By Freda Rumford from the June 2011 Edition
This article was originally in the Guadalajara Reporter December 2001
Most of us pack a bag when going to the beach, include a novel, a towel, toss in a couple of bottles of sunscreen (chosen at random) and off we go. That night, burnt to a crisp or at least with our skin at a dull roar, we try desperately to remember the old-fashioned remedies that will relieve the agony we inflicted upon ourselves during the day’s fun in the sun.
Soaking in a bathtub of water, strongly scented with vinegar, the pain begins to fade and we feel more comfortable. A coating of calamine lotion completes the remedy. (Tip: a coating of sunscreen or an after-sun treatment cream that contains aloe will also help.)
But why did this happen? we ask ourselves. After all, we used suntan lotion. What was our mistake? All lotions say apply before sun tanning and we did this.
But what about the time in the sun getting to the beach? A 15-minute walk? That gives 15 minutes of burn time. Setting up the umbrella and chairs, another 10 minutes of burn time. That is almost half an hour in the sun without any protection! And remember, when sitting under an umbrella, in the shade of a tree, or on a cloudy day, those rays still manage to get through. When living in a hot climate, it is vital that the first thing we put on in the morning after the shower is not underclothes but sunscreen. This is essential even if we do not intend to go to the beach but just do errands.
The skin is the largest organ of the body. It does an incredible job of looking after itself by repairing damage from cuts, scratches, bites as needed. It takes the strain, whether it is for childhood growth, pregnancies, reductions or explosions in weight and so on. But it needs help when it comes to the sun. With the ozone layer reportedly thinner and with a few holes here, it is imperative that we wake up and smell the roses and not burning flesh!
The rays from the sun are identified as UVA, UVB and UVC (the latter, which, as they are mostly filtered by the atmosphere we live in before it reaches us, we need not concern ourselves about). The first identifications that we need to deal with are Ultra Violet Aging and Ultra Violet Burning. Almost all sunscreens will block the UVB to a certain degree but the UVA is much more difficult to protect. The effect of medications taken over time now makes it a formidable task to have the protection we enjoyed only a few years ago.
For protection against UVA rays or for sensitive areas (lips, nose, ears and eyes) there are specific creams available. Ombrelle claims that its creams containing Parol AE 1789 will combat the offending A rays. Various ingredients in the lotions can cause adverse or allergic reactions to some people.
The principal ingredients to look for on product labels are PABA (which bothers a lot of people but is an excellent sun screen), Zinc Oxide, Titanium Oxide and Z-Cote. Zinc Oxide is what lifeguards used to smear on as a thick ugly cream to protect their skins, but is now manufactured with smaller particles so that it becomes invisible when used. There are 16 products allowed for use in sunscreen manufacture by the FDA. but the above-mentioned are the ones of primary interest.
What SPF (Sun Protection Factor) should we buy?
A good starting point is to take our skin burning time without protection and multiply it by the SPF code on the chosen product. For example, if skin burns in 20 minutes and a product of SPF 8 is used, that is 8 X 20, so the protection factor will last 160 minutes or two hours and 40 minutes. If an SPF4 is used then that time is reduced and if an SPF 30, then again the time alters. Should skin burn in 5 minutes the equation changes considerably as the SPF 8 now only allows 40 minutes in the sun before reapplication. One other factor to consider is that creams and lotions made in Europe go by a different standard code and the SPF is double that of products manufactured in the United States. For example, Piz Buin, Bain de Soleil are SPF 8 American but SPF 16 European. Make sure to read all labels very carefully.
Nowadays, the FDA advises that sunscreen be reapplied every two hours at a minimum. The agency also states that SPF 30 only protects fractionally more than SPF 15 (93 percent of UVB versus 97 percent UVB) so there is no real need to go to a higher and possibly more expensive product. In fact price generally is not a factor in the efficacy of the product as some very inexpensive creams do an excellent protective job. Regular moisturizing creams and lotions in most brands of cosmetics have a protection factor of SPF 15, so make sure to ask about these. Realise too, that two coatings applied immediately, or one SPF factor on top of the other do NOT increase the action of the sunscreen; the applications must be applied time consecutively and always again after swimming.
New labeling laws concerning the products are currently under review and such misleading statements as “sun block,” “waterproof,” “all day protection” or “water resistant” must be fully explained so the consumer has no difficulty in understanding the use and claims of the product. Many medications also create a large degree of sensitivity to the sun and must be taken into account. Such commonly used products as birth control pills, hormone pills, antidepressants and even aspirins can cause adverse reactions. If in doubt check with your doctor or pharmacist.
No amount of sun care items can be used as a protection against melanoma. The only way to potentially avoid this cancer is to stay out of the sun completely, an almost impossible thing to do. So protecting ourselves against the harmful rays is the very best we can do. If in complete trouble with the sun there are now special clothes made from treated fabrics available as cover-ups or hats.
The American Cancer Society is starting to adopt the motto used in one of the Australian Cancer Society’s advertising campaigns. “Slip, Slap, Slop” means that when in the sun, slip on a shirt, slap on some cream and slop on a hat.
Not a bad motto to live by in these climes.
Freda Rumford was GUADALAJARA REPORTER’s Manzanillo correspondent.