With the summer season fast approaching, your thoughts may be turning to where you’ll be spending your vacation time.  Perhaps you enjoy lounging on the beach, soaking up the sun, while you bury yourself in a good book. Others may enjoy ‘quiet time’ on the golf course or in their backyard pool.  Regardless of where you’ll spend your summer vacation, don’t forget to pack—and use—your sunscreen.

Who among us remembers the billboards and advertisements for the Coppertone baby?  You know, the one where her little dog was pulling down her bathing suit bottom and showing her tan?

Every summer when I was growing up, my parents would pack up their six fair-skinned Irish kids and head down to Wildwood, NJ.  Before heading to the beach, I remember my mom slathering me with Coppertone. I don't know what SPF it was; but I do know that years later, my back is still a freckled mess.  I visit a dermatologist annually to keep tabs on those freckles.

Today, we know there's no such thing as a "healthy" tan. Far from it. Although advertising has conditioned us to see tanning as attractive, studies have proven that both sunburns and tanning assault the skin's DNA.

So while you’re planning your summer getaway, remember these tips. 

  • Wear Clothes.  Seems like a simple piece of advice, doesn’t it?  Shirts, hats, shorts, and pants shield your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.  A long sleeved shirt is a good start.
  • Sunburn – the skin reddening caused by overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation — may seem like just a temporary irritation, but sunburns can cause long-lasting damage to the skin.
  • Find Shade. Or make it. Picnic under a tree, read beneath an umbrella, take a canopy or umbrella to the beach.
  • Plan Around the Sun. If you can be flexible scheduling time outdoors, go outside in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.  Ultraviolet (UV) radiation peaks at midday when the sun is directly overhead.
  • Babies under six months old should never be exposed to the sun.  Their skin is not yet protected by melanin.
  • Babies older than six months should be protected from the sun and wear UV-blocking sunglasses to protect their eyes.
  • Children are especially at risk. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life. Don’t take the risk. Protect your child.
  • Don't be fooled by labels that boast high SPFs.  Anything higher than "SPF 50+" can tempt you to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburn but not other kinds of skin damage. The FDA says these numbers are misleading. Stick to SPF 15-50+, reapply often and pick a product based on your own skin, time planned outside, shade and cloud cover.
  • Ingredients matter. Avoid the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body. Look for active ingredients zinc, titanium, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. These substances protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin, with little if any penetrating into the body.
  • Special Message for men: Wear sunscreen. Surveys show that 34% of men wear sunscreen, compared to 78% of women. Quit being a stud and start using it now to reduce your cumulative lifetime exposure to damaging UV radiation.
  • Got your Vitamin D? Many people don't get enough vitamin D, which skin manufactures in the presence of sunlight. Ask your primary care provider to test your Vitamin D level.  Ask also for recommendations on supplements.  You can also increase your Vitamin D by spending a few minutes in the sun without sunscreen.   Emphasis on “a few minutes.” Again, check with your primary care provider for advice.
  • Sunglasses are essential. Though Hollywood may argue with me, sunglasses are not just a fashion accessory.  Sunglasses protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a cause of cataracts.  So, don’t go out in the sun without your Foster Grants!

Instead of a tan, go with your own glow!

For more information about sun safety, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation at www.skincancer.org or the Environmental Working Group's 2010 Sunscreen Guide at www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/.