Skin Safety For Your Outdoor Fun
Summer is the best time to be in Bozeman! We rarely have days so hot we are confined to air-conditioned spaces, and it’s easy to find a lot of outdoor recreation to keep us busy and active! Being outside, however, has its risks that we need to be aware of to stay healthy and safe, and often the biggest danger to our health comes not from our environment but what goes on our skin.
Our skin is the largest organ of our body. It is protective to our underlying tissues and provides a barrier between the inside of our body and the outside world. The skin is also very important in body temperature regulation, holding heat in when its cold and sweating and cooling the body off when its hot! Not only does the skin sweat and help with detoxification, the skin is also very absorptive and can draw things that are on the skin into the body. That is why we need to be very aware of what we are putting on our skin and the health risks that it may cause.
Today our society has cursed the sun and made the sun a major enemy in people’s health, blaming the sun for free radical damage, premature aging, skin damage, and skin cancer. I believe that there is room for caution from too much exposure, as too much of anything can be a bad thing. However, I truly believe that the sun is not to blame for these conditions, and I do believe sun exposure is very good for our body.
Without the sun, our planet would go extinct. The sun is responsible for the production of oxygen that we breathe through a process called photosynthesis; it creates the energy that plants use to survive, and the plants provide food for many herbivorous organisms. The animals that don’t eat plants eat the animals that eat plants and get the plants’ energy that way. So, without the sun there would be no energy on our planet or in your body. The second argument for sun exposure is the sun is responsible for many chemical reactions that happen when our skin is exposed to it. The most important of which is the synthesis of vitamin D. It doesn’t make sense that the body would be so sensitive to something that is necessary for human survival.
Again too much of anything is a bad thing, and a bad burn to the skin not only causes a lot of discomfort and pain, but it will damage the skin as well. Avoiding sunburns is highly recommended, but wearing sunscreen is not as safe as you might think.
Remember the skin is very absorptive and things placed on the skin can enter the body. Many of the most powerful sunscreens have chemicals that have been shown to disrupt normal physiology, especially in the hormonal system. One of the biggest culprits is Oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is a chemical used to help with absorption into the body, and according to the CDC, 97% of Americans have been contaminated with it. It has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage (AKA cancer). Be careful of all topical skin products that you use, reading the ingredients because it can be found in many other topical products as well. Other endocrine disrupting chemicals often found in sunscreen and to be avoided are octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate, and octocrylene.
Like I stated earlier, it’s important not to get badly burned when you go outside either, so what do you do about it to keep yourself safe? The best protection is to wear clothes that offer a barrier between the sun’s rays and your skin; light loose fitting clothes are very helpful and hats, of course. If you are outside for extended times and want to protect your exposed skin, there are sunscreens available that do not contain any of the toxic hormone disrupting chemicals. Products containing zinc oxide, titanium oxide, avobenzone, and mexoryl sx are much better to use.
If you do get some overexposure from the sun and get a sunburn, it is important to treat the body to help it heal faster and not cause further long term damage. Using calcium lactate is very helpful with the fever and chills from the burn and to relieve pain associated with it. Taking a cool bath and using cool compresses help also. Aloe Vera on the burn especially squeezed right from the plant is very healing. My favorite skin-healing product is from Standard Process called USF ointment. USF stands for unsaturated fatty acid, which is a lard-based oil that protects the skin and helps with healing. I personally have had 2nd degree burns that I have treated with USF ointment and lavender together that have healed completely with no scar, and the pain was reduced and very minimal through the healing process.
Sun exposure is very important to human health. Avoiding the sun should not be doctor recommended and using toxic products on your skin should be avoided always. Daily doses of sun exposure are very healthy for the body; however, between the autumn equinox and the spring equinox the sun’s rays are not direct enough above the 45th parallel to make vitamin D, so everyone should be supplementing with at least 5000 IU of vitamin D per day in the winter. If you want to double check my information and find a lot more information on the health and safety of different products and chemicals, check out the environmental working group at www.ewg.org. So get outside and get your sun exposure, don’t get a sunburn, enjoy your summer in Bozeman, and you too will live a more healthy, more natural, and more optimal life.