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Apr 24, 2017 03:58PM

Fun in the sun: Slather up with better-for-you sunscreens this summer

By Nicole Lauer
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Most of us assume that all we need do to prevent sunburns and skin cancer from exposure to the sun is to slather on sunscreen. Options for better-for-you sunscreens abound at national and local retailers.
Summer is on the way and the living will be easy — that is, unless you are the one responsible for deciphering the back of sunscreen bottles to ensure your household is slathered in the right products. From creams to sprays and plenty of confusing ingredients, it could be tempting to pack up the beach chairs and stay home.

Assuming canceling summer is off the table, national chains and local stores alike offer plenty of sunscreen options. Here's a primer on some sun-safe lingo and some better-for-you options.

First, sun safety should, of course, be on the mind not just when the swimming pool is calling your name. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 before heading outside, even when the skies are cloudy or the temps are mild. Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against UVB and UVA rays.

Now that we've waded into some of the lingo that can cloud sunscreen-aisle decision making, here's a little more information on what all of it means. SPF is the assigned sun protection factor number that rates the product's effectiveness in blocking ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are harmful enough to damage skin in as little as 15 minutes, according to the CDC.

The American Cancer Society divides UV radiation into three wavelengths:
— UVA rays, which are the weakest, cause skin cells to age and cause some indirect damage to cells' DNA. These are linked mainly to long-term skin damage, such as wrinkles and possibly some skin cancers
— UVB rays have "slightly more energy" than UVA rays, with the ability to cause direct damage to the DNA in skin cells and are the main culprit for sunburns. As a double whammy, UVB also is thought to cause the most skin cancers.
— UVC rays have more energy than the other types of UV rays, but fortunately, are not ones to worry over in terms of sun exposure. ACS states these rays react with ozone high in the atmosphere and do not reach the ground. They are not normally a risk factor for skin cancer.

Consumer Reports describes SPF as a relative measure of how long sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays. If you'd burn after 20 minutes in the sun without protection, an SPF-30 sunscreen worn correctly could protect you for about 10 hours. But things get a bit murkier when you consider that calculation doesn't consider UVA rays, or the fact that ray intensity and wavelengths vary during the day, and real-life sun exposure generally involves some amount of water, sweat and other factors that can decrease effectiveness. Consumer Reports recommends staying out of the sun during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The CDC states that the best use of sunscreen is when combined with other options to prevent UV damage, including shade (from an umbrella or tree); long-sleeved shirts, long pants and other protective clothing; and wide-brim hats and sunglasses. Sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays are given the highest marks for best protection. According to the CDC, whether you've sprung for pricey, high-fashion shades or gone the Dollar Store route, most sunglasses sold in the United States meet those standards.

In the Quad-Cities area, safer sunscreen options abound for those looking to slather up their loved ones for some fun in the sun.

Hannah Clark, sales associate at Quad Cities Food Hub, 421 W. River Dr., Davenport, says sunscreen is not a product that graces the hub's shelves year round. Products started arriving in March, she says, including a waterproof sunblock from Mom's Products, a company ran by Bettendorf stay-at-home mom Amy Mack. She makes coconut oil body care products aimed at cutting chemicals for healthier living.

The Food Hob also carries Dr. Bronner's sun balm that tends to burns, rashes and tattoos.

Heritage Natural Foods manager Ellie DeMay says the stores in Moline and Davenport carry sun products year round. The stores carry almost the entire Badger line, a New Hampshire-based company that makes certified organic body care, lip balms, bug repellents and natural mineral sunscreens; and products from Alba Botanica, a company that says its "dedicated to making high quality, 100 percent vegetarian products that overflow with botanical ingredients."

Of Heritage's offerings, DeMay says her top pick is a Sun Shield Spray from MyChelle dermaceuticals. The product retails for about $18, and DeMay says Heritage keeps it on sale at $14.39.

"It goes on clear and is really easy to use," she says.

Whatever you decide is the best sun product for your crew, here's hoping there are many bright and shiny days ahead.
Nicole Lauer is an occasional Radish contributor

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