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Skis, boots, poles, gloves, goggles, sunscreen: a typical pre-skiing checklist. Elevation, reflection from the snow, and consistent exposure create an environment ideal for sunburns, so most skiers include slathering of sunscreen as part of the routine. According to a report just released by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization determined to expose product and pesticide imposed health risks, sunscreen may not actually prevent skin cancer or premature aging; it may actually increase chances and speed up the process. An unfortunate piece of information for a community who spends most of their time outside.
Sunscreen ingredients don’t need to pass FDA regulations because the FDA has not yet set the standards; a project started in 1978 and sadly still in hiatus. Because of that, Vitamin A derivatives, which are believed to accelerate skin damage, still show up in roughly 41 percent of sunscreens.. Hormone-disrupting Oxybenzone, a synthetic Estrogen compound, which enters the bloodstream after applied to the skin, exists in approximately 60 percent of sunscreens. So for all these years, as our parents worried about reapplying for us in ski school, as we shelled out cash for new products with promises for better protection (money we could have used on a new pair of skis), as we felt like informed customers applying another application before heading back out to the chairlift, our sunscreen wasn’t necessarily doing the job.
Remember when all the young park skiers started wearing bandanas around their faces? Well, maybe we all should have followed the trend. According to the EWG, one of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun is with proper clothing. For skiers this means goggles or sunglasses, long sleeves (even in the spring), and bandanas or balaclavas for the face. Also, EWG recommends that outdoor enthusiasts plan their play time wisely; early morning and late afternoon are the best times to be outside to decrease your exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Coincidentally, this works out well with a skier’s top priority: powder mornings.
The EWG doesn’t advocate complete removal of sunscreen lotions as part of your routine; just choose the wisely. Don’t buy bottles containing Oxybenzone, vitamin A derived retinyl palmitate, or added insect repellent. Instead, look for an alternative that uses zinc or titanium dioxide. Any gimmicky promises, such as easy spray-on sunscreens or an SPF of above 30 should stay on the shelves at the pharmacy. Buy a cream with broad spectrum protection and water resistance.
Another point to consider: sunshine is vital. There is a reason why it feels energizing to sit on the deck and drink a beer after skiing all day. Our bodies need sun. Vitamin D strengthens bones, the immune system, and has various other essential functions in our bodies. You can drink milk every day, eat kale and spinach, or take supplements, but none of these sources provide as much vitamin D as the sun. Low doses of skiing sans sunscreen may actually prove healthy, but only for a few runs. The American Medical Association suggests 10 minutes per day of sun exposure without sunscreen.
So, the next time you go through the mental checklist, still bring the sunscreen. If you are running late on a big powder morning, put it on after your first run. And seriously, leave the Banana Boat behind. <