Saturday, June 30, 2012

Maryl factors: Sun protection into her skincare and wardrobe

It was barely a month after my husband and I had purchased a three-story Victorian house across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.  Visions of lazy, sun-filled days tanning on the beach and jumping the saltwater waves were still fresh and foremost in my mind when my doctor informed me I had melanoma. The news suddenly eclipsed my hopes and dreams for the future.  For several weeks there had been an annoying itch around the bra closure area on my back.  Caryl had noticed an irregular looking mark while applying suntan lotion and suggested that it wouldn’t hurt to see a dermatologist.  My weekends of sun and surf were interrupted with a trip to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital.

That was 30 years ago. The good news from all this, besides that I am cancer-free, is that my skin is rather wrinkle-free for the most part due to the fact that I eliminated decades more years tanning in the sun. SPF became my new found acronym and I looked for it on as many products that needed to go on my skin.

View from first floor porch

Sun Protection Factor measurement has advanced over the years since then and can now be found in makeup (Martha Stewart Living May edition and online features a number of SPF cosmetics) as well as most skin care regimes. There’s massive information on how to buy these products and what to look for. The Mayo Clinic posted a recent buyers guide for sunscreens. WebMD also deciphers this buyer's dilemma and makes some specific recommendations. From all that I’ve read, I gathered there are three primary features to look for when buying a sunscreen:

1) UVB protection – against sunburn and eventual skin cancer 
That’s the SPF measurement and  usually starts at 15. The number is only relevant dependent on the degree of sensitivity of your skin and how frequently you apply it. 

2) UVA protection – against wrinkles and age spots 
There are a number of ingredients in various products that can prevent these sunrays that penetrate deeper into your skin.                                     
3) Water resistant – when swimming and sweating 
    Sunscreens can still be effective after 30 or more minutes in the 
    water or working out but as with normal use, they should be 
    reapplied regularly. Note that there is no such thing as 
    waterproof sunscreen.

You can tell when a skin product has an SPF additive because it has a thicker and goopy consistency. Recent product developments provide for faster absorption and a less sticky application. As with other skin products, we pick the cream, lotion or spray with a density and fragrance we like the best. I have to admit that it’s this continual slathering on of these heavier solutions every time I want to go for a swim, read outside or garden that annoys me the most. When feasible I follow the number one recommendation by virtually all health professionals: stay out of direct sun when outdoors, especially between the hours of 11am and 4pm as much as possible. And if you can’t or won’t, then you should cover up with not only protective clothing but also proper sunglasses and a hat. Clothing is your first line of defense.

View from second floor porch
Let’s talk about wardrobe then. What exactly makes a garment more effective in shielding harmful ultraviolet sunrays? There are four UV protection criteria for clothing according to the Skin Cancer Foundation

1) Type of fiber
2) Tightness of weave or knit
3) Thickness or density
4) Color

Synthetic fibers are more effective than natural ones as are heavier materials over thinner. The tighter the weave or knit the better with fewer holes between the threads. If you ask most folks what color clothing to wear in the sun, they would probably reply something light or white but just the opposite is true. Dark and bright colors are recommended because sun absorption is more important here than sun reflection.

View from third floor 
There is also now a whole new line of clothing with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) ratings. REI and Patagonia feature this in a lot of their apparel. Coolibar is a new company to me out of Australia, the country with the highest incidences of skin cancer. Its slogan is Sun Protection You Wear and its Suntect brand of fabrics embeds a variety of elements directly into its fibers to enhance the materials sunburn prevention. I just ordered this outfit below to garden in. I’ll be completely covered in the sun but not too sweaty because the fabrics are all breathable. Their swim and beach attire are next on my shopping list. Why is it that the solution to most of my problems is buying a new outfit.  Have fun - but be safe - in the sun!

Coolibar UPF clothing


  1. Good post we should all be made more aware of the damage that the sun can do to the skin. I currently have a BCC on the tip of my nose that started as an innocent spot. It is due to be treated next week. Unfortunately when I was younger it was fashionable to sunbath and high SPF was not readily available.

    1. Yes, we used to apply baby oil tinted with iodine for a faster tan. Talk about baking and roasting in the sun. With the knowledge we have now I'm flummoxed when I see people of all ages sunbathing. Good luck with your treatment. I'm sure it will go fine. Thanks.

  2. Great info - Thanks for reminding us - if we had only known when we were kids & lived outdoors - beautiful pics!!

    1. So true, Pat. But as I said above, now that we know, how can people still sunbathe? I do see more folks with hats and umbrellas. Good for them. Thanks for the comment.