Apply sunscreen. Don’t apply sunscreen. Avoid the sun. Get more vitamin D from the sun. Sunscreens are toxic and don’t work. Sunscreens are essential…what’s a person to do?
Over the years, I have seen all the news and studies, but I’ve also developed my own methods for managing sun exposure based on a weird condition I (and my daughters) have. We suffer from photodermatitis, which basically started for each of us when we hit puberty—suddenly, sunscreen or no sunscreen, our bodies develop rashes when we are exposed to too much sun. Call it “nature’s sunscreen” if you will, but I’ve found lots of ways to cope over the years that have saved me money (from not having to buy sunscreen) and improved my vitamin D levels.
Well, first, what I have found (and what my doctor told me) is that the best treatment for photo dermatitis is light and regular sun exposure during the early morning and late afternoon. I am not tan by any means, and I don’t try to be. But I don’t hesitate to go out into the sun…except for one caveat: I try to avoid all sun between the hours of 11 and 3 (during the day, not night!). The very last thing you would ever see me do is sit on a beach at noon—unless the beach was in, say, Iceland. The great thing about enjoying the sun during the off hours is that beaches are not as crowded, and other outdoor venues are also easier to navigate.
If I do have to go out during peak hours, I use a number of techniques: Shirts, hats, and umbrellas.
I do own a few “sun shirts“, but often a good ol’ plain cotton shirt works well to cover arms. For swimming, I put long-sleeved swim shirts on my kids (and me if I’m going out during peak hours). No one seems to mind, and it’s easier than the ritual of slathering goop all over the place.
As far as hats go, I prefer cowboy hats, not only because they look better on me, but also because they cover my ears and other places (A visor leaves the scalp exposed and, frankly, is not my style. Baseball caps leave the ears exposed, and make us curly-haired girls look a bit like Bozo the Clown.) My little daughter wears an Amish bonnet, and it works really well and keeps her cool, too. Here’s a picture of her wearing one in Iowa.
Umbrellas seem kind of pretentious and odd until you’ve been to Japan. Once you see the ladies there walking around with their colorful parasols, well protected by the sun, you suddenly see how beautiful and practical they can be. A Japanese girl visited me once, and she even would use a fan to keep the sun off her face.
Lastly, if I must use sunscreen due to unavoidable circumstances, I always check the Environmental Working Group website to see what’s safe. And even then I might only put it on my face.
I do go to the dermatologist regularly, and have had a few precancerous spots removed with liquid nitrogen, because I am really fair-skinned and got seriously burned (a lot) when I was a kid. My sister has survived a bad bout of melanoma, so I know how hard it can be if things go wrong. But I still have always been suspicious of the advice of always using sunscreen. Turns out I may have been right. But from my sister’s experience, I know every day of life is precious, and it’s always good to be careful.