Sun and Sun Exposure

Summer is here!

Barbeques, pool parties, and relaxing on the beach are just a few things that make summer my favorite time of the year. But with the summer comes the sun, and many worry about sun exposure and it’s relation to skin cancer. So many Americans slather on toxic sunscreens that aren’t even protecting their skin properly, or are missing out on the summer fun by avoiding the sun altogether.

So how do you enjoy the summer and minimize your risk of skin cancer? It’s easier than you think!

The sun is NOT deadly! In fact, it’s healthy! The most ideal way to get optimal Vitamin D levels is to get safe sun exposure. Now, that’s not to say that sunlight can’t be harmful. Long term, excessive exposure can increase the risk of certain skin cancers. But there is a good amount of research that states sun exposure without sunburn actually decreases your risk melanoma.

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How to Get Safe Sun Exposure

How long should I expose my skin to the sun? 
It depends! First of all, you want to have a significant part of your skin exposed. Your hands and your face is not enough surface area to get enough Vitamin D from the sun. If you are Caucasian, you’ll want to remain in the sun until your skin is just the slightest shade of pink. Any additional time in the sun will increase photoaging of the skin and as a result, will increase your risk of skin cancer. So you’ll clearly not make any more Vitamin D after that point.

How do I prevent getting burned?
Now, there are a number of things you can do to decrease the chance of you getting burned. The primary factor is the foods you eat! Your skin is composed of cells and the cell membrane is largely composed of fatty acids. The food you are eating directly influences your cell membranes. When you eat processed foods, the omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids are typically damaged, and thus your cell membranes are not healthy, making them more susceptible to being burnt in the sun and increasing your risk of skin cancer. So it’s so important to optimize your diet and eat raw and unprocessed foods.  Eating good, non-hydrogenated fats and fresh fruits and vegetables actually reduces your chance of getting burned. (For a full list of good fats vs. bad fats, see our Heal Yourself Cookbook.) Raw vegetables are rich in phytonutrients, which have a profound antioxidant effect and will decrease your risk of skin cancer.

Probably the simplest and most effective way to prevent burning is to wear the proper clothes. Wearing a hat can shade your face and protect the delicate tissue around your eyes that is specifically susceptible to sun damage. Also, when you feel like you’ve had enough sun (when your skin is the slightest shade of pink), put on a long sleeved shirt and pants. Or, simply find shade and continue enjoying the summer weather from a shaded spot.

What about sunscreen? Should I wear it, and if so, what kind should I buy?

Until recently, sunscreens only filtered out UVB rays – the essential rays your body needs to make Vitamin D which decreases your risk of cancer. In fact, sunscreens block your body’s Vitamin D production by 97.5 to 99.9 percent. Just recently have sun screen companies begun to protect against UVA rays, which are the rays that cause cancer!!!

Now isn’t it interesting that there was a strong push by the medical community to use sun screen regularly yet it was actually increasing the risk of cancer – all because of the filtering mechanism. So if you’re going to use a sunscreen, you must make sure that it will filter out Ultra Violet A.

The other issue is the chemicals used in sunscreens that are being absorbed through your skin and into your body. It is actually more harmful to apply toxic chemicals to the skin than to eat them.
A study in the April 2004 Journal of Chromatography found that there was a significant penetration into the skin of all sunscreen agents they studied. So if you are following the recommendations of applying sunscreen every two hours, you are absorbing quite a bit of chemicals.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website, some of the most toxic ingredients are some of the most widely used, including Octinoxate (hormone disruptor and photoallergen) and Oxybenzone (photoallergen, hormone disruptor and carcinogen). The popular sunscreen companies that made EWG’s “2012 Hall of Shame” include Coppertone, Banana Boat, Arbonne, Neurtogena, and Australian Gold. Other top offenders include Aveeno, Baby Blanket, CVS brands, Equate, Hawaiian Tropic, and L’Oreal.

Once you’ve reached your limit of sun exposure (skin turns the lightest shade of pink), the safest and most obvious option is to put on a long sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat.  Don’t forget to stay hydrated!

Packing your Beach Bag

If you are going to use a sunscreen, make sure it blocks UVA rays. Stick with a lotion, not a spray or powder as they can be inhaled and cause further lung damage. Look for chemicals like zinc oxide and titanium oxide to protect your skin from harsh rays. Other all-natural ingredients that provide sun protection include:

  • Sunflower oil
  • Vitamins D and E
  • Coconut oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Shea butter
  • Eucalyptus oil

Here’s to fun in the sun the safe way!