To Sunscreen or not to Sunscreen

A few weeks ago, I wrote up a list of three things that a young woman interested in a technical career could do to plan for when that career requires looking professional. I recommended three things: start wearing sunscreen with moisturizer young, cut out sugary drinks while you still have an adolescent metabolism and keep your tattoos discreet.

Now, I knew I was courting controversy with these. Weight is the besetting body issue of our age. Tattoos are the ultimate form of self-expression. I steeled myself for controversy, prepared myself to both listen carefully and support my views, and clicked publish.

And lo! (Extremely mild) controversy ensued! But not about Mt. Dew or tramp stamps. It was about whether wearing sunscreen was a good idea or not. Huh. Not what I was expecting.

Unilateral Dermatoheliosis

Unilateral Dermatoheliosis: or why you should wear sunscreen even when you are inside all day

But my curiosity was piqued. One of the nice things about this topic (fashion & apparance) for me is that it’s easier to be open minded. I mean, do I really have a great reason for thinking I needed to wear sunscreen? There isthe dermatologic-industrial complex and their advertising budget. My mother-in-law. And my extremely desultory browsing of fashion magazines. I concede the possibility that I could be wrong in my advice.

Then I remembered that one of my geek-gaming friends was a dermatologist. I dropped her a line and asked if she’d be willing to go “on background” to educate me – and by extension you – on sunscreen: the whys, whens and hows. After a review of the AMA’s guidelines on MDs talking as MDs on blog platforms, we decided the easiest way to get information from her to you was an informal overview and review. So… all those standard disclaimers about “But talk about it with your own doctor” apply.

The objections to sunscreen raised in the previous post came in the following areas:
1) The chemicals in sunscreen might cause cancer
2) Especially for people in Northern climates, insufficient vitamin D might be produced using a rigorous sunscreen regimen
3) Most technical folks spend their working days indoor anyway and don’t get a lot of direct sun exposure

In discussions with my dermatologist friend, she mentioned a lot of people have been strongly influenced by The Environmental Working Group’s analysis of sunscreens. Their main points are:
1) Maybe sunscreen doesn’t prevent skin cancer, or might cause deadlier forms of cancer
2) Sunscreen blocks the body from synthesizing vitamin D
3) Sunscreens may use antioxidants, which can create free radicals, which can create damage to cells

There seem to be many variations on these themes in their online materials.

My friend and I had a fascinating 90 minute discussion on sunscreen. And I realized: I’m writing for an audience of technical women… women who are probably as interested as I am in the science of how sun and skin interact. So let’s talk about it!

Next up: UVA, UVB and the desk jockey


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Natalie
    Sep 11, 2012 @ 12:28:54

    I am not anti sunscreen. I am anti SPF 35+. I do wear SPF 25 daily in my BB cream. I do feel that the chemicals required for SPF 50 are too harsh for northern climate tech geeks who sit indoors all day. I also note that the only portion of my skin that could possibly reap health benefits of direct sunlight during the winter is my face. Considering osteoporosis runs in family but not cancer, I’m happier to skip the sunscreen. I carry SPF 30 with me in my purse at all times to protect my tattoos from fading, however. I do feel SPF 100 is nothing but an evil marketing gimmick, and I would be horrified if someone put SPF 60 on my child.


  2. laureen flynn
    Sep 11, 2012 @ 12:34:25

    After 20 plus years in the Middle East with lots of swimming and outdoor market shopping, the only things keeping my very fair skin from both the appearance of tanned leather and skin cancer, is probably sunscreen and moisturizer. My vitamin D levels which I have tested are in the very upper range. Also having accompanied my father last week to have a common basel skin cancer removed I can say I would very much like to pass on a scar from eye to chin. (not being able to stitch a round hole closed they slit above and below the actual site,) Still everyone needs to obviously make their own choice.


  3. Jodi
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 10:37:17

    Thanks for this, can’t wait to read further! I’m curious about what SPF is best. I’m hoping the combination of my 15 plus mineral makeup may be good. Those with higher SPF seem icky/sticky to use as daily moisturizers (the chemical and animal testing concerns are also there). It is a lesser of evils kind of equation.


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