I have been spending a fair amount of time in the garden the past week getting things which means some exposure to sun and insects. For years we have been told to slather on the sunscreen to protect against the damaging effects of the sun. As a result of a skin condition that worsens with sun exposure I have sunblock with an SPF 80 that I use on my face and any exposed body part. The problem with relying on sunblocks are two fold. First most sunscreens and sunblocks contain oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is a penetration enhancer that helps other chemicals in the sunscreen and sunblock penetrate the skin. Recent studies have indicated that oxybenzone is linked to allergies, disrupts hormones, causes cell damage and a low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy. In addition to the health risks of oxybenzone, those living in the northern hemisphere using both sunscreens and sunblocks have been shown to be significantly deficient in Vitamin D. So it would appear the very thing I need to prevent one problem has the potential of creating several problems. The reality is sunscreen and sunblock is really only one type of protection and it should be used sparingly if at all given some of the health risks. There are other ways to protect yourself from the damaging effects of the sun while gardening:
- anti-oxidants - These natural chemicals such as lycopene (in tomatoes) and Vitamin C help to protect against cellular damage from the sun and other toxins. In the summer the brighter and darker the fruit and vegetables are the more anti-oxidants they contain so make them part of your daily diet.
- avoidance - Avoid being outdoors during the hottest part of the day when the sun is the strongest between 12 PM and 4 PM. Gardening is extremely pleasant in the early morning hours and that is one of the best times to identify and problem insects. The evening hour just before dusk is another pleasant time to work in the garden.
- protective clothing - Wear light coloured protective clothing preferably cotton in the garden. The clothing should be long sleeved to cover your arms and long legged or long skirts to shield your legs from the sun. A wide brimmed hat is a must to shade your face and neck from the sun.
- sun shelters - Set up one or more sun shelters in your garden for use while you are working. These can be vine covered sitting arbors or gazabos, patio sitting areas with umbrellas and small sheds where you can do a bit of planting in containers out of the direct rays of the sun.