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Gloves at the beach? Sunphobics lurk in the shadows

From parasols to a hot new line of sun-protection gloves, UV precautions seem to be turning into phobias. What's next? A burkini at the beach?
/ Source: TODAY contributor

First, there’s the large-rimmed visor. Then the long-sleeved white cotton shirts and cotton workout leggings. Then there’s the 30 SPF sunscreen. And, finally, the gloves.

“I have about 100 pairs of gloves,” says Louisa Graves, a celebrity body parts model from Los Angeles who’s avoided the sun since her late teens (and as a result, refuses to reveal her age since she’s still able to model for actresses in their 20s). “They’re in my purse, my car, the drawers of my house.  Wearing gloves has been one of my top beauty secrets for maintaining flawless-looking hands.”

From Nigella Lawson’s cumbersome beach burkini to a hot new line of sun-protection gloves, extreme sun-screening is coming out of the shadows.

But is there such a thing as too much sun protection?“I recommend reasonable sun protection, but I’m seeing people who are becoming sunphobic,” says Dr. Kenneth Beer, a dermatologist from Palm Beach, Fla. “They’re wearing full body sun armor, covering everything. I expect the parasol will be the next fashion statement.”

Karen Tom, a thirtysomething writer from Manhattan, might agree.

“I walk around with a parasol,” she says. “Even before I water the plants outside for five minutes, I spray myself down [with 60-plus sunscreen]. I avoid direct sunlight at all cost. It’s a vanity thing. It makes me nervous when I’m with my friends and they want to walk on the sunny part of the street.”

Beer says people who are at higher risk for skin cancer (for instance, blue-eyed blondes or those with a family history) should take more extreme sun protection measures but people who are at low risk only need moderate protection.

“People need to have common sense and that’s what’s lost today,” he says. “There’s no real sense of proportionality. Too far is when you don’t get any sun exposure on your skin and your body isn’t getting any vitamin D from the sun and your skin is not seeing any environmental contact. I think that’s a little much. That’s not the way humans were designed. Too far is when you look like you’ve been kept in the basement and you’re getting rickets.”

While Graves’ extreme sun-screen routine is primarily related to her job — she’s doubled body parts for such celebs as Jennifer Garner, Kate Walsh, Sela Ward and Sigourney Weaver (not to mention poked the Pillsbury Dough Boy in the belly with one of her flawless fingers) — she doesn’t think she’s taking things too far.

“It’s not that drastic,” Graves says. “I do it because of my job, but everybody needs to do it. You need to put on sunscreen every morning — even when it rains. It should be like brushing your teeth.”

What’s more, she says the extra hat, gloves, shirt, and pants don’t even cause her to break a sweat.

“I don’t get hot because it’s all cotton and it’s thin and it’s white,” she says.

Still, she admits that her sun-blocking get-up does get strange reactions from people.

“I was on a cruise once and was wearing a bikini and a big shirt and a hat and my gloves and some people came up to me and said they had a bet going as to why I was wearing the gloves,” she says. “They thought my hands were burned in an accident.”

Sarah Beth Campbell, a 26-year-old publicist from Paramus, N.J., even protects her ankles at the beach.

“Whenever I go to the beach, I’m under an umbrella with linen pants, a long-sleeved shirt and socks, with SPF 80 on all my exposed skin — my hands, my neck my face,” she says. “I’m extremely fair. My brother calls me an uncooked piece of chicken.”

Campbell, too, has been razzed by friends, but the teasing doesn’t shake her determination to avoid the sun's wrinkle-inducing rays.

According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, more than 2 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Their sun protection tips include generously applying a water-resistant sunscreen of at least 15 SPF before going outside, avoiding tanning beds, seeking shade when appropriate (especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) and wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.

But Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Nancy Irwin says she has seen people go a bit ga-ga on the sun gear for reasons other than skin health.

“I think if you consult with a dermatologist and take the right protocol, you’re OK,” says Irwin. “But there are people who go beyond that and seek attention — or they’re really vain and they block out any light. That’s when you’re taking it overboard."

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