Summer means we see people getting outside and connecting with nature-gardening, walking the boardwalks, biking, hiking and boating. Warm weather and high humidity probably means we are wearing less clothing, leading to more exposure of our skin to the elements and potentially to toxic chemicals.
Your skin is your largest organ weighing about eight pounds and covering some 20 square feet. When we expose our skin to that delicious summer sunlight, we are soaking up all of that Vitamin D which promotes healthy bones, can regulate blood pressure and the immune system, and can be beneficial in preventing certain types of cancer.
In New Jersey, in winter months, we cannot rely on the sun for vitamin D, instead we must take in vitamin D through food, or with supplements. In summer months, it is recommended that about 5-10 minutes of skin exposure to your hands, legs and arms a few times per week is enough to put your vitamin D levels in the right range. Any longer time spent in the sun, be sure to put on a sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 15, as this will reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. But before you apply, you will want to make sure that lotion you slather on is going to do more help than harm.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “The average woman uses 12 personal products daily and is exposed to hundreds of chemicals - none of which are required to be tested for safety.” The chemicals that you apply get absorbed through your skin (as with sun lotion) or inhaled into your lungs (as with aerosol sun protection products). MADE SAFE (www.madesafe.org) is a great online resource for finding certified, non-toxic products from personal products to household products to cosmetics. In addition, each year, the EWG releases a safe guide to sunscreens (https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen), but they state “sunscreen should be your last resort.” You can reduce your risk of sun exposure by wearing protective clothing and eyewear, spending time in the shade, checking the UV index, and avoiding the sun during peak hours.
Another thing to consider when spending time outdoors is the exposure of our skin to chemicals that can be found in bug repellant, pesticides and herbicides. The EWG Guide to Bug Repellent can help inform you about the safest products to use so you can avoid viruses that can be carried by bugs like mosquitos and ticks but also minimize the amount of toxic chemicals placed on your skin. If you enjoy gardening, consider the chemicals you apply as pesticides and herbicides. These can be absorbed through your skin on contact or through inhalation.
Some simple ways to prevent these from entering your body include wearing gardening gloves, wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants, wearing masks when applying airborne materials, washing hands thoroughly, and removing clothing and shoes when your return into your home. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables, even if home grown, before consuming. You can even find ways to practice more natural, organic gardening like using beneficial insects and native plants around your home. Look to a resource that can be trusted, like the Planet Natural Research Center or your local county park education programs.
Sara Scheller, RN, NBC-HWC, is a Registered Nurse and Health Coach for the Integrative Health & Medicine program at Hackensack Meridian Health, partnering with people to make lasting lifestyle and behavioral changes for optimal health and well-being. For more information or to learn more: HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine
This article appears in July's issue of Natural Awakenings Jersey Shore najerseyshore.com