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Image by Miha Rekar

The Greening of Life

Fun in the sun


I woke up this morning and forgot which side the sun rises from, but then it dawned on me (sorry, I'll try again!). Well it's the double-whammy of lockdown easing and weather warming up, which means the predictable onslaught of stag and hen parties taking over the city centre with their bare mid-riffs and roadside retching, but also the chance to enjoy the quieter spots for some of the beautiful greenery and waterways we are so lucky to have on our doorstep in Yorkshire.


So today was the first day I got out the sunblock and braved the usual combination of gentle persuasion tactics, bribery and light threats in order to ensure my junior editor was suitably creamed up and ready to gambol around the Barnsley Riviera today. In keeping with the many pumps of alcohol gel at my workplace, sunscreen is designed to squirt out at an unpredictable angle, making a beeline for the crotch area, glasses, and any soft furnishings that might be up to 100m behind you. But it's annoyingly essential and if you stick with me, friends, I'll tell you why...


Our local life-sustaining fireball aka The Sun is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s kind of helpful in making vitamin D, and you’ll need to spend at least 30 minutes outside baring your face and forearms on 3 days of the week or more, from June to September inclusive. BUT (and this is a big fur-lined ‘but’ with sprinkles and an intriguingly endangered Flake on top), I don’t want you laying on your back for an entire day whilst your friends use sunblock to draw genitalia on your face and write profanities on your torso. You’ll end up at the russet end of the tanning spectrum, as well as having caused irreversible damage to your skin, that could increase your risk of skin cancer.


We'll come back to sunblock in a moment, but first let me elaborate on some important (fluffs up feathers) medical bits about ultraviolet light (UV). Sunlight enters the Earth’s atmosphere in two different wavelengths: the creatively named UVA and UVB. Sure UVA will tan your skin, and what you really need to know is that it can go through glass. So yes way if you feel your right arm begin to sizzle in the car, pull over and slap on some sunblock please. And UVB is just as potent. It's thought to be linked to two types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. Not nice. So on this occasion I'll advise you to please use fake tan rather than those naughty sunbeds.


Back to sunblock now folks. Over the past 2 years my forays into greener healthcare have involved a lot of trying out new products, and I really have a bee in my upcycled-bonnet about sunblock. For starters, most brands contain chemicals that are really harmful to our oceans. And with 14000 tonnes of sunblock ending up in the ocean every year from our skin, this is a scary problem. Think of all the damage to fish and coral reefs. Do I need to remind you that the algae in the oceans is a huge carbon absorber? If you think the Amazon rainforest is important (and it really is), then remember that the oceans are too! Check out NHS Ocean for more info. In fact, in 2018 Hawaii banned two harmful chemicals from all sunscreen (Octinoxate and Oxybenzone; nope I've no idea how to pronounce them either!) because of the compelling evidence that they harm marine life including coral reefs. Check the back of your usual lotion to ensure these two black-listed chemicals aren't present. Go! Do it now!


It’s rare that I find fault with a sustainable healthcare product, but I’m miffed to say that whilst I loved Shade, I actually didn’t find it as effective as preventing sunburn as I’d like. Sob. Fortunately my old staple Nivea does say it’s reef-friendly, although I wish they’d make the packaging a little less plastic-dreadful. I am very keen to try something else so please post your recommendations here or on social media! There are others to choose from locally in York's The Bishy Weigh and The Little Green Weigh. Many of these are not in plastic, hooray! Remember even products that say they are made of recyclable plastic are still PLASTIC, and I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings but whilst our council may have spruced up the supermarket carpark collection points, it’s an un billet simple ticket to [insert foreign country East of the UK] for a large-scale BBQ to which the entire community will be able to share in the end product: plastic-flavoured fumes. Yum.


The elephant in the room here is of course the price tag on most of these creams. It’s so annoying that it often costs a lot more to be green (smoke coming out of my ears right now); not always, but look at e-vehicles, loose vegetables, bamboo loo roll, organic meat...should I continue? A review article in last summer’s Independent recommended products from £18-£60, which is as eyewatering as getting the wretched stuff in your peepers. This compared with about £5 for a bottle in your supermarket or large pharmacy. Urgh.


That's all for today friends. Enjoy your time in the sun safely and remember to reapply sunblock after swimming, should you happen to be somewhere warm enough to do so. And if you're worried about your skin, e.g. if you think you have a mole that has changed in colour, size or feeling, then please contact your friendly GP surgery ASAP. We will sort you out urgently if appropriate, and can often do this using good quality photos via email or text, or we will see you in person if needed. Your challenge for this week is to check the ingredients in your sunblock, ensure it's in-date, and try to think about the planet next time you stock up.


And don't forget if you're rating the sun, it's only one star...

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