Safe Summer Sun

The headlines about skin cancer and depleting ozone are as relentless as the heat wave was last May. “Skin Cancer Epidemic Hasn’t Yet Peaked.” “Rising Skin Cancer Rates Are More Likely to Affect Wealthy People.” Or (on another note): “Sunscreen Can Lead to MS, Cancer, and Arthritis.”

Popular talking head Anderson Cooper even blogged about his own skin cancer scare last March. Such information, coupled with the EPA’s announcement that melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is one of the fastest-growing cancers in the United States, can leave one confused at best and alarmed for sure. But step into the shade, take a deep breath, and have a look at how some smart people are busy making our UV-exposed world a safer place.

Color Warning

As Tiburon science teacher Patricia Swanson wandered through a National Science Teacher Association convention a few years back, she came upon a booth displaying UV-detecting polymer beads. “I was so fascinated by the way the intensity of the beads’ color increases with the amount of UV exposure,” she recounts. “And when the beads (and whoever is wearing them) are out of the sun and out of danger for UV exposure, the beads will turn off-white.” Not only might these make a fun teaching tool, she decided, but strung onto bracelets or sewn into clothing, they’d have a useful wow-factor appeal— a colorful way to remind kids it’s time to reapply that sunscreen. To learn more, visit:

How About a Nice Hawaiian… block

Ever wonder how pro surfers withstand long hours of exposure to intense tropical UV rays? A new product that’s gained attention in our sundrenched 50th state is Vertra, created by surf industry veterans (including Shane Dorian pictured above). This nongreasy and very water- and sweat-resistant sunscreen face stick is foundation (yes, as in women’s makeup) based and has been popular among this ultra-UV-exposed set for years. Why foundation? Well, anyone watching his or her girlfriend or wife literally scrub her makeup off with soap and/or cleansers knows of the strong staying power that makeup often has once on the skin. For extreme conditions, where surf and sweat are prominent, the ability of the sunscreen to stay on is just as important as the SPF level.

Tim Finley, longtime local surfer and alumnus of Saint Pat’s in Larkspur, is Vertra’s Northern California rep and offers a few tips on using sunscreen:

✹ Reapply every two hours. To qualify for a “very water resistant” rating, sunscreens must maintain their SPF after 80 minutes of water immersion. So even the best stuff may begin to lose its full
effectiveness in less than two hours. Waterproof sunscreen, a term that literally means that it will never come off, is nonexistent and such labeling gives the user a false sense of security.

✹ Apply lightly on top of the skin to coat the skin rather than rubbing it in so the sunscreen acts as a shield.

✹ Don’t be swayed by high SPF numbers. SPF 30 provides skin with 97 percent protection, whereas SPF 40 to 60 provides 98 to 98.6 percent protection. Not much of a difference.

✹ Look for products labeled “water resistant” (for the recreational outdoorsman) to “very water resistant” (for those who intend to spend long, rigorous hours in the sun). These terminologies are not marketing ploys but are the only two labeling criteria authorized by the FDA. Remember, a sunscreen with a 50 SPF rating that washes off quickly may leave you with an SPF protection level of next to nothing as the minutes go by.

✹ Look for sunscreens that include proven and effective physical blocks such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.


San Anselmo School Shines

While most schools in Marin protect kids from harmful UV rays with umbrellas at lunch tables and planted shade trees, Wade Thomas School in San Anselmo deserves a gold star. Concerned about the excessive sunshine on their campus, administrators sought and received an $8,000 grant (one of 37 nationwide) from the American Academy of Dermatology to provide permanent shade on their campus. Want to nominate your school for 2009? Check out:


Mimi Towle

Mimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccer, swim, volleyball, ballet, hip hop, gymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine.