Sun-safe strategies to protect your skin

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More than 2 million Americans learn they have skin cancer each year. Sun damage plays a role in many of those cases. But there is no reason you can't enjoy the Myrtle Beach sun and protect yourself at the same time, even if you want to avoid potentially harmful chemicals in some sunscreen products.

The best sun protection is a hat and a shirt, says the Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocacy group devoted to health lives and a healthier environment. Hats and clothing can provide significant protection from both UVA and UVB rays. For those not prone to sunburn, light cotton can be enough protection in many circumstances. But particularly fair-skinned people may want to look for sun-protective clothing that is specifically labeled as such — it will have a tighter weave with fewer tiny gaps through which the sun can penetrate. Look for labels that indicate UPF (ultra-violet protection factor) of at least 15.

Other strategies for staying sun-safe include seeking out shade when possible, or creating it with use of a beach umbrella or even a parasol. By all means, play in the sun, but be sure to take breaks occasionally to rest in the shade and reapply sunscreen.

Speaking of sunscreen, if you want to avoid harmful ingredients, there are a few things you should know. Sunscreen manufacturers use two approaches for sun protection: chemical, and mineral. But some agencies, such as the Environmental Working Group, have concerns that sunscreens containing popular chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate have high rates of allergic reaction and may disrupt hormones in your body because they act like an estrogen when absorbed through the skin, or interfere with reproductive or thyroid function.

A safer option, according to the EWG, is a sunscreen that uses a mineral such as zinc or titanium to prevent UV exposure. These sunscreens offer excellent UVA protection, and use nanoparticles, so unlike the zinc sunscreens of old, they don't leave a chalky white residue on your skin. The EWG also recommends several chemical sunscreen ingredients as being safer, including avobenzone and Mexoryl SX, which have shown no hormone disruption but excellent sun protection (although avobenzone can cause allergic reactions).

Some claim oils such as coconut oil can provide sun protection, but this is not an FDA-approved claim, nor is it backed up by dermatological organizations or medical groups.

Bottom line: There are plenty of safe ways to protect your skin from the sun so all you have to worry about on your Myrtle Beach vacation is having a good time.

(posted 5/30/14)