Beginning when most of us were still children, we were warned not to go out into the sun without sunscreen. It makes perfect sense given that we don’t want to end up with a painful burn, sunspots, wrinkled skin or even worse skin cancer. However, as I’ve studied the products that we put on our skin more closely, I’ve realized that it would have been more beneficial to be taught responsible sun exposure rather than be permitted to spend all day in direct sunlight, lathered in sunscreen. The safety and efficacy of sunscreen for preventing burns, premature aging and cancer is so ingrained in us, that when I mention what I now know about sunscreen to my friends, most aren’t willing to listen.
So what’s in sunscreen and is it really living up to its promise to protect us? Well to begin with, it’s important to understand the difference between UVA and UVB rays and what sunscreens are protecting or “not” protecting us from. UVA rays, which are present throughout the entire day, are truly dangerous as overexposure can lead to cancer and premature aging. However, UVB rays offer a completely different story. These rays, which are present during the peak part of the day, actually protect you against skin cancer in addition to 15 other types of cancer. The reason is that UVB rays promote Vitamin D production, which is your body’s natural defense against cancer and many other diseases. The only way to obtain Vitamin D is through sun exposure, fortified foods, and/or heavy supplementation. Diet alone is not sufficient for maintaining optimal Vitamin D levels.
One of the main issues with sunscreen in the past was that the majority of brands provided only UVB protection which meant that we were still being exposed to the dangerous UVA rays and no longer allowing our bodies to produce cancer preventing Vitamin D on its own. Even though today, most sunscreens do protect against both UVA and UVB rays, there are still many on the market that do not. It’s important to remember that even though UVA/UVB combined protection is “better”, we are still not getting the short term exposure to UVB rays that we need while wearing sunscreen.
The second issue is that many of the sunscreens on the market contain toxic chemicals (in the attempt to block UVA rays), which can accelerate skin cancer and disrupt hormones when absorbed into the blood stream. A recent study, conducted by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, found that Vitamin A and its derivitives (retinol and retinyl palmitate), which were originally added to sunscreen to slow aging, were also accelerating cancer development. The results showed that lab rats who received Vitamin A cream developed tumors and lesions 21% faster then those without Vitamin A cream. As FDA interests still lie in the hands of many big business corporations, this information has not been discussed openly and sunscreen with Vitamin A is still being marketed and sold as a safe product.
So what’s the solution? I believe as many do that education is the most important part of knowing how to take care of ourselves. We need to begin to change our habits of spending a full day in the sun, to timing our sun exposure and making sure we’re covered with clothing and/or shade when we’ve reached our limit. Of course there are moments when we can’t avoid being out in the sun all day due to our work or social interests. In this case, it is necessary to have some protection, which is why I say that I “almost” never use sunscreen. The first thing to do when looking at natural sunscreens is to make sure that they protect against both UVA and UVB rays and don’t contain any dangerous chemicals or Vitamin A. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are both safe and natural ways to reflect UVA and UVB rays. Other safe ingredients include coconut oil, jojoba oil, shea butter and eucalyptus oil. Make sure that you follow the instructions on proper application to avoid burns.
Even more important then the sunscreen itself, is to make sure that you are getting the proper nutrients that naturally defend you against damage caused by too much time in the sun. Consuming a balanced diet, rich in antioxidants, will be extremely beneficial in protecting your skin and body from cancer.
Lastly, it’s a great idea to get your Vitamin D levels checked regularly to ensure that you are doing everything to maintain good health. Just 20-30 minutes of daily sun exposure may be all that most people need, however winter months and certain climates can make it difficult to spend time in the sun regularly. A lab test will inform you of the amount of supplementation you need to remain healthy and balanced.
Published On: June 15, 2011