Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Clearing up the Smoke Screen Around Sunscreen

Every summer I am overwhelmed by the information regarding sunscreens.  So much so, I just want to give up on them altogether.  But, then again, I am fair, prone to freckles and moles and because of this, at greater risk.  So, what to do..... I have read through the best information sources I know (Environmental Work Group, WebMD, and Andrew Weil to name a few) and come up with the following:
As you buy sunscreens this summer do not bother to buy any sunscreen over SPF 50. The FDA is actually saying that sunscreens over that amount are not proven to be any safer and asking (because they can't require) that labels be changed. Again, it will be a while before this happens, definitely through 2012. SPF 15-30 is most likely all we need for adequate protection.

However, it's more complex than just the numbers. The reality of sunscreen use is much more complex.  Choose one that is PABA-free and oxybenzone-free. These are the nastiest chemicals often used, although becoming less common, now that they've been exposed. Look for Parsol 1789, effective and, so far, a healthier alternative. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, once only white in color, are now available in colorless form. The EWG recommends products with these minerals as the basis of protection. Look for them on the label as well. They are effective at blocking all types of rays.
Don't read the label claims! Read the ingredients! There is no regulation over sunscreens, lotions or any beauty products.    The labels are filled with claims of all sort, often misleading and even false.  It is up to you to make sure what is healthy and effective is present in the product. And, it is up to you to re-apply after swimming, sweating, and every 2 hours of exposure. No matter what a label claims, the effective ingredients break down after 2 hours or so.
Some extra tidbits: Get SOME sun exposure! Allow the sun to get at your skin for 30 minutes a day without sunscreen. You need the vitamin D! In the winter in the northern areas of the country, take a supplement.  The sun is too far away to get at our skin and make the vitamin.  Don't bother with products claiming they have healthy vitamin A. It may be risky and it does no good externally for protection.  There really is no conclusive evidence that sunscreen protects against the most common and deadliest forms of skin cancer, but most agree, it most likely does and most recommend using sunscreen if you have to be exposed to sun.  Otherwise, I say stay out of the sun when it's rays are the worst from noon to 3PM when you can, shade yourself with a hat, a tree, an umbrella.  Sunscreen DOES protect against sun burn and those of us who have had burns know it's a good thing to avoid!
I hate to say it, but fork over the extra money for more expensive brands like Neutrogena, Jason, and Kiss My Face. The EWG has a guide which requires a donation but you can type in your brand and see if it ranks. Also, you can find a list of some recommended by EWG in the past on WebMD.   Also, don't let the sunscreen confusion stop you from enjoying fun in the sun! 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This is Why I Meditate

I was reading a book about the research done here at the University of Wisconsin in partnership with Tibetan monks and the Dalai Lama.  The main focus of the initial research were 2 aspects of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice.  The first is to focus, to be able to control the mind and choose it's focus and stay there.  The second is to create emotions from internal space rather than allowing emotions to be controlled by external stimuli.  I guess I knew this in a way, but to see it so succinctly written in a research paper really hit me.  Yes, I want that!  Yes, this is why I meditate!  Sometimes I forget.  Sometimes I just do it, because, well, I should, or it's important, or it's good for me..... But, what I really want is to train my brain toward states of focus I control and toward states of emotion that internally come from joy and peace, no matter what goes on externally.

This seems poignant as I see people around me here in Wisconsin get so emotional and so focused on a state election.  This election, yes, is a big deal with big consequences.  I keep thinking about how much emotion people are putting into this and wishing that it would happen for other things as well - like outrage over water quality on our planet, or the plastics seeping into every aspect of our lives and our bodies, the killing of innocent people that seems to occur every single day somewhere on the planet for what seems to me to be no reason, the slavery of children and adults all over the world.......I could really spiral down into a pit of despair here and often I do, if I let my mind go there.

The point is, horrible things are happening all around us and we could fall into despair or as a friend posted to me on FaceBook, "I want to quit. Just quit."  I get that feeling.  I think we all do.  So, the answer is, in my mind, to do what Gandhi said, "Be the change you'd like to see in the world."  He didn't say DO the change, although that may be the result somewhere down the road, but BE it.  In order to BE the change, we must create it within us.  How can we do this with so many rotten things going on around us?  Well, there are many wonderful and amazing things going on around us as well!  This isn't about a Pollyanna mentality of unaware and uninformed, this is about where I focus and how I regulate my emotions.  When I see the wonderful, create the joy, I am then being what I want to see in the world and then I am able to do what needs to be done.

If you agree with this thinking and I know some of you won't and that's OK, then keep reading.  This is not for everyone, but I know that it works, because the research at the UW is proving it and because my own practice is changing me, each and every day.  I once was irritated, outraged and expressive in a way that I thought was necessary for the changes I wanted to see.  But you know what?  Nobody wanted to hear me from that state of anger and despair (except those just as angry and desparate).  Plus, I was miserable and I didn't want that!  So, what to do now?

Begin!  Create a routine:  Every day find a time that works and set aside an amount of time that works.  There's no prescription for this in my opinion.  Do what works for you!  Breathe:  Focus on the breath.  Always focus on the breath first.  This can change.  You can later begin to focus on a thought, on a mantra, on a visual, but start with the breath.  Why?  Because the breath focuses your mind and calms your body.  Use the breath for focus and to turn on the relaxation response.  That's it?:  Yup, you can stop right there, if you want.  Do this every day for the rest of your life.  Or, when you feel ready, start to experiment with other routines.  Create a sense of joy by thinking of joyful things, people, events and then cultivate that just by being it through meditation.  Create loving-kindness by practicing metta meditation (google it, there's lots out there).  Create a mantra of love and warmth and meaning and focus on that.  So many things!  Take classes, read books, follow audio books, podcasts,.....Find what works and stay with it - yes, for the rest of your life!

Seems daunting now, I know, but once you feel the wondrous effects, you won't have to talk yourself into it.  Yes, you'll miss some days, just like you do with your flossing, you'll notice and you'll come back to it, someday when you realize that you are sick of being angry, frustrated and depressed about the state of our world.  You'll decide to change the world within and then you'll find the world without can begin to change bit by wonderful bit.