It’s summer and the sun is shining! I love the sun and the summer is my favourite time of the year. Growing up I lived in the sun and always had a lovely tan to prove it…but somewhere in my teenage years the sun started to get a bad reputation. Sunscreen became the necessary accessory for my fun in the sun and I kept wondering, which was better for me? The sun’s beautiful rays or the sunscreen I’m slathering on to protect my skin?
I’ve spent hours and hours (weeks and weeks, years and years) reading about sunscreen, sun damage, and the effects of both and I definitely don’t have a perfect answer. But, I can tell you about some of the concerns and a few ways to protect yourself from the damaging effects of too much sun and too much chemical-laden sunscreen.
Please keep in mind that this is a very controversial topic, and a decision that each of us needs to make individually. There are many factors to consider: Vitamin D absorption, free radical damage, cancer risk, painful sunburns, etc.
Vitamin D Absorption
Article after article in all of the top news sources are exclaiming the benefits of Vitamin D and the hazards of a Vitamin D deficiency. We have now linked a Vitamin D deficiency to MS, lowered immune function, and cancer. Vitamin D supplementation has skyrocketed over the last few years due to all of these new studies.
In 2010, StatsCan found widespread Vitamin D deficiency in Canada. Two-thirds of the population have levels low enough to increase the risk of diseases like cancer, while a whopping four percent of Canadians have levels so low that they’re at risk for rickets!
The sun is our body’s favourite way of absorbing Vitamin D. Fifteen minutes in the sun with your arms and face exposed will allow most of us to absorb 10,000 IUs of Vitamin D. A sunscreen with an SPF of 8 or above reduces our Vitamin D absorption by 95 percent. So, if we wear sunscreen daily, it would take 3 ½–5 hours of sun exposure to absorb the same amount of Vitamin D.
Free Radical Damage
Sunburn is a sign of free radical damage…and for many of us it’s a very painful sign. Free radical damage can lead to early aging of the skin and possibly skin cancer, which is the main reason we wear sunscreen and why it’s in most cosmetics. But, what is forgotten is the free radical damage created by these very sunscreens!
A study published in October 2006 found that the three main sunscreen ingredients, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate, and benzophenone-3, create an increase in free radical damage in the skin, which was higher for the sunscreen user than for the non-user.
Ingredients Linked to Cancer
According to a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in 2012, up to 75% of commercial sunscreens contain potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) ingredients. This is a huge percentage and it’s something we need to be aware of before putting sunscreen on our children and ourselves.
The EWG recommends staying away from ingredients like oxybenzone (a hormone disruptor and linked to skin cancer) and retinyl palmitate (may increase risk of cancer when exposed to sunlight), as well as not buying sunscreens with an SPF higher than 50 (benefits tend to max out at SPF 15).
So…now what do you do?
- Internal Sunscreen
Fight against free radical damage with antioxidants. These are found in the skins of colourful berries, fruits, and vegetables.
- Protect Yourself
Slowly work up your body’s own protection to the sun (a tan) or protect yourself with a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves.
- Protective Supplements
Antioxidant supplements, like beta-carotene, lycopene, and green tea may help to reduce sun damage to skin.
- Vitamin D
Enjoy at least 10–15 minutes in the sun each day from May to October or take a supplement. Be sure to keep your Vitamin D levels high!
- Look at the Ingredients
When buying a sunscreen, always look at the ingredients. Go to the Environmental Working Group’s website for a list of sunscreens they have tested to be safe and free of known carcinogens. www.ewg.org
The most important thing to remember this summer is—get outside! Go outside and enjoy the summer while it’s still here!