I confess. I am a sun worshipper. Basking in its warm, energizing rays on hot summer days truly is one of my guiltiest pleasures. Okay, before you say anything, yes, I am aware of the dangers of too much sun exposure. Growing up, I slathered on sunscreen like a diligent, fair skinned Canadian. But, ever since I committed myself to a more holistic and natural lifestyle, I questioned the role that the sun plays in our health and wondered if perhaps, my sunscreen was doing more harm than good.
It may appear careless to go against the longstanding mantra that sun exposure= skin cancer. We have been bombarded with this message for decades. Applying sunscreen before heading out has become habitual. To facilitate compliance, sunscreen has been making an appearance in make-up, skincare products, and bug repellants. It's everywhere and yet; one has to consider what sun block actually does and whether we want to be putting it on and in our bodies on a daily basis.
The real issue is whether sunbathing without sunscreen enhances your health or undermines it. Most dermatologists would say that the sun is the main culprit behind skin cancer and malignant melanomas. Due to a rise in the incidences of skin cancer over the years, I agree that it is a valid concern. However, the use of UVB- blocking sunscreen has also skyrocketed. So, if we are doing our due diligence and applying sunscreen, why haven't the incidences of cancers declined? Is it possible that there is more to the story? I decided to investigate further.
I needed to know if the application of conventional sunscreens was the safest and most effective method of protection from cancer. I researched products to see if there were ingredients that could negatively affect our health. I also felt that we weren't benefiting from the sun’s potential healing benefits because we were blocking it out.
Let me share with you what I learned.
KNOWING THE GOOD FROM THE BAD
Ultraviolet rays from the sun come in two main wavelengths - UVA and UVB. It's important for you to understand their differences, mainly the benefits and the risk factors for each.
Consider UVB the "good" form as it helps your body produce vitamin D. UVA is considered the "bad" form because it penetrates your skin more deeply and causes free-radical damage. UVA rays are constant throughout ALL hours of daylight and throughout the entire year. This is contrary to UVBs, which are low in the morning and evening and high at midday.
While both UVA and UVB have the potential for creating sun damage, UVA is insidious because it penetrates more deeply. In addition, until recently, sunscreens only provided protection from UVB rays and did not filter out harmful UVA rays. Essentially, sunscreens prevented the "good" UVB rays from making health promoting vitamin D while the "bad" UVA rays were allowed to pass on through. Not a good combination. Especially for those who were under the impression that their sunscreen was giving them protection.
WHAT IS LURKING IN YOUR SUNSCREEN?
Well, let's just say that when you start to read the labels - it ain't pretty. Most sunscreens are loaded with toxic chemicals that, when applied to your skin can accelerate skin cancer and be absorbed into your bloodstream where they can disrupt your hormones.
Here are few of the nasties you need to be on the lookout for:
- OXYBENZONE: This is a synthetic chemical that absorbs the sun's rays but also readily penetrates the skin. It is an endocrine disruptor that can cause hormone disruption and cell damage. Experts warn that children are at a greater risk from oxybenzone than adults as their developing bodies are sensitive to hormonal changes. It also poses a risk for allergic reactions.
- RETINYL PALIMATE (FORM OF VITAMIN A): While most of us know that vitamin A is an anti-oxidant, this form of vitamin A, when added to sunscreens and subsequently exposed to sunlight, can accelerate the development of skin lesions and tumours.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides an annual report on the best and worst sunscreens on the market. They rate the products on a scale of 1-10 based on their level of toxicity. In fact, this nifty website can provide you with a detailed analysis of almost any personal care product! Have a look and see how your sunscreen rates.
THE BENEFITS OF VITAMIN D
As mentioned before, UVB rays help create vitamin D in our body. When we apply sunscreen we block the skin's ability to synthesize vitamin D by more than 95 percent!
Vitamin D plays a major biological role in optimizing your health! Some of the benefits include:
- Helping to maintain a healthy immune system
- Helping to produce optimal blood pressure
- Promoting strong bones and teeth
- Supporting kidney function
- Supporting cardiovascular health
- Reducing the risk of cancer
This list is by no means exhaustive and represents only a fraction of the ways that vitamin D contributes to your health. While you can obtain vitamin D from natural food sources and supplements, experts agree that sunlight is by far the best way to get your vitamin D.
The key to healthy sun exposure is to find a balance between getting enough natural sunlight to achieve optimal levels of vitamin D production, while at the same time protecting yourself from the damage that occurs from overexposure. For fair-skinned people it takes about 20 minutes of sun exposure on your hands and face to achieve the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).
Don't be mistaken, this does not give us permission to go out and bake ourselves! We must always exercise caution and treat the sun with respect. A sunburn is NOT healthy and is an indication of serious skin damage. It is very different from a tan in terms of health benefits.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
The most effective way to protect yourself from a damaging burn is to limit your time in the sun and to cover up. Most cotton clothing will provide you with about 15 SPF. In addition, make sure to wear a hat to protect your face and eyes from direct sunlight.
Start slowly. Gradually work your way up to an optimal level of sun exposure. Some of us need time to create a healthy tan and increase our capacity for sun exposure. Tanning is your body's natural protection against sunburn.
Consuming a healthy diet chalked full of natural anti-oxidants (goji berries, raspberries, blueberries) is a great way to stay healthy and provide your body with what it needs to counter damage from sun exposure. Fresh, raw, organic, unprocessed foods and a healthy balance of EFA's are essential.
Astaxanthin: As an internal sunscreen. Astaxanthin is the most powerful carotenoid antioxidant when it comes to free radical scavenging. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory.
Nourish your skin with vitamins D, vitamin E, coconut oil, shea butter, sunflower oil, or calendula.
Consider making your own DIY Natural Sunscreen using Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade (CPTG) essential oils!
After spending time researching the essential oil industry I now only recommend doTERRA essential oils because I can rely on their potency, purity and safety. doTERRA essential oils are the ones that I have chosen to use for my personal use, and what I recommend to my patients. Their integrity and products are unmatched in the industry. If you are interested in how you can access your own you can contact me to learn more, or purchase them here.
DIY Lotion Sunscreen
6.7 oz (200mL) chemical free, scent free Hand and Body Lotion
12 drops Pure Helichrysum essential oil
6 drops Pure Lavender essential oil
1-2 tablespoon zinc oxide
Mix all ingredients together. Store in a glass jar or re-fillable lotion squeeze bottles.
To use: Apply liberally before going into the sun and reapply every 2 hours or after swimming.
The SPF factor is around 20-25.
**NOTE: This mixture is NOT water proof.**
IF YOU GET A BURN
After Sun Spray
In an 8oz glass bottle combine:
1 cup of water
1 TBSP of Fractionated Coconut Oil
15 drops each of Frankincense, Peppermint,Lavender, and Tea Tree.
Shake before each spray. Apply often after initial burn.
Use Homeopathic Remedies.
- Arnica (Arnica Montana) helps lessen pain and swelling associated with sunburn. This remedy is also beneficial for the prevention of shock after a serious burn or injury.
- Urtica Urens (Stinging Nettle) is the first remedy to be thought of for first degree burns. The pains are burning, stinging, and itching in nature. It can be taken orally in potency or applied topically.
- Cantharis (Spanish Fly) should be considered in cases of more serious second degree burns. Blistering is often present. Will relieve the severe pain following a burn and will help to promote healing. If blisters are present do not pop them!
- Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade) helps hot throbbing sunburns that leave your hands warm after touching. A throbbing headache may also accompany the sunburn.
- Calendula (Calendula Officinalis) is used for wound healing and as an antiseptic. It can be taken internally in potency or topically in a tincture or cream. When purchasing a calendula cream Hypericum (St. John's Wort) will often be present as well.
Additional natural remedies:
- Aloe vera applied topically will accelerate wound healing. Use the gel of a fresh cutting from the aloe vera plant..
SEEK MEDICAL HELP
With 3rd degree burns it is absolutely vital that medical attention is sought immediately. Whatever the degree of severity of the burn, seek medical help if it covers an area that is larger than the palm of your hand; or if there is infection or pus present. Watch for signs of sunstroke. If a person has hot and dry skin, a rapid heartbeat and pulse, stops sweating, breathes rapidly, has an increase in body temperature, muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, confusion, and dizziness, then medical attention should be sought out immediately.
You are now armed and ready with the knowledge to enjoy the sun in a healthy way.
Let the sun shine in!