Are you confused about sun protection and the often conflicting reports? We’re told to use sunscreen to protect against sun damage and prevent skin cancer, but we’re also told that the chemicals in sunscreen could be harmful. What should we do? Well, we are right to be concerned about sun damage. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 2 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, and the occurrences are actually increasing. However, many sunscreens could be causing harm; according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 97 percent of Americans are contaminated with a widely-used chemical in sunscreens — oxybenzone – which can cause allergic reactions, hormone disruption and cell damage.

In addition, not all sunscreens provide the protection they claim. To find a sunscreen that offers protection AND uses safe ingredients, check out Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG rates sunscreens based on this combined criteria, and provides a list of the top 100 that made the cut. Overall, EWG likes today’s zinc- and titanium-based mineral sunscreens because they offer excellent UV protection but do not penetrate the skin. According to EWG, “half of the U.S. sunscreens that meet the United State’s FDA rules would not make it to store shelves in Europe,” which has stricter standards.

What else can you do to protect yourself from skin damage and the threat of melanoma?

• Eat raw vegetables; they are packed with skin-protecting antioxidants/phytonutrients.

• Reduce or eliminate your consumption of processed foods and sugars, which can suppress your immune system and increase inflammation.

• Wear clothing that provides protection against UVA and UVB rays; check out products from Coolibar and Solumbra, or dozens of others available online. When in the water (or biking, hiking and running outdoors), wear a swim shirt – today’s versions are good-looking and breathable, and you don’t have to worry about chemicals or the sunscreen washing off. (Do make sure you use sunscreen on the parts of your face and body that are not protected by clothing.)

• Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, and wear sunglasses whenever you are outside, including when you are driving. Eyewear protects the sensitive skin around your eyes and can reduce the risk of developing cataracts. Make sure your sunglasses provide both VA/UVB protection.

• Avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day, 12N to 4PM.

• Avoid burning! Sunburns significantly increase your chances of developing melanoma, according to skincancer.org

• Do not use tanning booths – these are NOT safer than the sun! People who use tanning beds are two to five times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, according to skincancerprevention.org

• Remember to examine your body for signs of skin damage, and get a yearly skin check from a board-certified dermatologist.