To sun protect or not to sun protect?

*warning this is a long blog post but it’s full of important information*

That is the question that I bring to you today. Over the past decade, dozens of studies from third-party scientific groups have examined the potential health hazards of sunscreen chemicals that permeate the skin. Sunscreen’s active ingredients are present in large concentrations in order to filter UVA and UVB rays, and their repeated application over large portions of the skin means that the body absorbs high concentrations of toxic chemicals. Sunscreen ingredients are well known to cause poisoning, hormone disruption, degenerative changes in cells of the skin, DNA damage, free-radical generation leading to premature ageing, a compromised immune system and increased risk of melanoma.

But how bad? And what is worse: UV damage, chemical sunscreens or mineral sunscreens? Would there be any alternative ways to protect the skin against UV rays, without necessarily hiding under an umbrella all day?

The Environmental Working Group writes:

 “The ideal sunscreen would completely block UV rays that cause sunburn, immune suppression and damaging free radicals. It would remain effective on the skin for several hours. It would not form harmful ingredients when degraded by sunlight. It would smell and feel pleasant so that people would use more of it.  No sunscreen meets these goals. Consumers must choose between “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone system, and “mineral” sunscreens, made with zinc and titanium, often “micronized” or containing nano-particles.”

Chemical sunscreens typically include a combination of three to six of these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

Laboratory studies indicate that these chemicals break down when exposed to sunlight, mimicking estrogen and disrupting the body’s hormone (endocrine) system. Research suggests that oxybenzone, 4-MBC and octinoxate are also toxic to human reproductive systems and interfere with normal development.

A US FDA report entitled ‘Medications that Increase Sensitivity to Light’ indicates that many agents commonly used in chemical sunscreens – including benzophenones, PABA, cinnamates, salicylates, anthranilates, PSBA, mexenone, and oxybenzone – increase photosensitivity or have photo-reactive agents in them. This means that applying these chemicals to your body during periods of sun exposure actually heightens the body’s re-activity to UV radiation and increases the risk of skin cancer.

Are mineral based sunscreens any better?

According to the environmental working group, “mineral sunscreen could pose a risk of skin damage if manufacturers do not select forms that are coated with inert chemicals to reduce photo-activity”. In other words, they use chemicals to alter the hazardous effects of mineral filters breaking down in sunlight. This is a problem: there is absolutely no research on the chemicals used to reduce the photo-re-activity of mineral sunscreens.

Additionally, mineral filters release carcinogenic nano-particles one-twentieth  the thickness of a human hair. Nanoparticles are not properly regulated, allowing manufacturers to cheap out on quality and safety.   These particles are volatile; they can lodge in the lungs, reach the bloodstream and extensively damage living cells and internal organs. On top of it all, nano-particles also react to UV rays faster, increasing the amount of free radicals produced and drastically increasing UV damage in the body. And I’m not even going to get into the ecosystem and environmental impact of nano-particles.

About UV rays:

This is where it gets tricky. UVA and UVB rays have very distinct properties when interacting with the skin. UVA rays damage skin cells in the basal layer of the epidermis, where most skin cancers occur. They penetrate deeper into skin tissue where they release free radicals, damaging DNA and skin cells, promoting skin aging and causing skin cancer.

UVB rays stimulate the production of new melanin and a thicker epidermis, which are your body’s natural defense against UVA damage. They also cause sunburns, which are the body’s natural warning and protection system against UVA damage.

UVB rays are necessary to build the precursors to vitamin D in the skin. Vitamin D is a hormone essential to calcium absorption, promoting bone health. It is also essential to a strong immune system and helps protect against breast, colon, kidney and ovarian cancer. About one-fourth of North-Americans have low levels of vitamin D, which has been associated with increased cardiovascular mortality, colon cancer mortality, breast cancer, skin cancer, metabolic disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, upper respiratory tract infections and other microbe-caused infections.

Basically, for a sun protection lotion to be effective, it should block cancer-causing UVAs while allowing healing UVBs to interact with the skin. Ironically, sunscreens create the opposite effect of what they are designed for. They block UVBs and allow harmful UVAs to penetrate deeper into the skin.

Here are some of the healing benefits of the sun:

Helps fight cancer in conjunction with whole foods
Heals skin disorders such as psoriasis, acne, eczema and fungal infections of the skin
Lowers cholesterol and blood pressure
Cleanses the blood and increases oxygen content as it penetrates deep into the skin
Builds a strong the immune system as white blood cells increase with sun exposure
Body’s primary source of vitamin D
Treats depression

Natural Ways to Avoid Sun Damage:

1. Stay hydrated. Your skin is more likely to burn if you are dehydrated, so drink lots of water..

2. Naturally increase your skin’s resistance to UV rays by gradually exposing it to the morning sun for short periods of time. You will be less likely to burn, and you will reap the health benefits of increased Vitamin D. Avoid prolonged mid-day exposures. Being fair skinned, I burn easy, so as an adult I’ve been avoiding the hottest part of the day exposure as much as possible, for years now. I never go to the beach to lie out there and fry. You’ll find me sitting in filtered shade (meaning a bit of sun coming through leaves of a tree), or being active and moving in shade and sun. 

3. Avoid sunglasses. The optical nerve in the eyes sends signals to the hypothalamus. The gland has the ability to adjust the skin’s resistance to UV rays on the basis of how much light your eyes receive. This one I can’t follow for myself. I would not be able to see and my eyes would be tearing and burning and swelling if I went without sunglasses. I think for most people limited exposure to the sun without sunglasses *is* beneficial.

4. Sunburn is caused by oxidation of the skin cells. Eat colorful foods – they are high in antioxidants and you will support the body to counteract the effects of sunburn. This one is easy and so delicious! Who doesn’t enjoy colourful salads and lots of fresh fruit in this weather?

5. Cleanse your liver of toxins and heavy metals as they play a major role in UV protection. Adding zeolite to your diet is a safe and powerful way to detox the body. (Zeolites are microporous, aluminosilicate minerals commonly used as commercial adsorbents and catalysts, it is now being used in supplement form for detoxing the body). I need to know more about it. 

6. Apply micronized zeolite to your skin. Easily absorbed, it assists the skin to build and strengthen its own natural UV and UVA defense, healing and processing mechanisms. Zeolite does not deter beneficial UV rays from entering the skin, it protects against DNA damage, protecting your skin and cell membranes at the cellular level.

*source of all above info –

My good friend Dee and I were talking about sunscreen and chemicals the other day while out walking along the beach and sitting in the shade too, life is about balance, right? 🙂 She sent me a link to “12 essential natural sunscreens” here> , so I’m just going advise you to do your own research/reading and try what you believe is the best product(s) for you. I would suggest researching each one, or at least the ones that appeal to you.

One last related and important topic: Sun Protection Factor, aka SPF rating, what does it actually mean in terms of protection? 

SPF stands refers to the theoretical amount of time you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. For example, an SPF of 15 would allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer than you could without protection. So, if your skin starts to redden in 20 minutes without sun block, applying a product with SPF 15 increases that time by a factor of 15, meaning you could stay in the sun for 300 minutes. In addition, a higher SPF blocks out more rays—a product with an SPF of 15 will filter out approximately 93 percent of UVB rays; SPF 30 filters out about 97 percent.

Of course it’s not that simple or straightforward. A multitude of factors affect how well you are protected from the sun. Sunscreen can be easily washed off by exposure to water or sweat, which can leave parts of your skin vulnerable to UV rays. Applying your sun protection unevenly or not reapplying sunscreen often enough can also reduce its effectiveness. Even your genetic make-up comes into play. If you have fair skin or if there is a history of skin cancer in your family, you may be at higher risk for skin cancer. Other factors to consider are your hydration levels, how much you’re sweating. How active are you? Have you eaten today? What have you eaten? Have you been drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs? Finally, certain medications—such as antibiotics or products with retinol—can make your skin more sensitive to the effects of sunlight.

Be safe, get educated (do your own research!), evaluate risk (I do and I share my experiences with you so that you can see to trust your instincts and make the right decisions for you!), take appropriate actions to protect yourself, enjoy the sunshine and get out into nature!



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