3 Summer Season and Camping Items That May Contribute to Your Allergy Misery

Three everyday items that many of us use when we go camping, or throughout the summer season, that we would never suspect might be causing or contributing to allergies are:

1. Suntan products: Lotions, Oils, or Sprays
2. Bug Sprays or Repellants
3. Antibacterial Soaps or Hand Sanitizers

Most suntan products are made with chemical sunscreens, many of which have been found to be unsafe or even carcinogenic, and there is continuing debate as to their actual effectiveness in providing adequate protection from the damaging effects of over exposure to the sun. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know I’ve blogged extensively over the past few years on various aspects of this topic. While not much has changed over the years, there is some momentum building around the need to innovate and find safer sunscreen ingredients.

This may well be a hidden source of allergy trouble. Until we see some real change and innovation in this arena your best tactic for choosing sun care products that won’t cause more trouble than they are worth is to eliminate commonly used sunscreen chemicals like Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, and Octocrylene in favor of sunblock products made with naturally occurring minerals like Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide. These mineral sunblock products stay on the surface of the skin and reflect sunlight instead of being absorbed into the skin, so they are safer and more effective. And if you use suntan oils stay away from Mineral Oil – a petroleum derivative that has been found to be an endocrine disruptor– and instead, choose a healthy fat like virgin Coconut Oil, which is totally safe and also an excellent skin care oil.

When it comes to bug sprays, there are not a lot of options out there to choose from and unfortunately most commercial bug sprays only disclose the active ingredient so you have no idea what else is in the product that could be creating additional problems. As much as humanly possible you should avoid DEET, which is a highly toxic substance. And because most of the time it comes in a spray form you end up inhaling that substance as well! Don’t be fooled by scent. Just because it doesn’t smell bad doesn’t mean it isn’t bad for you!

Instead opt-in for products made with 100% pure essential oils like Citronella, Lemongrass and Geranium, which are just a few of the many essential oils that are effective bug repellants. These are natural substances that your body can easily metabolize and eliminate so again, there’s no fear of chemical residue being left behind.

Last but not least, when it comes to antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers avoid products made with Triclosan! This ingredient is a derivative of Agent Orange and is considered highly toxic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Product manufacturers would have you believe that because it’s used in diluted amounts it’s ok but it’s NOT! This ingredient is not only harmful to you it’s very harmful to the environment too.

Choose products made with Tea Tree and Lavender essential oils –both are very effective antibacterial agents without the toxic effects. For hand sanitizers look for products with these oils in a base of Aloe Vera, Vegetable Glycerin or Ethanol. For soaps stick to liquid castile soaps made with essential oils.

One last note on this . . . you may be allergic to certain plants and herbs, which would make it difficult or even impossible to use products with the specific essential oils I mentioned above. Don’t let that discourage you. There are a wide variety of essential oils with therapeutic benefits to choose from and being sensitive to one in no way means you will be sensitive to others.

Summer Sun Safety Update: The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

Summer is in full swing and record temperatures throughout most of the country are undoubtedly making it tough to stay cool and comfortable for a lot of you. If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably spending as much time as you can at the beach in the hopes of catching the occasional ocean breeze while soaking up some sun. It goes without saying that all that extra beach time carries a hidden price tag when it comes to your skin!

sunscreen bottle at the beachI’ve never been a fan of sunscreens as the best or only solution to protecting yourself from sun damage –partly because of all the misleading marketing hype around these products, the notorious (but rarely discussed) unreliability of SPF ratings, and the over-use of synthetic chemicals that have been shown to be potentially toxic. If you’ve followed this blog or subscribe to my newsletter, you know I’ve written numerous articles and blog posts on the subject of sun safety, skin cancer and sunscreens in the past.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything on the subject, because for a while there it seemed like nothing much had changed from one season to the next. I have been waiting to see how the new FDA rules might change things.

The new rules for sunscreens were announced last summer and just went into effect last month. While they represent progress in terms of better definition and accurate labeling of these products and have even prompted some manufacturers to re-formulate, by and large the biggest change is that most companies are just re-packaging to conform to the ne guidelines. And as is typical of industry, many companies are protesting certain aspects of the new guidelines and while they wait for a response continue to do things the same way. Namely, companies are protesting the new cap that the FDA has placed on the SPF ratings a product can have. Based on the new rules, the highest SPF rating a product can have is 50+.

There’s a good reason to cap the SPF at 50. SPF ratings higher than 50 are misleading and fool consumers into believing they are getting significantly more protection than they would from using a lower rated SPF, which simply isn’t true. Consider this: an SPF 15 absorbs 93.33% of UV rays, allowing 6.67% to get through while an SPF 30 absorbs 96.67% allowing 3.3% to pass through. What that means is a product rated SPF 30 provides only 4% more protection from the sun than one that has a rating of SPF15. As you’ve probably guessed by now, at SPF 50 you’ve pretty much maxed out on the amount of protection you can get. Any product with an SPF rating higher than 50 is just trying to trick you into thinking it’s better than all the other products out there. Pretty devious, eh?

To add insult to injury, many products are still producing products labeled with higher than 50 SPFs. I don’t know if this is arrogance (i.e. they think that they will prevail on the cap of 50 rule) or plain stupidity. Either way, it’s a sad sign that not a lot has changed so far.

I think it bears repeating that there are a number of different ways you can protect yourself and your skin from sun damage and potential skin cancer risks. Instead of relying on greedy self-serving manufacturers to protect yourself, learn about the other ways you can do this and of course, practice good common sense when it comes to spending time outdoors in the sun!

Natural Sun Safety Secrets to Help You Avoid the Burn this Summer

The heat is on … and it looks like this summer is shaping up to be another scorcher. Rising outdoor temperatures often means more time spent outdoors to beat the heat, and that means more potentially damaging exposure for your skin. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

While that may sound scary enough to make you want to stay indoors in spite of the heat, the truth is your risk of sun damage is determined by many factors –some you may not even be aware of. These include your skin type, genetics, where you live (i.e. altitude and latitude), the amount and quality of fats in your diet, whether you take certain medications, the time of day and length of exposure, and the biggest predictor of all: how many times you got sunburned as a child and young adult.

How you use sunscreen (how much you apply to your skin, how often you re-apply, and the type) is another often overlooked factor that determines how well protected you are. Most of us look to sunscreen products to do the trick, but with all the new research emerging on the subject, it’s wise to consider some of the other ways you can protect yourself.

If this heat is driving you to spend more time in the sun than you’d like, here are some natural sun safety tips to help you protect your skin.

Diet Does Affect Your Skin

Like it or not, the health of your skin is directly affected by the quality of your diet. Eating the right foods can play a big role not only in the way your skin looks and feels, but also in your skin’s ability to resist and repair damage from the sun. The healthy Omega-3 fatty acids found in avocados, nuts, olive oil and fish will keep skin cell membranes strong and supple, while trans fats like hydrogenated oils found in processed foods, are unstable and breakdown under sun exposure into free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS). Antioxidants in leafy greens, berries and even supplements, can counteract and fight free radicals, which left unattended lead to premature aging of the skin and ultimately skin cancer. Your mileage may vary, but for maximum benefit, you should look to replace all unhealthy fats with healthier ones and add a healthy dose of antioxidants to your daily regimen.

Make the Sun Your Ally

While it’s true that spending too much time in the sun will damage your skin, that doesn’t mean you should avoid the sun all together. Exposure to the sun accounts for nearly 75% of the Vitamin D that your body produces and Vitamin D can make your skin more resistant to sunburns. That’s right: exposure to the sun can help prevent the damage it causes. But sunscreen that filters out UVB rays blocks your body’s ability to produce Vitamin D. Fifteen minutes a day of being in the sun (either prior to 10 AM or after 4 PM) without sunscreen is enough to satisfy your daily Vitamin D needs without getting a sunburn.

If you have fair skin you can still reap the benefits of Vitamin D by taking it as a supplement. A daily dose of 5,000 IU of Vitamin D during the weeks leading up to your vacation or planned time in the outdoors, should help repel the sun’s harsh rays. Whatever you do, do not be tempted to use a tanning bed instead! Your risk of skin cancer from this form of UV exposure is much higher then being in the sun.

Don’t Neglect Your Delicate Parts

Based on past experience, you probably already know how easy it is to get burned in those delicate little spots like your nose, ears, lips, neck, tops of shoulders, tops of your feet, and even your scalp. These are all areas that require a little more attention when you’re going out in the sun. While your best bet for protecting your scalp and even your ears and nose is a wide-brimmed hat, if you insist on going bare then you should apply some form of sun protection to your hair and scalp like a mixture of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide with a blend of plant oils like coconut, olive and/or jojoba.

And don’t forget your eyes! Not only can UV rays lead to premature wrinkles around the eyes, but they can also damage your cornea and promote cataracts or worse, macular degeneration. A good pair of UV-rated (i.e. UVA and UVB) sunglasses are essential to protecting your eyes. If you can find a wraparound-style, they will help protect your brows and temples too.

There’s no way to completely avoid the damage that comes from sun exposure. Your best protection comes from being wise and using all the ways available to you for that, instead of relying primarily on sunscreen to do the job. Here are some additional tips to help you stay sun safe in the dog days of summer:

  • Use a plant-based body oil made with coconut, jojoba, grape seed, rose hip seed, carrot and/or hemp seed oils as a pre-sun and after sun moisturizer. Research shows that moisturizers made with Vitamin E and C can help fight the free radicals produced by sun damage and these oils are naturally high in those vitamins.
  • Increase your intake of antioxidants through food and supplementation. Again, consuming foods that are high in Vitamins A (Beta Carotene), C and E can also help fight free radicals. One simple way to do this is to make a daily smoothie with a variety of berries –either fresh or frozen– or make a “green” smoothie with greens like kale, collards and spinach combined with fruits like banana and apple to sweeten them.
  • Avoid putting citrus essential oils directly on your skin when going out in the sun as some of them are photo-toxic and can increase your chances of getting burned.

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