Making Sense of Sun Safety

Since Memorial Day marks the start of summer (hooray!), the sun becomes a hot topic around this time every year (no pun intended). And, of course, with all of the magazine and news stories stressing the importance of sun protection, there are always a handful with a negative spin that try to scare us with less-than-savorysunscreen information. As a dermatologist, I understand that sunscreen isn’t 100 percent perfect, but other than totally sun avoidance, it’s the best thing we have to shield our skin from the sun. Sure, there are a few controversial topics related to the sun and sunscreens, and here’s the lowdown (and my opinion) on these hotly debated subjects.

Vitamin D

Yes, it’s a fact that vitamin D deficiency is an issue not only in our country, but also around the world. (Visit the NIH website for great information about vitamin D and how much you need.) While some researchers blame low vitamin D levels on increased sun avoidance, other factors such as inadequate nutrition must be considered as well. (Remember, vitamin D was added to milk long before any of us were on an anti-sun kick.) But a fear of vitamin D deficiency is not an excuse for skipping the sun protection—there are right and wrong ways to go about getting this vital nutrient.

Oral supplementation is certainly an option, but you can get your vitamin D naturally by allowing your arms and legs to get about 10 minutes of sun a few times a week. As long as roughly 25 percent of your body is exposed, this short period of time is all your body needs to make the vitamin D it needs (just be sure to wear sunscreen on your face and a hat to prevent aging!).

If you choose to go this route and you want even more peace of mind, check out these Natural Vitamin D UV Activation Sensors from Skin Health. You stick it on when you head outside, and it changes color when you’ve had enough sun for your body to produce vitamin D—and lets you know when it’s time to go indoors or apply sunscreen. Very cool!


Titanium dioxide is one of the most effective sunscreen ingredients available today, but there’s been some controversy surrounding the nanotechnology that is sometimes used to make the particles smaller in order to eliminate the chalky residue it leaves on the skin. While some scientists say that it’s possible for these super-small particles to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream—and potentially cause long-term side effects like cancer—I don’t believe this is an issue that should make us avoid titanium dioxide. The fact is, these studies about nanoparticles entering the bloodstream were based on inhalation exposure, not topical exposure, and the results of these studies on humans showed insufficient data. In fact, studies performed by the FDA found that this is not a risk when titanium dioxide is applied to intact skin. I am a fan of sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as a chemical-free option for those allergic to chemical sunscreens, children under 5 years of age, or for those who want to avoid exposure to chemicals. MDSolarSciences has several good chemical-free sunscreen options.

Retinyl palmitate

There have been recent reports about the purported dangers of retinyl palmitate in sunscreens. At this point, it seems prudent to avoid daily sunscreens that have retinyl palmitate in the first seven ingredients on the label, even though there is uncertainty whether or not there is a real risk. You do not need to avoid sunscreens containing retinol, beta carotene or other forms of vitamin A.

One thing we do know for sure is that long-term unprotected sun exposure definitely increases the risk of skin cancer, and is the number-one cause of wrinkles, uneven pigment and sun damage symptoms like rough, dry skin. So do your health and your beauty a favor this summer and make sunscreen a part of your daily skincare regimen. To make it even easier to choose the right one, go and take the quiz to find out what sunscreens are right for your skin type.


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