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Sun and the Beach
Copyright , Valerie Giles

Many family traditions include a yearly visit to the beach. Tucked away in our memories are the smell of coconut oil, the warmth of the sun and sand mixed with cool beach breezes. However, gone are the days of baby oil and metal sun reflectors, replaced with safer sun practices to preserve our natural skin color and condition. Sun protection comes in a variety of options to include sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hats, sun protective swimwear and cover-ups.

An important part of your beach planning will be your sun protection. Sun tanning and trips to your local tanning salon arenít the best idea anymore. Thatís because both emit harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can cause painful sunburn and may eventually lead to skin blemishes, premature aging of the skin, cataracts and other eye problems, weakened immune system and skin cancer. And if the Earthís ozone layer continues to deplete and the approximate rate of four to six percent per decade there will be more UV radiation reaching our skin.

It is true that light skin is more susceptible to sun damage, however darker skinned people such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans can be affected. Everyone should be educated about the affects of the sun and the steps needed to safer sun exposure.

The easiest way to protect you from the sun is simply by avoiding the sun; the sunís rays are strongest between 10am and 3pm. Cloudy days may be deceiving as the clouds only block about twenty percent of UV radiation, this is also true when swimming in the water (the UV rays can still reach you).

If you are going to be out in the sun in your bikinis or swimsuits, either sunscreen or sunblock should be used. Both sunscreen and sunblock come in creams, lotions, ointments, gels or wax sticks, and when applied to the skin will reflect, absorb or scatter either all or at least some of the sunís harmful rays. Currently on the market are some makeup items containing sunscreen (lipstick being one example). Sunscreen products are believed to block a large percentage of harmful UV radiation. The FDA requires that any label of sunscreen products state the sun protection factor (SPF), the higher the number the longer a person is able to stay in the sun before burning. It is recommended to wear at least a sunscreen with SPF 15, the product should also be applied liberally 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. The sunscreen should be applied to all areas of skin that will be exposed to include; lips, ears, eyelids (be careful not to get in eyes), neck, nose, scalp (for those with thinning hair), feet, and hands. Children under 6 months should not wear sunscreen (covering their skin is the best bet against sun exposure), as they might be too sensitive to the ingredients. Sunscreen should become a regular habit for children whenever going outdoors.

Sunglasses are a very important part of sun protection. Not only do sunglasses help us see in the glaring sun, but also protect our eyes from sun damage. Price doesnít matter as long as the glasses are blocking ninety-nine to one hundred percent of UVA and UVB radiation (it should say on the label). Try and select sunglasses that protect your eyes from all angles, a large framed wraparound style is suggested. Donít forget to put sunglasses on your children as well; they can start wearing sunglasses as early as one year old. It is important to purchase real protective sunglasses for children, not toy sunglasses. Even if youíre wearing sunglasses you might want to put some sunscreen on your eyelids (be careful not to get the sunscreen in youíre eyes), as the sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays not the skin around the eyes.

Hats are an easy and fashionable ways to protect youíre eyes, ears, nose, neck and scalp from the sun. Try and purchase a hat with a three- inch brim all the way around the hat if possible. There are such a wide variety of hats available in styles ranging from lovely straw hats with wide brims, to cotton hats with brims and baseball caps (some with material draping down the sides and back if desired).

Another popular form of sun protection is available in the sun protective swimwear and cover-ups. This swimwear covers the areas of the body most sensitive to sunburn, giving effective sun protection. The swimwear comes in styles similar to a t-shirt with adjoining shorts, and is a great idea especially for children. The swimwear and cover-ups boast a SPF 50 (highest rating for fabric) and most often offers approximately ninety-eight percent sunblock, the nylon-lycra mix is lightweight and fast- drying. There are also sunsuits combined with buoyancy aids (another great idea for children). The sun protective swimwear, t-shirts, cover-ups and hats are available in babies, children and adult sizes. Although the protective swimwear is quite popular it has yet to be approved by the FDA.

Cover-ups should be worn whenever possible if out in the sun. A cover-up can include any lightweight, loose-fitting, long sleeved shirts, skirts, pants or robes that provide protection from the sun. There are toweling robes manufactured that serve both as a towel and a cover-up after swimming. Almost all materials and colors absorb or reflect the sunís harmful UV rays. However it must be noted that it is suggested to avoid wearing wet clothing in the sun, as the sunís rays can much more easily pass through wet clothing.

It is important to avoid artificial tanning as much as possible. It has long been a belief that the ultraviolet (UV) rays from tanning beds are harmless as they emit mostly UVA rays and barely any UVB the rays considered to be most hazardous. However it has been found that UVA rays may be the cause of the most serious forms of skin cancer (melanoma). This is scary considering some people use the tanning beds all year long, thus increasing their exposure to the harmful rays at an alarming rate.

An alternative to a real tan may come in one of the self-tanning products available on the market. Self-tanning products are sold in tanning pills, sunless tanning lotions and sprays, cosmetic bronzers and extenders and tanning pills. Through a bit of trial and error you can usually find a product that will produce a desired look from a subtle glow to a deep dark tan. Caution should also be exercised with these self-tanning products. In particular the tanning pills that use carotenoid color additives which are approved as additives for coloring food but not for use in tanning pills, if consumed in high levels they may be harmful. The tanning accelerators using tyrosine have not been FDA approved and should also be used minimally. The bronzers and extenders use color additives that are approved by the FDA and because they wash or wear off quite quickly are quite safe.

Although itís important to practice caution while being out and about in the sun, your day at the beach or lake can still be a wonderful experience. We just have to take a more careful approach to our sun seeking ways to ensure our future health. So pack away your coconut oil and reflectors, replacing them with sunscreen and great sun protective hats and cover-ups.

Valerie Giles owns and operates Bikinis and Swimsuits , a swimsuit and resort wear site showcasing bikinis, one-piece swimsuits, plus size swimwear, tan through, sheer swimsuits, tankinis and resort wear. Find the perfect swimsuit for every occasion and every figure type. Quality merchants and best prices.

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