You might say that this weekend is the final exam of summer sense. Because it's the biggest holidy closest to the summer solstice, it's entirely appropriate we do a quick review of sunshine -- the good and the burn of it.
The rays you're sopping up to acquire that golden hue are ultra-violet, a and b. They also can cause hives, itching, wrinkles, leathery skin and cancer. They don't have to be beating down on you to have an effect (some people can get burnt on a cloudy day, or sitting on the beach under an umbrella).
If that doesn't stop you -- and we have no illusions about that -- at least you can minimize the damage with new (in the last few years) products that screen out the damaging rays pretty well.
Anything you use should have a sun-protection factor rating (SPF) which goes from 2 to 15. (Some products claim even higher factors, but 15 is the maximum called for by the Food and Drug Administration.) The higher the SPF, the more protection the product gives.
The chemical that turned sun lotions from a futile (albeit sticky) gesture into a sensible defense mechanism is called aminobenzoic acid (PABA). Consumer Reports still believes that it is the most effective ingredient in a sunscreen, although those containing red petrolatum (RVP) are also considered effective.
What you should look for, then, are products containing one of those ingredients, plus a high enough SPF factor.
The FDA panel recommends:
Use No. 15: if you always burn easily, never tan.
8 to 15: if you burn easily, but do get a minimal tan eventually.
6 to 8: if you burn moderately, and tan gradually to a light brown. (Most people fall into this category.)
4 to 6: if you only occasionally burn and tan well.
2 to 4: if you rarely burn and (sigh) tan quickly and easily to a dark, burnished brown.
Noses and lips should get special treatment: Look for sun shades or, if you don't mind the clown effect, use the impermeable zinc oxide.
Lotions wash off or become diluted with perspiration. Be sure to follow directions on the container.
Some prescription drugs can cause a particular sensitivity to the sun. These include some birth-control pills, diuretics (for hypertension, for example), some antibiotics and psychoactive drugs. Check with your physician.
Finally, the sun blocks themselves can cause allergies. Try a test spot when you use a new product. If nothing happens in a day or so, you're probably okay. (An excellent roundup on the sun and sun protection may be found in Consumer Union's The Medicine Show ($5.95, Pantheon). OY VEY?
That classic Yiddish groan, which some experts (like Allen Sherman) could drag out into a minutes-long paroxysm of (usually temporary) anguish, may actually be good for you.
According to Dr. Louis Savary, writing in the June issue of Prevention magazine, groaning "helps you relax . . . produces therapeutic effects, physically and psychologically."
Moaning is nice, too, writes Savary: It "has a self-comforting quality and . . . also helps release anxiety."
But groaning is where it's at: "Groaning facilitates relaxation by involving your entire body in gentle, rhythmic activity. First of all, because groaning requires deep, regulated diaphragmatic breathing, maximum oxygen gets supplied to all parts of your body. Groaning also produces strong vibrations within your body which effects a kind of inner message."
He does suggest that you do your groaning where you won't be overheard, unless you warn people around you first. AND THEN TO LAUGH . . .
New studies tend to confirm writer-editor Norman Cousins' experience with curative laughter. Cousins, remember, credits Marx Brothers' movies (among other things) with his recovery from a degenerative illness.
Now Dr. William Fry of the Stanford University Medical School makes similar claims for laughing that Savary makes for the groan: "Humor," writes Fry in a recent issue of Science Digest, "stirs the insides and gets the endocrine system going," which, he says, may be "beneficial" in alleviating disease.
Hospitals around the country are beginning to introduce laugh therapy for some patients.
And maybe they can groan too?
The Santa Ana and the sirocco are the hot dry winds that can trigger migraine headaches in susceptible people. Unfortunately, a copy-editing trim in last week's Healthtalk left the impression we thought they were places. We are talking about the places where they blow, and for the headache-y, blow ill.