As a holistic health and skincare professional who also does quite a lot of writing, I’ve certainly come across conflicting information in education as well as in my own research and practice. It seems that for every study claiming something is a panacea, there are just as many studies claiming that same thing will make you grow an extra leg or die. I’ve come across some stories that are considered to be ?hard science? which completely negate hundreds and even thousands of years of herbal and traditional therapies and wisdom that have been used successfully in the 70% of the world that doesn’t rely on Western medicine. Then of course the big natural advocacy websites completely dismiss the science as being flawed and biased. Because of these skewed perspectives, there are several topics I’ve revisited more than once after learning new information.
Sun safety is one of those topics.
My first article about sun safety was several years ago when I was freshly out of aesthetics school where my education taught me that sun damage is the number one extrinsic cause of premature aging. It causes hyperpigmentation, early formation of lines and wrinkles, as well as complete destruction of the ?proteins of youth,? collagen and elastin at a cellular level. Oh yeah, it causes skin cancer too. So in order to avoid trips to the dermatologist and-gasp-to the plastic surgeon, sunscreen of at least SPF 30 must be worn religiously every single waking minute of every day, regardless of the time of year (the sun shines whether it?s cold, cloudy, rainy, or snowy) and regardless of whether you’re actually outside in direct sunlight (because harmful UV rays can penetrate through glass and still zap you while you’re driving or sitting near a window in your office?even certain lighting emits harmful UV rays so it should be worn even if you are nowhere near a window while indoors).
I published several articles on sun safety after that, on varying topics such the hidden dangers of sunscreens (namely chemical sunscreens), skin cancer prevention, melanoma awareness (after which I was invited to collaborate with the head of the Melanoma Research Foundation on several other articles), sunscreen ingredient regulations, and more. I also began learning about natural plant oils that have their own naturally occurring sunscreen benefits, the relationship between sunshine and mood, Vitamin D deficiency, internal supplements that give the body sun protection from the inside out, and how certain foods and supplements also help the body protect itself from the skin?s harmful rays. After all of this work, I now have a very well-rounded view on sun protection and have come to several realizations that I think make the topic of sun safety much less complicated.
Some facts about sun safety and?sun deficiency have remained consistent.
- Too much sun exposure is linked to all forms of skin cancer?basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma?but it?s not the only cause of skin cancer. Cancer is a systemic disease often having many causes. The sun is just one of the triggers.
- Prevalence of all forms of skin cancer is higher now than ever before in history.
- People use sunscreen with higher SPFs more now than ever before (when I was a kid there WAS no SPF 50, never mind SPF 100)
- People spend less time outside now than ever before.
- Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise?of course the test to determine one?s levels of vitamin D is fairly new, so maybe people have been deficient longer, who knows.
- The sun is the number one source of Vitamin D.
- It is very difficult to get Vitamin D from food?especially in these days of greenhouses and factory farms (while the sun?s harmful UV rays do penetrate glass, the rays that carry Vitamin D do not)
- Knowledge of the benefits and importance of Vitamin D is expanding?it?s a big area of research these days and it?s becoming evident that adequate Vitamin D is necessary not just for mood issues and to prevent rickets, but also for healthy hormone and immune function.
- Most people don’t apply sunscreen properly or frequently enough for it to actually have any protective effects.
- There is no such thing as ?sweat proof? or ?waterproof? sunscreen. Even the FDA realized that and prohibited use of those words on sunscreen labels and required a separate round of testing for any product claiming water or sweat resistance.
- The FDA does not yet admit that chemical sunscreen ingredients are toxic or harmful in any way, though websites like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Natural News, and the EWG have seemingly never-ending citations expressing otherwise.
- Sunscreen ingredients–even natural ones–are regulated by the FDA as OTC drugs.
- A higher SPF does NOT provide significantly higher coverage or longer times of protection.
- Natural mineral sunscreen ingredients (formerly known as sunblock, but now the FDA says they can’t use that word anymore either) like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have fewer links to toxicity than chemical (absorbing) sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) and are just as effective.
- Most holistically-minded doctors recommend 10-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure per day to get Vitamin D.
- Most kids hate getting interrupted from playing and having to stay still long enough to have sunscreen slathered on them.
- Sunscreen sprays and powders have questionable safety due to inhalation hazards and also questionable efficacy due to the fact that most of it ends up in the air, not on the body.
- The body?s resistance to the sun?s damage can be strengthened with a healthy diet, proper skincare regimen, and certain supplements.
- Sun supplementation is a newer area of research and product development.
- Many chemical sunscreens are xenoestrogens and have negative effects on the mood, hormones, and immune system (hmmm?opposite from the benefits of Vitamin D it seems).
- Yes, certain natural oils like coconut, argan, and red raspberry seed oil are known for having inherent levels of SPF?however, the consistency and accuracy of?those levels actually have varied per sample in lab tests, and shouldn’t be relied on as standalone sun protection.
- The skin itself has its own levels of SPF depending on the amount of melanin pigment in the skin?the darkest skin tones are known to have an SPF level of 13 at all times while the lightest have almost none. This range of skin tones is known in aesthetics as the Fitzpatrick Classification Scale.
I could go on?but instead I’ll share my own recommendations for sun safety based on my experience and research, the facts listed above, and of course, common sense in my next post.
What do you think?
I’m sure you’ve encountered plenty of conflicting information regarding what’s real and what’s hype when it comes to sun safety.?Sound off about it in the comments!
*Image 1 credit: Joshua Blount, “Sunshine and a Nap.” 2011. Some rights reserved. Image 2?credit:?Tim Lucas, “Wear Sunscreen.” 2012. Some rights reserved. Image 3?credit:?A Silly Person, “Sunset Girls 2.” 2009. Some rights reserved.?