Stay Safe in the Sun


While June is almost over there is still enough of summer left to get some healthy sun exposure.  In the past sunscreen was an item even my family used without thinking much about what was in it and what that could do to our body. Today, though, we know so much more about both the importance of some limited unprotected sun exposure to get your Vitamin D for the day and what sunscreen to use that protects our skin from over exposure and toxins.  Lately I have had it on my mind to write a bit about sunscreen mostly because of it being the topic of a couple of chat or message boards I read. What you will find here is a brief description of when I think it is appropriate to use sunscreen, what types of sunscreen to use, and why.

If you have read some of my past posts on Vitamin D you may notice I am not afraid of the sun, in fact I recommend getting some amount of sun exposure without using any sunscreen. Our bodies create Vitamin D in response to sun exposure, if you wear sunscreen it completely will block your bodies ability to create Vitamin D.  As a result I recommend spending a short amount of time in the sun without sunscreen in order to get your daily dose of Vitamin D.  You do not, though, need to be out in the sun all day, if you know how long it takes for your skin to start to turn pink; cut that in half and that is the max time you need to be in the sun to get your vitamin D.  My skin is fair, so I only stay out in the sun, unprotected, for about 15 minutes. Go back and read this post for some details on Vitamin D and Sun exposure.

It has only been within the past 8 years that my family has been picky about our sunscreen selection. This coincides with a report commissioned by the US FDA in 2000 that found that Vitamin A and its derivatives increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer. Specifically when used in skin lotions like sunscreen on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun. One thing to mention is that in the absence of sun exposure topical use of Vitamin A does not have the same effect on skin cancer. First and foremost avoid sunscreen that contains Vitamin A. Next we have to look into the active ingredients and the main one to avoid is something called oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is a chemical that is know to enter the blood stream and disrupt the normal function of certain hormones. Studies have found that oxybenzone acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production as seen in animal studies, and is associated with endometriosis in women. What is disturbing is this chemical has been found in mothers milk, so you can pass it on to your baby without putting it on their skin. Octinoxate or Octylmethoxycinnamate is another common chemical to avoid in your sunscreen because it too has an effect on hormone function, specifically reproductive hormones and thyroid function as well as contributing to behavioral alterations as seen in some animal studies. Rounding out the bad chemicals is Homosalate which disrupts androgen, estrogen, and progesterone function.

According to the Environmental Working Group the safest sunscreens are mineral sunscreens made from Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  These rate higher than chemical sunscreens for safety by the EWG but only when manufacturers use forms of minerals that are coated with inert chemicals to reduce photoactivity. If they don’t, users could suffer skin damage. There are some new chemicals used by sunscreen manufacturers in Europe, but these have yet to be approved by the US FDA. If you would like to read more about sunscreen use and safety, check out the Environmental Working Group website and particularly their sunscreen ranking page. I am not going to suggest a certain brand to use but only to use your best judgement based on what you have learned here and hopefully elsewhere at places like the EWG website.

As far as SPF is concerned you need not wear an SPF over 50 . From what I have read over 35 you do not get that much more protection for the amount of money you spend on it. Make sure, though, that you do use it as directed by the label. The lotion will  become less effective with time so if it has an effective time of two hours make sure you reapply after two hours if you are going to be in the sun for that much time.

If you plan on using tanning oils you should avoid mineral oil which is a derivative of petroleum, Sodium Hydroxymethyl Glycinate which is speculated to breakdown into formaldehyde on the skin, Artificial Fragrances and Colors which are number of different chemicals some of which are know carcinogens, Amyl Acetate which is used in the dry cleaning process is found in some tanning oils, Octyl Stearate and Isopropyl Myristate which are known to clog pores. Ingredients that you should look for in a tanning oil include green tea extract, sunflower oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, almond oil, lanolin, vitamin E, vitamin C, and eucalyptus oil. Tanning oils should be used only in that time frame that you can be in the sun before your skin turns pink.  I don’t use tanning oils but if you are going to use them be sure you are using a product free from chemicals that are going to do more harm to your skin than good.

Stay safe in the sun this summer balance your vitamin D time with time in the sun protected from skin damage.

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Posted in Healthcare Policy and Politics, Wellness

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