Don't Poison Yourself This Memorial Day

This weekend, millions of American will lather themselves with toxic chemicals...

Memorial Day weekend is the official start to the summer here in the U.S... with pools and beaches opening for summer across the country.

If you're like most Americans, you'll want to protect your skin while you enjoy the sunshine. And you should...

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, with 5 million new cases each year.

The most common cause of skin cancer is the sun. So most folks think they're protecting themselves when they slather on sunscreen. And people think that when it comes to the sun protection factor ("SPF") of sunscreens, 100 is better than 30... and way better than "8."

But the opposite is true. The higher the number, the more risk you're taking with toxic chemicals.

Sunscreen is full of nanoparticles – chemicals which several lab studies have shown to cause hemorrhaging and birth defects in fish and mice. Many sunscreens also contain oxybenzone, which causes cancer with light exposure (in other words, exactly when folks use sunscreens).

And sunscreen chemicals seep into your bloodstream. According to a study just released in JAMA, the chemicals in sunscreen get into your bloodstream after just one use. The concentration of those chemicals increases with regular application and stay for up to 24 hours.

Too much sun exposure increases the likelihood of getting certain skin cancers. It also wrinkles and discolors the skin, making us look older.

But remember... sun exposure is vital to good health. Vitamin D produced by the body from sunlight is critical in preventing diseases such as multiple sclerosis and depression.

There are ways to protect your skin without lathering on the chemicals...

Four Ways to Stay Safe in the Sun

1. Know your skin type.

An important first step to protecting your skin from too much sun is to figure out your skin type. The best method is to use a simple guide called the Fitzpatrick Skin Type system. The questionnaire breaks down into genetic components (your eye color, hair color, etc.) and reactivity (how quickly you burn). By adding up the points you receive, you then determine your skin type. It ranges from Type I (you always burn) to Type VI (never burn).

Your skin type helps determine how long you can be in the sun until you start to burn. The lighter you are, the more quickly you will burn. You can figure out your type right here.

But just because you rate as an easy burner doesn't mean you should ladle on the sunblock... A much better option is managing your exposure – covering your skin and minimizing time outside when the sun is strongest.

For example, if you have Type I or Type II skin, going outside without sunblock and with arms and legs exposed for about 10 minutes is enough to produce all the vitamin D you need. You can calculate it more in depth with something called the UV index.

2. Know the UV index.

A good way to measure sun exposure is to look at the UV index. It tells you how strong UV radiation is during the day. You can search by zip code here on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website. For days when it's very high, staying inside or in the shade is a safer option, particularly for seniors and those who burn quickly.

You can use the UV index to calculate the "standard erythemal dose" (SED). This is the amount of sun needed to produce enough vitamin D.

To calculate a single unit, take your local UV index level and divide 60 minutes by that number. So as of this writing, the UV index in Baltimore is 8. That means we get seven-and-a-half minutes. That's one SED.

Then, find your skin type and figure out how much time you need to spend without sunscreen. If you're "very fair" or about a I or II on the Fitzpatrick scale, that means you need 1 to 2 SEDs, or about seven to 14 minutes.

Here's a basic guide from Consumer Reports:

3. Don't waste money on high SPFs.

Sunscreens with SPF eight block 87% of UVB rays (the ones that burn your skin). SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93%. SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 100 sunscreens block 99%.

So you are slathering on more toxic concentration for only marginally better protection if you use SPF 100 versus SPF 30.

And despite that high SPF, you're still not protected against UVA rays, which reach deeper levels of skin and increase your risk of developing certain types of skin cancer.

I prefer using SPF 8 when I can... It takes me about 20 minutes before I burn in strong sunlight, so with SPF 8, I get 160 minutes of protection. That's my burn rate (20 minutes) times the SPF (8).

And if your concern is skin cancer, make sure your sunscreen protects against UVA rays. UVA rays damage our DNA because they penetrate deeper. These are the ones that also cause you to tan. If you want to protect against them, look for a broad-range sunscreen (one that protects against UVA and UVB).

4. Use common sense.

When I go out for longer than my usual lunchtime walk, I practice common sense to avoid damage. For instance, I avoid going out too long between about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the hottest part of the summer or on very sunny days.

What's more, if you do go out then, wear hats – particularly wide-brimmed ones. That helps protect the sensitive parts of your face, ears, and neck. Invest in cover-ups, hats, and light jackets for the summer, too. Some companies like Sunday Afternoons even make sun-protective swim shirts.

And always wear sunglasses. Sun exposure damages your eyes and promotes the development of cataracts.

Also, if you have a family history of skin cancer, take extra precautions. That includes checking yourself for skin cancer and going every few years for a skin cancer screening. Make sure you keep an eye on any strange moles and marks. You can read up on the "ABCDE" signs of skin cancer right here.

Getting vitamin D from sunlight is the most effective way to get your daily amount. Don't become part of this Indoor Generation... Take the proper precautions and get outside and enjoy yourself.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 21, 2019