Everything under the sun

What you need to know about sun, sunburns, and sunscreens.

Beach day essentials: protective clothing, wide brimmed hats, and at least 30 SPF mechanical sunscreen. —Angelina Godbout

Summer is here, and it’s offering up plenty of beach days, bike rides, and sunny skies. But there are a number of caveats that come with the Vineyard high season. In addition to ticks, traffic, bug bites, and overpriced items, Islanders and tourists need to be wary of getting too much sun. 

The sun uplifts our moods and replenishes our vitamin D, but it can cause damage that goes beyond a sunburn or premature aging. Too much sun can have long-term effects on our skin and health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), tanned skin is damaged skin. We want a little sun exposure for vitamin D protection, “but too much sun increases the risk of skin cancer,” according to the CDC website. Skin cancer rates have soared all over the world, and it’s important to shield ourselves from harmful UV rays. These rays penetrate through the clouds and windows. Remember, “Rays today, raisins tomorrow.”

So what are some ways we can protect our skin? If you’re out in the sun, use mineral-based sunscreen. Chemical sunscreens are harmful to our health and environment, and research suggests they can lead to cancer, and destroy ocean reefs. According to National Geographic, “the world’s coral reefs are suffering, and chemicals commonly found in sunscreen contribute to the problem.” The Sierra Club reported that 90 percent of sunscreens are taking a serious toll on the environment, contributing to the bleaching and inevitable death of coral.

If chemicals in sunscreens are bleaching ocean life, imagine what they might be doing to our bodies. Look out for brands that are labeled “reef-safe” or “mineral-based.” Read labels so you and your family can make an informed choice. 

Fast facts 

Did you know 64 percent of what we put on our skin can be absorbed into our bloodstream? Avoiding chemicals in products is important for long-term health.

SPF is short for sun protection factor. The rating you see on your sunscreen refers to the proportion of blocked UV rays. (Note: If there is SPF in your daily moisturizer, the protective number is really cut in half, as it is mixed with cream and other ingredients. It is best to use this kind of moisturizer as a base, but not as your main sunscreen. Sunscreen should be the last thing you put on your skin.)

Babies six months and older should wear sunscreen. Their skin is too delicate for sunscreens under that age. Zinc oxide–based sunscreen is preferred for babies. Keep babies in the shade and in protective clothing, with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Driving without sunscreen can lead to burns. UV rays can penetrate windows and reach you in your car. Apply sunscreen before leaving the house, or cover your left arm with protective clothing.

Medications and even essential oils can cause photosensitivity. Read labels and wear extra layers or higher SPF if your medication makes your skin extra-sensitive to sun exposure.  

As we age, our skin becomes thinner, and is even more susceptible to sun damage. 

All skin tones need to be protected. Darker skin has more melanin, and is naturally better protected, but can still get burned and damaged by the sun. 

Timely tips
Choose a mineral-based (also known as mechanical) sunscreen with natural ingredients, rather than a chemical-based product.

Choose a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, with at least 30 SPF.

 Apply liberally.

 Use daily, even in the shade, and in the winter months.

 Apply 30 minutes before sun exposure for best absorption.

Don’t miss crucial spots, like the ears, feet, and back of the knees.

Reapply every two hours, especially if swimming or sweating. 

Stay out of the sun when the rays are strongest, from 10 am to 2 pm.

Recommended brands: Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Thinksport Natural Sunscreen SPF 50, Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection, Badger Clear Zinc SPF 30, Jason, and Dr. Hauschka. Products can be found at Stop & Shop, Cronig’s, Healthy Additions, Conroy’s Apothecary, Vineyard Scripts, and other local stores.

Treating sunburns: Soak in a cool tub with apple cider vinegar. Stay hydrated, and drink lots of water. Avoid anything with chemicals or fragrance on the skin. Apply organic coconut oil. Natural “clear” aloe vera gel is also healing and cooling.

Recipe: Homemade sunburn relief

2 Tbsp. avocado oil
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
¼ cup clear aloe vera gel
2 Tbsp. witch hazel extract
10 drops lavender essential oil

Mix well and apply liberally as needed. Always try to use organic ingredients.

Suzanne Roberage is a Licensed Master Aesthetician, and the owner of Martha’s Vineyard Skin Care Co. (marthasvineyardskincareco.com).