, allow for absorption into the skin, making these potential body pollutants. We’ll keep you informed as data emerges.)
3. SPF 30 is all you need: Higher sun protection factors offer little extra shielding. Staying in the sun too long because you think you’re covered could lead to skin damage.
4. Use plenty – and reapply: Most people skimp on sunscreen, missing out on full protection. The only protection your skin needs is an ounce (a shot glass worth) of SPF 30 micronized zinc oxide, spread thickly to cover all skin exposed when you’re wearing a bathing suit (it depends on your body size). Reapply, usually every two hours, or sooner if you’re swimming or sweating.
5. Dress to thwart the sun: Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants when gardening, strolling or sitting by the pool or shore. Tightly woven, dyed fabrics block more rays than gauzy or white materials. But since those rarely give more protection than SPF 6, consider using sun-guard clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 15 to 50. You also can wash sun protection into clothing with laundry additives containing the sunscreen Tinosorb.
6. Shade your face and peepers: Slap on a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. These protect delicate facial skin – which deserves a dose of sunscreen year-round – and eyes.
7. Take vitamin D-3 and omega-3 DHA: It’s true that well-protected skin misses out on the sun exposure your body needs to produce vitamin D. But that’s no reason to go outdoors unprotected. A daily vitamin D-3 supplement assures you of a year-round supply of this important vitamin. The sun’s rays are too weak to make sufficient D year-round in the northern half of the U.S. and Canada, anyway. Aim for 1,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily.
Meanwhile, dig into salmon or wild trout twice a week, or get 900 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA from a daily algal oil supplement. One reason sunshine harms skin is that it suppresses the immune system. A new report reveals omega-3 DHA keeps immunity strong, even when you’re playing in the summer sun.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.