Health & Wellness

Sun Protection Mantras

By Dr. Shelby Terstriep

July 10, 2013

Maybe it’s because I grew up in North Dakota where the winters are so long, or perhaps it’s because I love the water. Whatever the reason, I have to admit: I love the sun!

When I was younger, I used tanning beds briefly before prom (UGH!), and I always “felt better” in the summer with a nice golden tan. Still today, I typically choose to vacation someplace warm and sunny and, even as I get older, I still have a hard time remembering to always apply (and reapply!) suntan lotion. In other words, sun has been one of my vices.

Two years ago, my dad was diagnosed with an early stage (thankfully) melanoma. This past year, my mother-in-law had basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer.

Then last April, a Mayo Clinic study showed an 8-fold increase in melanoma for women under 40 since 1970. In May of this year, the journal Pediatrics published a study showing childhood melanoma increases (on average) 2% each year. The Irish Journal of Medical Science published data that corroborated other data showing a greater risk of developing melanoma if you’ve had breast cancer and vice versa.

These family experiences were a wake-up call for me, and when I saw these studies it made me even more aware of the dangers of too much sun.

My family is going on our yearly vacation to the lake next week, so I went to the store last night to buy the rest of the gear—including sunscreen, hats, etc. I am going to repeat these mantras below next week so I don’t fall off the “sun wagon!”

Remember: the sun causes aging!

Take a look at these pictures from this Australian study showing the effects of sun on the skin for proof. As I start to get more fine lines and wrinkles, this is becoming very important to me.

Vain? Yes. But it WILL keep me applying the sunscreen!

When it comes to sunscreen, whatever method is easier will be good enough.

I bought water-resistant, broad-spectrum (or multi-spectrum) to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. The SPF ranged 30-50 (there’s no data that going any higher offers more protection). As far as safe ingredients, I stick to those products recommended by the Environmental Working Group, which do not contain oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate.

I bought the face sticks, the spray, the cream and the lip balm—3 of each (so each kid could be lathering up at the same time). Sometimes my kids are fine with me rubbing lotion in—and sometimes I can’t get them to hold still for more than a minute to get sprayed. I won’t care which way they get stuff on—as long as they do it.

Getting vitamin D from a pill is safer.

I hate pills and, normally, I am all about getting vitamins through diet   but not in this case. There are conflicting studies as to whether sunscreen use affects vitamin D levels. The vitamin D benefits of sun exposure must be separated from its harmful effects, like skin cancer and aging. I refuse to tell myself “I’m just getting my vitamin D” by being in the sun, and will pop the pill instead.

Make sun protection available.

I am keeping sunscreen and hats in both our beach bag and cabin   and I even made a sun protection box in our minivan! Someday maybe I’ll make a cute label for it like all my organizing idols on Pinterest!

Sun protection can be fashionable.

I broke down and bought a SPF 50 sun shirt after I saw the Athleta magazine with a model wearing it on a paddleboard, and I also bought a hat. Now if only I could be as muscular as those models!

How do you protect yourself and your family from the sun??? What mantras do you repeat to get yourself to do something you don’t want to do?