by Dr. Jacqueline Cooper, ND
When I sat down to write this blog, my intention was to balance the scales a bit with regard to the over-promoted message to ' protect yourself with sunscreen'. My issue with this common advice is that it leaves the consumer thinking "as long I slather on a lotion with a decent SPF level, I am protected". This, however, could not be further from the truth.
The truth is that sun exposure is not inherently bad for you. Like many factors that influence health, when it come to sun exposure, in order to optimize your health. moderation is the key. A sunburn is certainly something to be avoided but the health risks associated with vitamin D deficiency from a lack of sun exposure are equally as worrisome.
The second issue I had with sunscreen is the toxicity of chemicals typically used to block or absorb UV rays. While there are now many safe and natural options on the markets, most people still rely on chemically-based sunscreens.
These were the two points I hoped to educate people on with this blog. However, as I started researching in preparation, I stumbled upon two other huge issues with the synthetic chemicals traditionally used to keep us 'safe' while having fun in the sun. First, these chemicals wreak havoc on the coral in our oceans. While this is devastating from an environmental perspective alone, it also has major consequences for our health as humans - we cannot possibly achieve health while living in a polluted, unhealthy world. The second problem is that conventional sunscreens only protect the top layer of your skin.
The Sun: An epidemic of underexposure.
Vitamin D is made in the skin to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D. Society at large has become so scared of burning that we now typically deprive our skin of the much needed sun exposure. Vitamin D has massive effect on a number of different facets of health, including prevention of osteoporosis and the development of certain forms of cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Visit NDHealthfacts for more information about vitamin D.
For help in determining how to optimize your vitamin D levels through sun exposure, read this article by Dr. Mercola. It has information and links to a calculator that will approximate how much sun exposure you need daily depending on where you live, the time of year and the pigmentation of your skin. As Dr. Mercola references in the article, regardless of whether you utilize the sun or oral supplementation, it is important to get your vitamin D checked annually to ensure your levels are staying within the optimal range.
Trading one assault on the skin for another.
Most suncreens on the market use synthetic chemicals to block or absorb UV rays. While they are effective at preventing burns, they happen to be quite toxic. Toxins in products applied to the skin not only increase the toxic load on the skin but also penetrate deeper into the body contributing to more serious health issues such as: chronic fatigue, mood fluctuations, poor sugar control, hormonal imbalance, infertility and the development of certain cancers.
Our oceans are suffering.
Our health is not the only thing that suffers from the toxic chemicals in sunscreen. When you choose a natural sunscreen, not only are you taking a step to dramatically improve the health of your skin, you are also helping to keep the oceans clean. Benzophenone-2 or BP-2 is a common chemical used in sunscreens and personal care products since the 1960's to provide consumers with UV protection. However, it is known to disrupt hormones. Scientists have discovered that it is damaging ocean ecosystems by killing off young coral as well as causing mutations in more established coral, including a loss of colour. Sunscreen Chemical Threatens Coral Reefs by National Ocean Service is an article about the role the synthetic chemicals used in typical sunscreens play in the the damage to coral reefs. Currently most water treatment plants do not take measures to mitigate the damage of this chemical, therefore, educating consumers on product selection is the most effective action to preventing further damage.
SPF is not enough.
Most people gauge a sunscreen's ability to provide protection based on its SPF. While that gives the consumer an idea of the lotion's ability to block UVB (the rays that are responsible for causing a burn), it does not speak to the ability of blocking UVA rays. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin where they inflict damage in three ways:
- They damage DNA by creating a pro-oxidant environment. Anti-oxidants like Zinc, Selenium and Vitamins A, C and E are protective nutrients that promote healthy skin by decreasing free radicals caused by overexposure to UVA rays.
- They disable the skin's natural defense system by inhibiting it's ability to produce melanin (the protective pigment that results in a tan).
- They activate progerin, a protein that is associated with aging. Progerin inhibits the production of collagen, which results in the development of wrinkles and overall thinning of the skin.
There are plenty of sunscreens on the market now that utilize zinc oxide. To find a product that fits your needs check out the Environmental Working Group's Guide to Sunscreens.