Sun Smarts for This Gardener

Right upfront, I’m going to let you know that one of my passions has crept into this note. I love gardening, I love designing and digging new beds, I love planning hardscapes and water details, I love flowers, I love dirt, and I even love my wheelbarrow that has seen me through years of carrying planting materials, moved 18 square meters of topsoil in one month and is the transport to tidy up my beds in the fall. My burning (sometimes quite literally) question is: How do I care for my skin during this activity as well as I care for my plants?

My plants need water. I know to keep hydrated while I’m outdoors. My plants need nutrients. I have that fairly well covered, at least in the summer, with the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. My garden needs sun. Now this is my concern. I’ve tried wearing loose-fitting white long-sleeved tops and pants—I even went through a gauzy dress period (à la The Great Gatsby meets Martha Stewart in her early days). I see people gardening, dressed in white, and wonder in awe. I revel in the dirt, and it becomes one with my clothing—I haven’t found a stain remover that’s strong enough to clean them suitably enough to be worn a second time.

Hats are always a good idea, right? I’ve tried both wide-brimmed and floppy straw hats, both of which are better suited to a garden party where your head remains upright, but not so good when your face is parallel to the ground. The hat tends to slip over your face, which is good for protection but not for seeing. The visors with the cute little garden implements or splashy flowers are adorable but grip your head like a vise. Is it better to opt for sun damage or migraines?

Sunscreen is a must. I understand that intellectually, but I just can’t grasp the practicalities. The hot Illinois sun conspires to drip it all away. I just don’t want to spend as much time reapplying as I do tending my gardens.

So, given this explicit, verging on tedious, background, I sought out two experts for their advice. Rebecca James Gadberry, president of YG Laboratories, and Christine Heathman, president and CEO of Advanced Aesthetics/GlyMed Plus. I might add that you don’t have to be a gardener to benefit from their suggestions.

Although Christine sympathized with my floppy hat dilemma, she did provide more sensible alternative advice. “Use half your body weight in sunscreen!” Too often, gardeners and others who enjoy the outdoors—such as Christine, who loves to ride her horses in the mountains of Utah—fail at proper application and reapplication. “Always evenly apply by affixing a full spectrum sunscreen then reapply and reapply,” she recommends. “Your choice is reapplication vs. wrinkles and pigmentation. Once the ultraviolet rays get past the sentry of the sunscreen, they trigger a reactive oxygen species, or free radicals. These break down the collagen and elastin, and set off the cascade of aging. Keep in mind that sunscreen is not a beauty product. It is healthy protection for the skin. Remember that the skin is an immune organ that guards you from the environmental assaults of ultraviolet radiation.”

Rebecca had this to say: “I, too, am an avid gardener. Being the daughter of a sharecropper from Mississippi and the granddaughter of an English woman whose parents came straight out of Victorian England, there was no escape for me. I’d suggest a very sweat-resistant, silicone-based sun protection featuring micronized and coated particulate sunscreens (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) with an SPF 30.”

This will provide:

● Resistance to sweat for up to 80 minutes

● Nonsticky, even coverage from the silicone base

● Gentle, yet long-term protection and more even coverage from the sunscreen ingredients

“One piece of advice: If any redness occurs, it’s an indication that you’ve maxed out on your dose of sun,” Rebecca stresses. “Because no sunscreen blocks all the sun’s rays, any additional time spent outdoors—with or without a sunscreen—will continue to allow more exposure to your skin. So get out of the garden and back in the house. Hopefully, you’ve got windows or a shaded porch where you can view your gardening efforts with pride.”

Annette Delagrange


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