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This article will discuss some of the most common sun exposure and sunscreen myths. We’ll get into how sun protection applies in particularly important ways for preppers and homesteaders. We’ll also talk about tips for preventing sunscreen, and some sunscreen alternatives you can whip up in a pinch. Lastly, we’ll discuss some special considerations when it comes to sun protection for seniors, disabled folks, and people with limited mobility. Let’s dive right in with some myths to get started!
Myth 1: People with dark skin can’t get sun damage
Melanin, which gives skin its dark color, does provide protection from the sun—but it doesn’t make it impossible for the sun to damage the skin. Worse yet, darker skin makes it harder to identify when a sunburn is occurring, so olive and darker-complexioned people can be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking the damage isn’t occurring.
Myth 2: Overcast skies and the winter season keep you from getting damaged
Unfortunately, sunburns and sun damage, in general, can still occur when the sky is overcast. Likewise, you can get sun damage during the winter. Sunscreen should be worn year-round.
Myth 3: Your skin isn’t damaged until you get a sunburn.
The fact of the matter is, if you have a tan, your skin has been damaged. Tanning is a physical response to sun damage. So, even if you don’t get burned, the “healthy tan” isn’t so healthy after all. A tan is specifically a response to the skin cells becoming damaged.
Myth 4: You need to get sun exposure or you’ll be Vitamin D deficient.
Thy myth is easy to fall prey to. Vitamin D is important, but incidental sun exposure usually keeps your body producing enough of it. Along with incidental exposure, foods like egg yolks give you all the vitamin D you need.
Myth 5: The more sun exposure, the more vitamin D you get.
Many sunbathers think “oof, I got a little sunburned. Well, at least I got my Vitamin D!” However, after about 20 minutes in direct sun, you actually begin having a negative effect in terms of what would have been the benefits from sun exposure. The window of sun exposure is very short before skin damage starts to occur.
You’ll no longer get any vitamin D benefit, and your immune system will start to not work as well. This is when the sun damage starts, either in a reddening of the skin, also known as sunburn, or a darkening of the skin, also known as a suntan.
Myth 6: Sunscreen will protect you.
Yes, sunscreen can be a great thing. But sunscreen is a complicated product, working to prevent a complex set of problems relating to a spectrum of radiation. They use a combination of minerals and chemicals to block that radiation, along with fragrances, fillers, and other components.
Without the right sunscreen, applied at the right times, you won’t be protected from the sun. For example, even “waterproof” sunscreens need to be reapplied very regularly to remain effective…re-applying every two hours might not even be enough, especially if you’re swimming or rolling around in the sand! Also, some sunscreens contain chemicals that are toxic in and of themselves.
For example, chemicals in sunscreens like oxybenzone can mimic hormones in the human body, potentially disrupting the endocrine system in both men and women. The effects of these hormone-disrupting chemicals might be particularly damaging for developing children. Measurable amounts of these chemicals can also be found in human breast milk, meaning pregnant women who absorb them could potentially be passing them onto newborns.
Look for zinc oxide or titanium oxide-based sunscreens that don’t use oxybenzone. These minerals protect against UVA and UVB rays (more on this next) and haven’t been shown to cause hormonal disruptions.
Myth 7: The higher the SPF, the more of the sun’s rays you’re protected against.
When most people are choosing a sunscreen, the SPF is the first thing they look at. And while knowing the SPF is helpful, what it actually means is widely misunderstood.
The sun gives off all kinds of radiation that can damage skin, but not all radiation is created equal. Different types of radiation have different wavelengths, and the sun gives off several. These include UVA and UVB rays. SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, only tells you how well you’ll be protected against UVB rays.
UVA rays are different, so look for a sunscreen that protects against both. Sometimes these will be labeled as providing “Multi-Spectrum” or “Broad-Spectrum” protection, but always confirm before buying, as these labels could be used misleadingly.
As for SPF, it alleges to describe how long you’ll be able to go without getting UVB-related sun damage compared to when you wear no sunscreen at all. The specifics are a bit complicated, but sunscreens with SPF above 30 aren’t meaningfully more effective. SPF 15 is a good minimum, but anything above 30 doesn’t offer an increased benefit.
Sun Exposure for Seniors & People with Disabilities
If you’re above 65 or have a disability, there are special concerns regarding sun exposure and damage. First off, the damage is cumulative, so older individuals have a higher potential for developing conditions like skin cancer.
Also, decreased mobility in seniors and the disabled means it may become difficult to apply sunscreen. If you will be going outside, it is important to have someone help you make sure all your exposed skin is covered. Long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection will make a big difference as well.
Unfortunately, there’s a bit of myth that persists for some people in the 65 and above the crowd when it comes to sun protection. That myth is that since they didn’t spend a lot of time in the sun throughout their life, that they don’t have to worry about protecting themselves from it now that they’re a bit older.
It’s true that damage from the sun is cumulative in nature. But that doesn’t mean you should stop protecting yourself once you’re older. First off, older folks are more likely to have sensitive skin. And when it comes to cancer everyone is different, but you might have still gotten enough sunshine to develop melanoma even if you always wore sunscreen and weren’t a beach-goer or summer lover.
In addition, sun damage later in your life is still damage, and will still contribute to the likelihood of developing skin cancer at a time when it’s already more likely to occur. Add on to that the fact that sun damage rapidly accelerates aging, and you have more than a few good reasons to stay vigilant when it comes to sun protection.
Of course, on a homestead, in a SHTF scenario, or during a major economic crisis, sunscreen might not be easy to come by. To that end, we’ll discuss some alternatives next that you can keep your pantry stocked with. Some you might already have on hand. While imperfect, these sunscreen alternatives will be able to help you protect your skin when conventional store-bought sunscreens are hard to come by.
In a SHTF situation or just in a pinch, there are sunscreen alternatives you can try that, while they’ll have varying degrees of effectiveness, will be much better than using no sunscreen at all. Below are a few of these sunscreen alternatives.
Note that these need to be reapplied even more often than conventional sunscreens do, but will still make a big difference versus not using any protection. If you’re allergic to any of the ingredients commonly found in commercial sunscreens, this list is especially valuable. While you can usually find a sunscreen that doesn’t have any given ingredient, having some alternatives on hand gives you more tools in the toolbox to keep from getting burned.
In terms of sun damage, aloe vera is something that is usually known as a gel to apply after being sunburned, when the damage has already been done. However, applying aloe vera before sun exposure can help you prevent sun damage to begin with.
Aloe is a cactus, and its juices have a number of medicinal properties. This makes it popular in all kinds of gels, lotions, and even products like shampoo. Applying a generous layer of aloe to the skin before sun exposure won’t have the protective effect of a conventional sunscreen, but will definitely buy you some extra time in the sun’s rays before real damage occurs.
Sesame oil has a surprisingly potent ability to protect from the sun. Like many oils, it may feel odd to apply to your skin and give you a greasy feel. You also might smell vaguely like a stir-fry, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid actually frying in the sunshine! And if you’re out on the homestead or surviving with a ragtag tribe of post-apocalyptic scavengers, it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Wheat Germ Oil
While it may not be as protective against sun damage as sesame oil, wheat germ oil is known to work as a natural moisturizer. This has the double effect of keeping you from getting sunburned and nourishing your skin.
This one is great, as coconut oil already exists in many prepper pantries. In addition to offering some sun protection, coconut oil nourishes your skin with its anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains antioxidants, which have a positive effect that goes beyond just reducing and preventing sun damage. Try to use the extra virgin, organic coconut oils whenever possible.
Other Tricks to Prevent Sunburn
Other oils, such as carrot seed oil, help protect against sunburn as well. These oils are helpful to apply after sun exposure also, even if you haven’t been tanned or sunburned. They can moisturize after the sun dries your skin, and help you absorb protective antioxidants to counteract whatever minor sun damage may have occurred. When it comes to clothing, long sleeves and sun hats are a prepper, homesteader, and outdoor enthusiast’s best friend.
In addition to using sunscreen or sunscreen alternatives, and wearing extra clothing, there are some other steps you can take to fortify your body against sunburn. Staying hydrated is one of the easiest and most effective measures you can take before going out on the sun. We’ll dive more into this next.
The Effects of Hydration on Sun Damage
Staying hydrated will massively decrease the damaging effects of the sun on your skin. Not only will you be less likely to get a sunburn, but your skin will be more generally resilient to the sun’s rays. This shouldn’t be surprising—as we’re mostly water anyway, so our bodies work best, and can protect themselves best when they are well-hydrated.
However, it’s not something most people think about in terms of avoiding sunburn and sun damage. But being hydrated versus being dehydrated makes for a massive improvement in terms of the damage you’ll sustain. Start paying attention to this, stay hydrated when you get sun exposure, and you’ll feel how much harder it becomes for you to get a sunburn.
Nutrients and Foods that Prevent Sunburn
In addition, nutrients like the beta-carotene found in carrots and other vegetables help to protect us against sun damage. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, which is a substance that helps prevent cancer by neutralizing free radicals like those created by exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant.
What it comes down to is, a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, and other key nutrients can make all the difference when it comes to spending lots of time in the sun. A great diet increases your body’s ability to protect and renew itself, and sun damage is no exception.
The protective effects of optimal hydration and nutrition have on sun damage are especially helpful for seniors and people with disabilities or limited mobility. These two factors add up to be a game changer for people in a situation where they can’t avoid long hours of sun exposure.
While everyone gets sun damage once in a while, a lot of premature aging, skin cancer, and other conditions could be prevented if we all practiced just a little bit more vigilance when it comes to protecting ourselves from the sun.
Complicated and sometimes toxic sunscreen products don’t make the task any easier, but shouldn’t scare anyone away from using a product to protect themselves. Just stay away from hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone, and allergens like methylisothiazolinone, and stick with sunscreens that have as few ingredients as possible.
Wear long sleeves, pants, hats, and sunglasses whenever possible. And if you don’t have any sunscreen, don’t go it alone! Grab some coconut oil or one of the other sunscreen alternatives so that you at least have a little bit of extra protection. Apply these oils after exposure, even if you used a conventional sunblock while you were actually outside.
If you have limited mobility, sun protection is even more important. Either way, remember that the sun is immensely powerful. It allows for life to exist on earth, but like just about all good things, too much can be deadly!
Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!