Just as hair styles and skirt lengths have gone thru many changes over the years, so has the appearance of our skin. Before the industrial revolution, a mark of the leisure class was fair skin. Having a tan was a sign of outside labor.

When populations shifted from agricultural work to factory work, often with long hours, the symbol of leisure became tanned skin.

coppertone ad

The 1950s saw the creation Little Miss Coppertone, who appeared in their ads with her puppy. Sun products during this era were formulated to maximize a tan and weren’t protective.

I grew up in Michigan in the 50s where we summered at a tent camp along Lake Huron. We spent a lot of time running around outside and swimming in the lake. We had red hair and fair complexions so we were prone to getting sunburns.

And, although sun screens had been around since the 1930s, our parents didn’t have us use them. We burned.


Tanning became common in the 1960s, popularized by French actresses like Brigitte Bardot. A tan meant you could afford to hang out on the French Riviera.

girl tan

So what is ultraviolet

Ultraviolet is a description of the band of sun rays that fall in the middle of the magnetic spectrum and include UVA, UVB and UVC.

Humans are increasingly exposed to UV radiation as the ozone is depleted and/or global warming intensifies reflection.

People of all colors should be aware of the need to protect themselves from exposure as it has become evident that exposure to UVB and UVA is potentially lethal to humans.

When these sun rays hit the skin, some are scattered, some reflected but much is absorbed by cell proteins and chromosomes. This causes damage to the cell’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and can lead to eye damage, blindness or cancer.


Sun Damage

In May 2000, the National Institutes of Health added ultraviolet radiation and exposure to sun lamps and tanning beds to the list of identified carcinogens.

In 2002, they went further, stating that each component, UVA, UVB and UVC was reasonably anticipated to be human a carcinogen.

Sunburn is attributed to UVB and can occur in less than 20 minutes in the summer. Sun screens are rated in SPF (Sun Protective Factor) which is only rating its ability to block UVB.

The problem with them is that by reducing the risk of getting a sunburn, folks are enabled to stay in the sun for longer periods of time.

Unfortunately, this means more exposure to UVA which may cause even more serious long-term damage, as UVA penetrates the layers of skin more deeply than UVB and causes more skin damage.


UV Protection

There are many easy-to-use products that can help make our lives sun safer.

Sun protective clothing, including hats, sunglasses, sun screens, umbrellas, sun shades, awnings, canopies, window film or UV film, all will help provide protection from ultraviolet radiation.

When choosing a sun screen, be aware that many brands are full of bad chemicals. And I mean really bad… such as a commonly incorporated ingredient, oxybenzone.


skull and crossbones

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as oxybenzone may mimic hormones, cause endometriosis and can pose a risk to reproductive systems.

Oxybenzone has been increasingly linked to early puberty in girls, low sperm count and male infertility, and an increase in hormone-related cancers in men and women.

The directions for such products warn us of the need to reapply them often. What they don’t tell us is that if we don’t, UV breaks them down and produce byproducts that are carcinogenic!


Full spectrum sun screens claiming to be “natural” may contain avobenzone (Parsol 1789). Although considered safe, disintegration products may have significant health impacts and persist in the environment.

A recent study at Lomonosov Moscow State University found that chlorinated water and ultraviolet light can cause avobenzone to disintegrate into various other organic compounds, including; aromatic acids, aldehydes, phenols, and acetophenones which may have adverse health effects.

Probably not a good one to use around the pool.

Whatever combination of strategies you choose to employ, consideration needs to be given to choosing full spectrum protection which means blocking both UVA and UVB. So, not just sun screens but sun blocks.

Sun screens are best if they are broad-spectrum and have an SPF 30+.

You should also know that all sun screens should be applied 20 minutes before being exposed to the sun and should be reapplied every two hours while exposed.

Zinc Oxide

By 1920, zinc oxide, a physical sun blocker and the best broad-spectrum protection available, was already being used for sun protection, and reportedly had been used for centuries for this purpose.

zinc oxide powder

It is opaque and provides a physical barrier to scatter UVA and UVB.

When applied topically, it also offers protection from outside irritants and serves as an astringent and a weak antiseptic.

The mineral also works as an antioxidant, offering protection from free radical molecules that can damage cell membranes.

The challenge with zinc oxide is that to incorporate it in a sun block one needs to use a natural tinting agent so you don’t come out looking like a mime, completely white.

DIY Sun Block

I make my own UPF 30 water-resistant sun block that is fairly waterproof and can be tinted to my skin color so that it virtually disappears on the skin.

Ingredients & Supplies (makes one cup)
measurements by weight

  • 15 grams beeswax
  • 2 ounces shea butter
  • 2 ounces coconut oil
  • 2 ounces jojoba
  • 2 ounces zinc oxide powder – uncoated, non-nano
  • scale, whisk, funnel
  • Double boiler (small pan or metal bowl over a pan of simmering water)
  • refillable silicone tubes or glass jars


  1. In a double boiler, melt the beeswax, shea butter, and coconut oil until liquid.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Slowly whisk in the zinc oxide, stirring until all lumps are gone.
  4. Tint with bronze mica powder to match skin color.
  5. Let it cool a bit so as not to melt silicone squeeze bottles.
  6. Pour into the squeeze bottles thru a funnel or store in a glass jar with a lid.

I didn’t let the mixture cool enough while doing a demo and the hot liquid did melt the silicone tube, spilling the hot liquid down my bare leg, burning it quite severely. But due to the healing properties of the zinc, it healed in a few days with very little pain. 

sun protective clothing

Most people don’t realize that regular summer clothing lets through a surprising amount of UV. Of course, summer styles also typically expose a lot of skin to the sun.

I was surprised to find that a white cotton tee shirt has an SPF of only 5-7. Soaking it for the wet tee shirt contest lowers the SPF to only 2!

I have a few UPF 50 long sleeve shirts that are made for hiking and are vented to keep me cool, while providing maximum protection. I also have a UPF 50 wide brimmed hat.

UPF 50 shirt

Sun protective clothing should offer at least a UPF of 30+ and therefore block 97 percent of UV.

15-24 Good 93.3-95.9
25-39 Very Good 96-97.4
40-50+ Excellent 97.5-98+

Rit SunGuard

Living in the southern California with plenty of sunshine and plenty of heat, many times clothes are lightweight and light in color – perfect for allowing the sun’s ultraviolet rays to penetrate.

A product that helps clothing protect your skin is Rit SunGuard. It is a laundry additive that enhances the level of UV protection provided by your existing clothes.

However, the protection provided by Rit will wash out over time and it only works with cottons and other natural fabrics. Rit claims that it will last through twenty wash cycles.

It is an at-home fabric treatment that coats clothing and helps block more than 96 percent of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching the skin.

A treatment provides an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 (similar to the SPF or sun protection factor rating for sun screen).

SunGuard works by penetrating the fibers of washable clothing and coating them with a formula that blocks ultraviolet rays. Listed product ingredients are Sodium Chloride and Nonionic Surfactants.

It is safe for all washable natural fabrics including cotton, linen, rayon and silk. It will not add sun protection to polyester, acrylic or other synthetic fibers. It can be used on blended fabrics but the final protection will not be as effective.

It is recommended for use on children’s clothing after the age of six months. It cannot be used as a spray-on treatment for hats, umbrellas or outdoor fabrics.

It does not change the texture or feel of the fabric. You won’t notice any difference in breathability of the fabric. It has earned the endorsement of The Skin Cancer Foundation and The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Follow instructions included with the product.

Protect Your Eyes

  • Sun damage to eyes can occur anytime during the year, not just in the summertime, so be sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats whenever you’re outside.
  • Don’t be fooled by clouds: the sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds.
  • Find out more at the American Academy of Opthalmology.

Exposure Times

As the sun moves higher in the sky, the sun’s rays become more intense and damaging to the skin and eyes. This is because the ultraviolet (UV) light travels a shorter, more direct distance to reach the Earth.

The peak sun intensity hours, when UV light is strongest, are between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. standard time or 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. daylight savings time. When possible, plan outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s rays are less intense. By avoiding sun exposure during peak hours, sun exposure may be reduced by as much as 60%.

If outdoor activities during these peak times are unavoidable, encourage the use of protective clothing and sunglasses, play or work in shaded areas, and always use full spectrum sunscreen.

Provide adequate shade

Shade can help protect us from the sun, but not all shade is created equal. The quality of shade an object provides depends on the sun’s position in the sky, the size of the object making the shadow, and how much sunlight can penetrate the object.

And remember, if you’re at the beach, even if you are blocking direct sunlight with a hat or shade, reflected UV off the sand and water is still hitting you and can cause burning and other sun damage.

Quick tips

  • Monitor the daily UV Index forecasts for your area (go to or look in newspapers) and plan indoor activities on days of high sun intensity
  • Teach children how to identify and find good sources of shade
  • Keep infants and small children in the shade when outdoors
  • Plan trips to parks and places where adequate shade is available
  • Purchase portable shade structures such as umbrellas, tents, and tarps
  • Build permanent shade structures such as porches, picnic shelters, and fabric shade canopies

Common Sense

friendly sun

Exercise common sense when planning time outdoors. We can get our Vitamin D by supplementing, and probably should be, so there is no great need to sun bathe more than a few minutes a day in morning or late afternoon hours. And remember, the sun is our friend if we respect its ability to heal us or kill us.

Natural Sun Protection
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