Would you eat your sunscreen?

Caribbean Blue Reef and Baby Friendly Sunscreen

Are you enjoying this heat-wave or have you had enough now? Certainly the gardens and farms need some rain!
I thought this month I would write about sunscreen products and sun safety.
This issue looks at:-

  • The benefits of the sun to our health
  • How do we stay safe and enjoy the sun?
  • The toxicity of most regular sunscreens

The benefits of sun to our health.
Most people are aware that we need sunlight for vitamin D. Actually it is a type of cholesterol (7-dehydrocholestero) in the skin that is converted by UVB radiation from the sun to an inactive form of vitamin D. It is then converted to the active form after passing through the liver and kidneys. Vitamin D is now considered to be more of a hormone than a vitamin. OK, so everyone knows that we need Vitamin D to keep our bones strong but did you also know that it is also essential for;

  • immune function against infections and cancer,
  • Muscle function
  • Cardiovascular function, for a healthy heart and circulation
  • Respiratory system –for healthy lungs and airways
  • Brain development – cognitive decline and Parkinsons among the many conditions now associated with low vitamin D status.

However, sunlight does a lot more than allow conversion of vitamin D. We still don’t really understand all the different wavelengths emitted by the sun and how they affect us. Alexander Wunsch and Dr. Auguste Rollier are two specialists in the benefits of sunlight on the body. Something our ancestors new all about as sun bathing was actually a therapy called Heliotherapy, and it was used to treat all kinds of conditions from skin conditions to tuberculosis and of course rickets. In fact it wasn’t that long ago that patients hospital beds were wheeled outside into the fresh air and sunlight because it was noted that they would recover from whatever ailed them more quickly if they did they were outside. (If they did that now they’d all be in the car park!).

Interesting research has found that exposure to UV light generates nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has an important role in cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure and it may also have antimicrobial effects and it can act as a mood regulating neurotransmitter. Exposure to UV light may also improve mood through the release of the feel good chemicals endorphins.

Our pineal gland and melatonin output is dependent on our exposure to light and dark cycles and our adrenal gland function and cortisol output is optimised through exposure to light. There are those who propose (and there is some evidence to back this up) that humans can generate energy from the sun much as solar batteries create energy from the sun and plants generate energy through photosynthesis.

It is likely that the sun emits many different wavelengths and particles that we don’t fully understand yet, and that in combination these actually do us good. Of course it is a question of degree; undoubtedly burning the skin is not good for it and can cause changes to the DNA of the cell which can lead to early signs of aging and cancer.

How do we get the benefits of the sun and not the harmful effects?
The main detrimental effects of the sun appear to happen to skin that has not built up it’s own protective cells adequately. So when we expose our skin to the sun we increase the melanin and other protection factors. But we need to do this gradually; the way we tend to live our modern lives is often not compatible with gradual sun exposure. The ideal would be to have low levels of sun exposure every day until we have an even tan. But by working indoors and being behind glass and then jetting off to the med or somewhere with very strong sun doesn’t give our bodies a chance to adapt. And that’s the main reason why we need to protect ourselves from the sun.

According to the Environment working group (EWG) our strategy for sun protection should be to first wear clothes/hats, secondly find shade and thirdly wear sunscreen.

How safe is your sunscreen?
Would you be happy to eat your sun cream? If not why are you putting it on your body? Your skin absorbs whatever is placed on it, just as if you had swallowed it. In fact it could be argued that the gut lining has far more ability to be discerning than the skin does, meaning it may actually be more important to take care about what you put on your skin than what you put in your mouth!

The purpose of a sun product is to protect the skin form ultra violet radiation in the form of UVA or UVB. And the purpose of that is to prevent cancer and premature aging of the skin, but does it actually do that? There is little scientific evidence to suggest that sunscreen alone reduces the risk of cancer, particularly for melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Despite a growing awareness of the dangers of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, and a multi-billion-dollar sunscreen industry, melanoma rates have tripled over the past three decades. Also melanoma is common in parts of the body never exposed to the sun!

Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms, with either mineral or chemical filters. Each uses a different mechanism for protecting skin and maintaining stability in sunlight. The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. A handful of products combine zinc oxide with chemical filters.

However, Some of these chemicals break down into products that are cancer causing when exposed to sunlight! Some are absorbed into the body where they then disrupt hormones such as thyroid hormones. There have been studies which have shown that teenage boys exposed to these chemicals have less testosterone. Pregnant women give birth to babies with altered birth weight and they are even found in 85% of mother milk! So in a nutshell these chemicals are absorbed into the body where they act as hormone disruptors.

Are mineral sunscreens better?
Well yes I believe they are. The minerals used are usually either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide - the industry seems to have fallen in love with nano technology, so these minerals are now made into tiny micro particles. The advantage of this is that they do not leave such an obvious white residue on the skin and go on more easily the disadvantages – well who knows there isn’t the research. However, I choose to avoid them because I am aware that metals can be stored in tissues where you don’t want them in the body and I believe that it must be easier for these smaller particles to get into places in the body where you don’t want them! (I can’t back this up with evidence as yet and EWG thinks nano particles are relatively safe). I believe we need to take a cautionary note on titanium dioxide as it is not necessarily the inert metal we are lead to believe, especially if you have a metal allergy or already have titanium in your body from an implant for example.

So my sunscreen of choice just contains zinc oxide as it’s main sunscreen ingredient there are a few out there Weleda makes one but I use  Caribbean Blue. The Caribbean Blue range of sun products was created by Canadian Naturopathic doctors. Now, there is a down side, and that is with any zinc oxide based product they can be a bit thick and paste like, and also leave a white residue on the skin. The less the percentage of zinc oxide in the product the less this effect happens, but also the less the SPF value. So if you want a less pasty product go for the SPF 8 and re-apply regularly (only really suitable if you don't burn easily and for sun in this country I would say), for the higher SPF versions, expect the above issues. But, in my opinion better to have these issues than the toxicity of the chemical based sunscreens. But it's your choice!

There’s so much to say on this subject of sun and sunscreen, I am going to carry this on into part 2 next month - when the subject will be Can you prevent burning your skin from the inside out?

Until then I hope you enjoy the sun - safely.


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Article courtesy of Clare Badrick www.clarebadrick.co.uk