Since Memorial Day is the unofficial start of Summer, I thought it would be a great time to talk about sunscreen. Until recent years not many people questioned the safety of sunscreen. It was assumed that sunscreen was healthy and helped protect us from dangerous UV rays. More recently sunscreens have been scrutinized for their questionable ingredients and effectiveness.
What’s wrong with sunscreen?
There are a few points to be made in the case against sunscreen. First, there are a number of chemicals used in sunscreens that can be damaging to our health. The chemical oxybenzone, for example, is one of the most commonly used ingredients and has cause for concern. Oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can also trigger allergic reactions. According to the Enviornmental Working Group (EWG), this chemical has been shown to be a cause of endometriosis and low birth weights in daughters of pregnant women who had higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy.
Nano particles are also a concern. In an effort to make suncreen lotions less chalky, manufacturers started using ingredients with smaller particles. In sunscreen lotions it has been found that it is unlikely that the nano particles will penetrate the skin, the bigger concern is with inhalation or ingestion of the particles. Inhalation can occur in use of spray sunscreens which are not recommened by EWG because of this safety concern. The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens has classified titanium dioxide as a “possible carcinogen” when inhaled in high doses. The lungs have difficulty clearing small particles, and the particles may pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. In addition, nanoparticles in lip sunscreens can be swallowed and might damage the gastrointestinal tract.
In addition to safety concerns about the ingredients, wearing sunscreen effectively blocks your body’s production of vitamin D, which happens naturally when your skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact, sunscreens reduce vitamin D production by as much as 97.5 to 99.9 percent. Wearing sunscreen daily certainly reduces your vitamin D production and causes a Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a long list of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
There are two types of UV wavelengths – UVA and UVB. The UVA rays are what we want to avoid because it penetrates your skin more deeply and causes more free radical damage. The UVB rays are what helps us produce Vitamin D. The only way for a sunscreen to be effective in protecting your skin from melonoma and sunburn is if it can block UVA rays. There are two non-toxic ingredients that scatter both UVB and the more damaging UVA rays are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
Diet for Sun Protection
A diet full of vegetables and fruits may help protect your skin from the sun. Plants produce antioxidants to help protect their own tissue from the sun and when we consume these antioxitants it helps to protect our cells from the sun. The carotenoids in brightly colored fruits and vegetables are very beneficial to our health and may help protect skin cells. A specific carotenoid called astaxanthin, which is now believed to be the most potent antioxidant nature has to offer. Astaxanthin can be found in salmon, shellfish, and krill but it can also be taken in supplement form. It is also a potent UVB absorber and reduces DNA damage. This along with the omega-3 content of these fish make them an ideal food to include in your diet for sun protection. Chlorella and spirulina also contain astaxanthin which is the food source in which these fish obtain their high levels of this carotenoid.
Sticking to a real food diet full of whole foods (especially vegetables and fruit), low in sugar and processed foods is beneficial for sun protection – as well as overall health.
Natural Alternatives to Toxic Sunscreen
The EWG’s Skin Deep Database is an excellent resource to use to check the safety of the products you are using. It also helps to research better alternatives to sunscreens you may have used in the past. There are natural sunscreens that are safe to use. Many people are choosing not to use suncreen at all because of the problems that may occur from Vitamin D deficiency and the lack of options available in local drugstores. If you chose not to use sunscreen it is best to take some of the following precautions:
- Wear protective clothing – hats, sunglasses, swim shirts, long sleeves
- Use an umbrella at the beach to provide shade from the sun
- Don’t stay out in the sun during peak hours of the day
- Carrot Seed Oil
- Raspberry Seed Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Shea Butter
- Macadamia Nut Oil
- Almond Oil
- Jojoba Oil
My Thoughts on Sunscreen
In order to get adequate sun exposure for Vitamin D production, I only use sunscreen when we plan to be out in the sun for longer periods of time or when there is little or no shade. I feel its important to first protect yourself with clothing, and other protective gear then to always slather on the sunscreen. I also chose my sunscreens very carefully. Only using natural sunscreens approved on EWG Skin Deep Data base or my own homemade version. While Vitamin D is very important I do think we should be cautious in the sun and should think about protection from UVA rays.