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  • Dana Tutela

How a Ginger Gardens in the Sun

Sunlight is the source of all life. It supplies plants with energy to grow and to sustain us. Without the sun, we are doomed, right? But what about too much sunlight? And how does an avid gardener balance time in the sun and still enjoy the health benefits of healthy homegrown living?

Keep reading for my specific strategies and favorite products that allow this Ginger with Roots to garden safely in the sun.

ginger running through sunlit fields

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Use of the advice and information contained herein is at your sole choice and risk. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician or healthcare provider before beginning any nutrition or exercise program. Read full disclosure here.

When I picture a Ginger with Roots, I see myself in the garden surrounded by flowers and nature, sunlight resting on my skin. I'm smiling and filled with serenity, marveling at the wonders that life provides in this little garden of mine.

Unfortunately, as a ginger growing up in Florida during the 80's, I spent way too much time enjoying the sunshine. I swam. I biked. I boated. I rode horses. Everything was outside.

young ginger riding lawn mower in sun

When I wasn't getting tan outside, I was hopping into a tanning bed. Back then we were told to get a base tan before going out in the real sun as a safety measure! I spent hours slathering on suntan oil (or gasp* baby oil), anything to get tan. What was I thinking? How many tan redheads are out there? I was never going to be that cute blond surfer girl, but I sure as hell tried.

Now I'm paying the price. Dr. Price, to be exact. She's my dermatologist and I see her every 3-6 months ever since I had early melanoma added to my long list of skin cancers. My most recent visit found 2 more basal cell carcinomas. My last basal cell was only 5 months earlier. That one was so close to my eye, I needed an oculoplastic surgeon to do reconstructive closure after the skin cancer was removed. Needless to say, sun damage is a very important topic to me and one that I will be facing for the rest of my life.

How to Balance Gardening and Sun Protection

How do I reconcile my most basic need of being outside in my garden with my fear of creating more skin cancers? First, I have to accept the fact that most of my damage occurred decades ago. That cake is baked. Sorry, bad analogy. Second, I don't throw caution to the wind. I am extremely diligent to avoid more sun damage and to enjoy my time in the garden. This is how I do it!

woman strolling through field in sunlight

Garden Visiting Hours

During peak growing season, I try to garden early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the brutal midday sun. I enjoy my happy place usually between 8-10am and again after 4pm when the sun starts to hide behind the trees.

Morning garden time is spent in the kitchen garden and in the flower beds which receive full sun. I cherish this time when the world is waking up and everything feels alive with activity. This is when I put down roots and reap the rewards of connecting with nature.

woman carrying flower pot in garden

*Ginger Tip: The morning is the best time to water and cut flowers/veggies anyway because plants are less stressed by the heat. They are more likely to wilt if picked midday and late afternoon.

redhead gardening and cutting flowers

After 10am, I focus on gardening in the shade areas. Our backyard and side yard is under a tree canopy and has a natural woodlands feel. I have been slowly adding more plants and creating small shade gardens. After hours in the sunny kitchen garden, I find shade gardening refreshing!

redhead gardening lenten roses

In the evening, I will head back up to the kitchen garden and harvest any veggies that need to be picked, grab some herbs for dinner, and do a quick check for pests or water issues. Most importantly, I make time to relax under the string lights and be surrounded by my plants.

redhead sitting in garden after sunset


Dr. Price, if you're reading this- I really do wear sunscreen every day. I put it on every morning after showering and I use tinted makeup with additional sunscreen protection for my face.

My current face routine includes Elta MD sunscreen followed by It Cosmetics Color Corrector or Dr. Jart+ Beauty Balm. None of these make me feel greasy or sticky even when layering them. The cc and bb creams help cover the age spots and red areas from years of sun damage without feeling overdone.

*Ginger Tip: Use a foundation brush to apply bb cream over sunscreen to create a natural barely there look.

In my garden shed, I keep an emergency Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Sunscreen Stick and Chapstick with sunscreen for those moments when I realize I've been working past my "Visiting Hours".

woman with straw hat holding bunch of lavender

In 2017, a list of possible cancer causing sunscreens circulated online. Sunscreen can cause cancer? Are you kidding me? Apparently, certain brands had traces of benzene which is a carcinogen. Some islands, like Hawaii and Bonaire, have banned sunscreens that contain oxybenzone to protect marine life. Wait, are these the same chemical? What about other chemicals? Is my sunscreen safe? I had so many questions!

Therefore, I researched what The Environmental Working Group (aka: EWG) was reporting about different sunscreens and their ingredients. This is what I found: The safest sunscreens on their list are mineral based, containing only zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. The EWG then analyzes the inactive ingredients and the risks they pose in terms of carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, allergies, bioaccumulations, etc. Different brands have different inactive ingredients. Therefore, the list they created has each sunscreen product broken down into how they rank by each ingredient. I found their research very helpful and informative and refer to it periodically when purchasing new products.

And, no, benzene and oxybenzone are not the same chemicals. Benzene isn't even an ingredient used in sunscreen; it was detected as a contaminant in several sunscreens which warranted the recall and investigation. See the full report here.

So what now? Wear only mineral based sunscreen? Avoid all sunscreen? Live under a rock? I'm not a scientist, but I am a critical thinker. I'm making the choice to protect my skin as much as possible because I am a high risk skin cancer patient. I don't love the idea of slathering myself in chemicals unnecessarily. Therefore I reach for products that are simple and organic when possible. However, I also use products that might not be as highly rated by EWG because they provide excellent coverage, my sensitive skin tolerates them well, and/or my doctor recommends them. Each person is different. Listen to your doctor and your body when choosing what works for you.

Sun Protective Clothing and Accessories for the Garden

Let's talk about hats, particularly the ball cap. This is the classic go-to for most outdoor folks. It shades our eyes from the sun and keeps our hair out of our faces. We display our sports teams with pride and advertise our favorite destinations/products with them. However, they provide limited sun protection.

couple wearing ball caps at baseball game

My dermatologist back in Charleston once told me how many men (especially golfers) had sun damage on the ends of their noses and tops of their ears. Ball caps don't cover the ears and usually miss the end of the nose in direct sun. See mine above! I saw so many patients waiting in the lobby at my last appointment with bandages on the tips of their noses. If you see me in a ball cap, trust that I already have sunscreen on my ears and nose, too!

gardener with sun protective hat and shirt

When possible, choose a wide brimmed hat. My husband loves his Tilley Hat for boating. I love my Outdoors Tribe hats (I own multiple colors) for gardening and water activities. It's all about the ponytail hole in the back! When it's hot and muggy outside, the last thing I want is my hair plastered to my neck and face under a hat. I keep one in the boat bag and one hanging in the shed!

Bonus: it's foldable and packable-perfect for travel or stuffing in a beach bag.

wide brimmed sun hat in garden

I found this adorable Straw Sun Hat on Amazon that also has a ponytail hole. I love it for gardening because it is light and comfortable. I also find it perfect for taking to the beach or a resort pool area when I need sun protection and still want to be somewhat fashionable. It folds and packs easily, too.

Sun-shirts and cover ups are becoming a staple in my summer wardrobe. I wasn't a fan of the earlier versions, but the newer pieces are quite comfortable. Long sleeves with the roll up tabs and rash guards do a wonderful job of protecting the skin from the sun. I love this white sun-shirt for gardening. You're probably thinking white is a bad idea because it will get dirty. Of course it will! However, the one I have was not crazy expensive, and the white is so much cooler than the darker colors. I don't mind if it has soil stains!

woman gardening in white sun shirt

One of my absolute favorite sun protective clothing is the versatile Sun Scarf by RipSkirt Hawaii. It looks adorable and it covers the delicate chest skin. It can be pulled up as an impromptu face mask (pollen allergies anyone?) and as a 'bandana' style head cover.

woman gardening with a sun scarf on

Sun Dresses that are cute and provide UPF 50? Yes, please! Cabana Life is one of my absolute favorite sources for sun protective clothing. Their adorable patterns are silky smooth and travel like a dream. I have this Cabana Life dress in pink and absolutely love it. Plus, it has pockets! As a former runner, I love that Cabana Life's mission to prevent skin cancer is connected to the Miles for Melanoma race events.

redhead watering plants in cabana life dress

Sunglasses. Let's discuss sunglasses. In addition to the myriad skin cancers I've had removed, I've also had the pleasure of two eye surgeries to remove bilateral pterygium. A pterygium is a fleshy growth that starts in the corner of the eye and slowly grows towards the cornea. What causes pterygium? You guessed it: harmful sun rays. It's also known as "Surfer's Eye" because so many surfers develop it.

woman holding out sunglasses

Look for quality sunglasses with UV protection. I have sunglasses stashed everywhere, in my car, my purse, my beach bag, my husband's car, the garden shed...I never want to go through that surgery again! Native Sunglasses are my favorite polarized sunglasses for outdoor activities like gardening and boating because they wrap around for side protection and they stay on-no sliding down your nose!

I also highly recommend these Maui Jim Rimless sunglasses for gardening because they are lightweight and comfortable when wearing a hat that presses against your ears.

Routine Skin Checks

For me a routine skin check is every 3-6 months. For most people it's once a year. I'm not a dermatologist, but I'm getting pretty good at spotting the spots. Sometimes it's a red scaly patch that won't respond to moisturizer. Sometimes it's a pink raised bump that looks like a bug bite. Sometimes it's a weird mole that isn't playing by the A, B, C rules:






Know your skin. Pay attention and be diligent. Make your appointment.

Gardening in the sun and avoiding sun damage isn't always easy. However, with these guidelines, tips and protective products we can dig in the dirt and grow wonderful plants to live a healthy life.

redhead in Irish garden

At a recent visit with Dr. Price, I was telling her about our trip to Ireland and how many redheads we saw. Specifically, we were in awe of their perfect skin. No one was covered with sun spots and wrinkles. They were ethereal!

She stopped her exam, looked me in the eye and said, "It's a different sort of beautiful, isn't it?"

Yes. Yes, it is.

sunrise in field

I hope this helps you find your balance between limiting sun exposure and reaping the health benefits of being outside in the garden! Happy Gardening!

Additional Resources:

For sun free gardening, try a moon garden!

white flower moon garden

Read more about my trip to Ireland and the beautiful landscape in my post:

redhead overlooking cliffs in Ireland

sun message

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