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Sun Protection from the Inside Out and Outside In

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Summer time is just around the corner, we cannot wait to be outside and play, garden or just lay in the sum to soak up the warm healing energy. But wait! Is it Safe? Do the benefits out weight the harmful effects? There is so much information out there on the internet and in the various skin care magazines. Where do we start?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 90% of all skin cancers are related to sun exposure therefor sunscreen is one of the key ingredients in the prevention of excessive exposure, provided it is used according to the directions. Most of us, however, do not follow the instructions and we do not apply it 30 minutes before sun exposure and we certainly do not re-apply it after swimming, excessive sweating or in every 2 hours. Also there is controversy around certain ingredients in sunscreens and their safety. Namely: oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, fragrance and nanoparticles in mineral sunscreens.

  • Oxybenzone: A popular sunscreen ingredient, which has been detected in nearly every North American's body, is a synthetic estrogen. It has been used as chemical filler in sun screens since the 1980s. Some studies have shown that it penetrates into the skin and can interfere with our hormones and can cause cell damage that may provoke cancer.
  • Retinyl Palmitate: It is a form of vitamin A stored by the skin. It is an anti-oxidant that combats skin aging and it is also an essential nutrient. Retinyl palmitate is added to 14% of sunscreens, 15% of moisturizer with SPF and to 6% of SPF containing lip balms. However studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin exposed to sunlight. EWG recommends avoiding sunscreens, lip balms and skin lotions that contain vitamin A or retinyl palmitate, which is also called retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol.
  • Fragrance: This term describes any number of harmful chemicals that do not have to be listed on the label. Some of the most common fragrance chemicals are: parabens; a synthetic preservative known to interfere with hormone production and release; phthalates; a synthetic preservative and known carcinogen, which is associated with decreased sperm count, birth defects, and kidney and liver damage; synthetic musks, linked to hormone disruption and is known to accumulate in breast milk, body fat and the environment. I caution against using personal care products that contain synthetic fragrances.
  • Nano-particles: Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are physical sunscreens with a long history of use and are both considered the most protective broad -spectrum ingredients. When applied they leave a thick pasty white layer on the skin. They are comprised of large particles. Most of the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-containing sunscreens have nanoparticles, which is one-twentieth the width of a human hair. The mineral particles are micronized in order to reduce or eliminate the white film that larger particles leave on the skin. These sunscreens offer sun protection with a more appealing appearance. The smaller the particle the better the SPF protection and the worse the UVA protection. Manufacturers should strive for balance as small particles provide better transparency while larger particles offer greater UVA protection. The form of zinc oxide most often used in sunscreens is larger and provides greater UVA protection than the titanium dioxide products that appear clear on the skin. Even though EWG gives a favorable rating to mineral ingredients in sunscreens, FDA should regulate the use of mineral particles by restricting the use of unstable or UV-reactive forms. The concern is that nanoparticles can be absorbed by the skin and harm living skin tissue, but a large number of studies have produced no evidence that zinc oxide nanoparticles can cross the skin in significant amounts. More research and more specific FDA guidelines are needed in order to reduce the risk and maximize the sun protection of mineral sunscreens. I believe that even with all the existing uncertainties, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens are one of the best choices on the market.

SPF

It refers only to the protection against UVB rays, not UVA rays. UVB rays are the rays within the ultraviolet spectrum that allow your body to produce vitamin D in your skin. The most dangerous rays, in terms of causing skin damage and cancer, are the UVA rays. In theory, applying a sunscreen with an SPF 100 would allow us to sunbath 100 longer than without it before burning. For example if someone gets sunburn in 30 minutes of sun exposure could stay in the sum for 50 hours. But theory and reality are not the same. Studies show that people are misled by claims of high SPF sunscreens. Sunbathers often assume that they get twice as much protection from SPF 100 sunscreen as from SPF 50. The fact is that the extra protection is negligible. Properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 percent of UVB rays while SPF 100 blocks 99 percent. As a result high-SPF products tend to deceive users into staying in the sun longer and overexposing themselves to both UVA and UVB rays. Having a false sense of security, people extend their time in the sun well beyond the point when users of low-SPF products would head for the shades. As a result, they get as many UVB-inflicted sunburns as unprotected sunbathers and are likely to absorb more damaging UVA radiation.

Vitamin D

If you do not get regular sun exposure on your bare skin or take regular vitamin D3 supplements, there is a good chance you might be deficient in this essential nutrient. According to researchers vitamin D levels above 40 ng/ml are shown to offer more that 65% lower cancer risk. Optimizing your vitamin D levels may reduce the risk of as many as 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, breast, prostate and skin cancers.

Five Steps to Safely Enjoying the Sun

  1. Limit your sun exposure and slowly work your way up: during peak summer days let your skin be exposed to the sun early in the mornings and late in the afternoons in order to achieve adequate vitamin D levels. The more tanned you are the less likely you will get burnt.
  2. Protect your face and eyes with a wide brimmed hat: the skin around these areas is much thinner and delicate than other areas of your body and is more at risk for cosmetic photo damage and premature wrinkling and aging.
  3. Wear sunscreen: If it's too hot to protect your skin by covering it with light clothing during the day and you'll be outside for extended periods, use a natural mineral-based broad-spectrum sunscreen on your skin.
  4. Keep your skin moisturized naturally: before sun exposure use natural moisturizers, like coconut oil on your skin. You can add some astaxanthin to the oil for added protection. Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant, which can be used both internally and topically in order to protect your skin from the sun. You can make your own lotion by adding astaxanthin to organic coconut oil, but be careful as astaxanthin is dark red and it may stain your clothing.
  5. Build your internal sun protection: eating healthy is always important. Fresh, raw, unprocessed foods deliver the nutrients your body needs. Maintain a healthy balance of omega - 6 and omega 3 oils in your skin, which is your first line of defense against sunburn. For example flaxseed and fatty fish, like salmon and mackerel are a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids associated with the reduction of inflammation in the body. Eat foods rich in Vitamins C and E. Studies show that skin cells exposed to sun suffer less damage if there are adequate amounts of vitamin C and E present. Although they both reduce signs of sun damage as antioxidants, when used together they work synergistically thus offer greater protection against UV damage. Foods rich in vitamin C are kiwi, strawberries, black currant, oranges, peaches and guava. Vitamin E-rich foods include salmon, nuts and seeds, seed oils, avocados and green leafy vegetables. Don't forget to eat your carrots. The most important carotenoid is carotene. Moderate dose (30 mg daily) supplementation was shown protective when subjects were exposed to natural sunlight at a level equivalent to a two-week beach holiday. Foods rich in carotene are carrots, beets, sweet potato and dark leafy greens.

While these key ingredients and good nutrition are considered to be a good insurance policy against sun damage, sunscreens are still needed as they are a more effective protection and shade is still the best. It is advisable to start the internal protection at least 6-8 weeks before the planned beach vacation in order to achieve adequate antioxidant and omega 3 levels.

How to Choose a Safe and Effective Sunscreen

  1. Avoid spray sunscreens - when sprayed, toxic particles are released into the air making them easy to be inhaled with unknown health effects. They may also contain flammable ingredients.
  2. Avoid high SPF containing sunscreens - when used correctly, sunscreen with SPF values in the range of 30 to 50 will offer adequate sunburn protection, even for people most sensitive to sunburn.
  3. Protect against both UV A and UV B rays - it is impossible to measure whether or not the sunscreen is able to protect against both the UVA and UVB rays by reading the label as SPF only refers to UVB protection. Look for a sunscreen containing zinc oxide and titan dioxide. Zinc oxide is a physical filter for UVB and both UVA1 and UVA2, while titanium dioxide offers protection against UVB and UVA rays.

Now Let's Get Outside and Enjoy the Sun!!