Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we’re just about to head into summer. I’m looking forward to long, hot, sunny days tramping, camping, gardening and swimming at the beach. While everyone loves to see the sun, it’s also an aspect of summer that can be annoying and just downright dangerous. Constant re-application of messy, smelly sunscreen as you slip, slop, slap your way through summer can be irritating. In New Zealand, we have the added danger of being close to the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. The danger from sun exposure is extreme. But then, so is the danger from all those nasty chemicals in the sun screens. So what should we do?
To Sunscreen or Not to Sunscreen?
The skin is our body’s largest organ and plays a very important role in the healthy functioning of our entire system. So taking care of our skin is important. Our skin’s pores allow toxins to be expelled through sweating, but they also allow chemicals to be absorbed. During summer, we often repeatedly apply sunscreen to large areas of skin. Many sunscreen chemicals have been found in breast milk.
Sunscreen use can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, skin damage when sunlight interacts with the chemicals and hormone disruption as some chemicals mimic hormones.
Generally, sunscreens either use chemical or mineral filters. Most sunscreens use chemical filters. The most common chemicals used are:
- Oxybenzone – This is the most problematic chemical and is used in 80 percent of chemical sunscreens. It is shown to penetrate the skin and disrupt hormones.
- Retinyl Palmitate – This also is readily absorbed and may increase the risk of skin cancer.
- Avobenzone – This is the most widely used chemical and causes free radical damage.
Many of these chemicals have been shown to damage DNA and generate free radicals.
Mineral sunscreens using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide usually are safer. However, titanium dioxide has been shown to cause genetic damage in mice and so requires further investigation.
Skin damage, leading to carcinomas and aging, is caused by UVA and UVB rays. UVA penetrates to deeper levels of the skin, and so causes more genetic damage. It is present in winter, in cloudy conditions and can penetrate through glass. UVB doesn’t penetrate as far, and only damages the more superficial epidermal layers. UVB intensity also fluctuates depending on season, location and time of day. In addition, UVB rays are necessary to provide vitamin D. Sunscreens generally block both UVA and UVB rays. This is problematic in that vitamin D is so important for health and, in particular, for cancer prevention (including skin cancer).
Although the chemicals look nasty and vitamin D deficiency is at epidemic proportions, research consistently shows unprotected exposure to the sun is a major cause of skin cancer and melanoma. So what to do? Should we sunscreen or should we not?
The following guidelines provide suggestions for minimising the dangers of sun exposure and sun screen chemicals, while ensuring healthy levels of vitamin D and optimising skin health and beauty.
A light tan will provide a SPF protection factor of four as well as building up your reserves of vitamin D. So start slowly building up a light tan as the weather gets warmer. Expose as much of your body as possible to the morning sun, before 10 a.m., for short periods. Gradually build up your exposure from five to twenty minutes a day.
However, this does not mean lying in the sun for hours or getting that bronzed look. A light tan is just that – light.
Use clothing, hats and shade to protect yourself at all other times. Choose a natural, zinc-based sunscreen when needed. One thing not to wear is sunglasses. Blocking or reducing light to the eyes interferes with the endocrine system through reducing light to the photosensitive pineal gland. Wearing a hat to shade your eyes is all that’s needed.
Tip: For a natural sunscreen, mix a ten percent vitamin C and water solution and spray it onto your skin. Or juice broccoli sprouts and spray or rub that onto your skin.
Much evidence suggests sunlight is not the only cause of skin cancer. It seems to be the combination of excess sun exposure and a toxic and inadequate diet. The solution is cleaning up and optimising your diet. To me, that means a whole-food, organic, mostly raw, vegan diet.
Probably the worst foods for skin health are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These trans-fats need to be eliminated entirely.
The most important foods are ones with good antioxidant levels and iodine. Good whole-food sources of antioxidants, iodine and other helpful sun-protecting components are:
• Small red beans
• Pinto beans
• Red kidney beans
• Black beans
• Green leafy vegetables (especially kale)
• Raw cacao
• Green tea
• Broccoli sprouts
• Sea vegetables (especially kelp)
• Brazil nuts
Supplement those foods with astaxanthin, vegetarian DHA and EPA (extracted from algae), or pine bark extract, which provide extra protection.
Care For Your Skin
Avoid soap after sunning. Use pure botanical oils before and after sun exposure. The best ones for summer are:
• Peppermint – cooling
• Borage – contains lots of EFAs
• Calendula – soothing
• Carrot seed – rejuvenating
• Lavender – cell regeneration
• Rose hip – high in vitamin C
• Sea buckthorn – high antioxidant
• Wheatgerm – protective against environmental damage
In addition to oils, aloe vera is both protective and healing for the skin. The best way to apply it is squeezing the gel straight from a whole aloe leaf. You can buy many aloe products, but none of them is as effective as the real thing.
Finally, dry skin brushing with a natural bristle brush every day is amazing for skin health, skin beauty, detoxification and lymphatic drainage.