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Preventive health care you can apply year-round

I’ll be the first to admit, religious sunscreen use is not one of my well-established habits. As is often the case with health, we know we should – but we don’t.

This act of self-care for the sake of cancer prevention (OK, wrinkle prevention) has been on my hit list of habits to change for months. Perhaps it’s coincidental, but on my few moments of success, I’ve made an observation: Applying sunscreen seemingly causes the sun to disappear behind clouds, who knew? Tempted to give up sunscreen in hopes of more sunny days, I thought it best to do a little research. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cloud cover, unless exceptionally heavy, does little to block ultraviolet rays responsible for skin and eye damage.

Clouds are one factor influencing the UV index, or estimated level of exposure to UV rays. Exposure risk varies daily and geographically. It’s also influenced by ozone, elevation, season, earth surface characteristics (sand, snow), latitude, land cover (structures, trees) and the time of day. UV exposure categories range from low (1 to 2) to extreme (11+). Despite the level of exposure, one health recommendation remains the same – apply broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor of 15 (30 per American Academy of Dermatology) and wear sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection while outside.

As with any habit, one tip for success is to create an environment supportive of what you want. With many long, sunny days ahead of us, consider applying these sunscreen tips:

Have sunscreen available. Purchase multiple bottles to keep in the car, at work, on your deck and in your workout and work bags.Have backup sunglasses. Cheap is fine, so long as they provide 100% UV protection.Connect timing of application to another habit. Before meals, after refilling a water bottle or when applying on children. Tolerable feel. Choose a sunscreen brand you don’t mind the feel of. Quick absorbing may be preferential.Addressing concerns with sunscreen can also remove barriers to use. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are active ingredients considered generally regarded as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration.

While the FDA proposed further safety testing in February, these ingredients are still recommended: ensulizole, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, avobenzone, cinoxate, dioxybenzone, meradimate, padimate O and sulisobenzone. Choose a brand with an active ingredient based on your level of comfort with safety testing.

My go-to excuse for not using sunscreen has always relied on the need to make vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin not naturally found in significant quantities from food. Some vitamin D researchers suggest 5 to 30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure twice weekly for adequate levels. However, it’s unknown whether sun exposure for the sake of vitamin D production outweighs the risk of skin cancer. Evidence shows most people don’t apply sunscreen effectively enough to completely prevent vitamin D production, so fear not. If concerned, have your vitamin D levels tested and consult with your health care provider for the best options to meet your needs.

Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at nicole.clark@colostate.edu or 382-6465.

Nicole Clark