I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Sunscreen

Coppertone Baby

We’ve been hearing various opinions about what we most need to “guard against” now that summer is here, and we may be living a “more relaxed” lifestyle.

“Relax, yes, but don’t relax on your ideals!”

Huh? (This from a family counseling consultant with a psychology background.) What does that mean, “Relax, but not on your ideals?”

Let’s say you’re a party animal. Are you saying, “If you’re a party animal, don’t quit partying just because it’s summer?”

“Right,” this particular consultant says. “Change nothing.”

“If you’re a party animal, keep on partying, but at the same time, continue your low-sugar diet, continue to drink in moderation, and stay firm on your pledge never to drink and drive.”

“And if, for example, you’ve been working on your self-esteem all winter, don’t quit just because it’s summer. It’s important to keep doing the things that matter, right through the summer. You don’t want to take a vacation from being the person you most need to be.”

“Gosh,” says a nurse practitioner we talked to. “Keep working on your self-esteem? When someone asks me about summer, I think of things like, ‘Look out for poison ivy if you’re in the woods — use plenty of sunscreen if you’re at the beach — don’t step on broken glass if you’re wearing your flip-flops everywhere!”

“And, actually, keep working on our self-esteem — well, you can’t argue with that,” she says. “We need to be less carefree than past generations. I certainly agree that remembering — no, tightening up — on your ‘don’t drink and drive’ rule, is a good ‘summer idea.’”

What else is? Sunscreen

If you’re going to be outside in the sun, you must use sunscreen faithfully.

Children’s skin is fragile, and more of the sun’s damage is permanent when incurred in childhood. Adults without protection in hot climates like Florida or Arizona in the U.S. begin to show tiny wrinkles in their faces by their early thirties.

The Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, south of Minneapolis, offers this advice on sunscreen: Above all, buy a sunscreen you will apply generously, and often.

Buy a sunscreen that will block both UVA and UVB rays. An SPF of 15 will block 93 percent of ultraviolet rays — and an SPF of 30 will block only an additional 4% — or 97%. So an SPF of 15 is usually adequate.

In the U.S., only a sunscreen effective against both UVA and UVB can call itself broad-spectrum; and by law, only a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and prevent early aging. By law, sunscreen in the U.S. must have a shelf life of 3 years, so buy a lot, and keep what’s left over for next year.

Sunscreen lasts about 2 hours

Sunscreen normally remains effective for about 2 hours. Re-apply often. If water or sweat washes sunscreen off, re-apply right away. Waterproof sunscreen is available, good for either 40 minutes, or 80 minutes. Drying off with a towel, however, will remove both normal and water resistant sunscreen. Re-apply after drying with a towel.

Both cream and spray are effective. For naturally drier skin, a cream may feel better; for skin covered by hair, and for applying on children, a spray may be faster and more convenient. Take care to spray children thoroughly, but don't spray their faces. (Use a sunscreen stick instead.)

Cosmetics that contain sunscreen — like sunscreen itself — will provide only about 2 hours of protection. But for occasional moments outdoors, a moisturizer with sunscreen applied once in the morning may work for the entire day. Even with sunscreen, continue to wear a hat with a brim, seek shade, and avoid the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

And for your tan this summer… an indoor lotion

“No!” Yes!

“But my friends and I have waited all year for summer.”

Yes, but you must be sensible.

“You’re not my father.”

I might be. I’m old enough.

“Well, I don’t need a father, so there!”

Everyone needs a father or a mother. So be reasonable and listen to what your parent says. This is important — and it’s interesting:

The culture of going to the beach is changing.

You can still go to the beach, just like before — and do everything you and your friends always used to do — the only difference is, you put your tan on first at home — out of a bottle — and then you go to the beach and use lots of sunscreen instead of having the sun give you a tan.

“No!” Yes!

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic says: “Sunless tanning is a practical alternative to sunbathing.” If you don’t want to expose your skin to the sun’s damaging rays, but you “still want that sun-kissed glow — consider using sunless tanning products.”

How does tanning lotion work?

“The active ingredient in most sunless tanning products is the color additive, dihydroxyacetone,” the Mayo Clinic says. How does it work? “When applied, dihydroxyacetone reacts with dead cells in the skin’s surface to temporarily darken the skin. The coloring typically wears off after a few days.

“Topical sunless tanning products are generally considered safe,” the Mayo Clinic continues. “The Food and Drug Administration has approved dihydroxyacetone for external application to the skin.” Care should be taken, however, the Mayo Clinic adds, to keep it away from the eyes, mouth or nose.

How to apply it

To apply tanning lotion, first wash all over to remove loose dead skin cells. Then rub the lotion with your hands into sections of your body, one at a time: left leg, then right leg, then midsection of the body, and so on. Use circular motions. Wash your hands between sections to keep from darkening your fingers and palms.

Lightly extend the lotion from ankles to feet, and from wrists to hands. Knees, elbows, ankles, places with callouses tend to absorb too much lotion, so rub them gently with a damp towel after applying lotion. Wait at least 10 minutes to dry yourself all over, and wear loose clothing for a while. Avoid sweating for three hours.

Tanning pills and tanning beds are unsafe

“Sunless tanning pills, which typically contain the color additive canthaxanthin, are unsafe,” the Mayo Clinic advises. “When taken in large amounts, they can turn your skin orange or brown, and cause hives, liver damage and impaired vision.” Tanning beds tan by burning the skin, and should be avoided.

In sum: Let us, this summer, take care of ourselves — and take care of our children and families, as well. This, too, is something we can do.