Fighting Off Free Radicals: Protect Yourself from the Sun

Free radicals are unpaired (single) electrons that are highly unstable, easily excitable, and aggressive. When anything happens to energize or “excite” these single electrons, they steal an electron from a healthy pair in order to stabilize themselves, thus breaking up that pair and leaving that electron single and unstable.

Now that we know all about free radicals and why we need to help our bodies fight them off, how exactly do we do that?

Well first and foremost we must avoid the sun. If it is light outside, that means the sun is out. Just because it is cloudy, or snowy, or there is a hurricane or blizzard, does not mean the sun’s UV rays took the day off.

Too many people take the winter off from their sunscreen regimen, and that has to stop. Sunscreen needs to be worn every day, in every season, regardless of the weather.

Make sunscreen part of your daily routine

Sunscreens are now built right into your moisturizer, foundation, lip balm, and even some hair care products. If the weather is warm and you have more skin exposed, you just have to allow yourself a few more minutes before leaving the house to put it on. Sunscreens are so easy to apply these days. You really have no excuse. Just wear it. And PLEASE put it on your children.

Sunscreen vs. Sunblock

Sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s harmful UV rays and neutralizing them before they can damage the body. Sunblocks, also known as physical sunscreens, contain trace amounts of zinc or titanium dioxide and actually prevent the UV rays from entering the body by reflecting and scattering them. Products referred to as “Broad Spectrum Protection” contain both absorbing and physical sunscreen ingredients.

One more thing: a higher SPF does NOT mean better protection. It just means more chemicals, which can do more damage than good. If you use an SPF of 15 to 30 and reapply it as needed throughout the day, you will be fine.

Which is better?

There are so many different sun protection products available, how do you know which to choose? Which is the most effective? Which is safest? Don’t sunscreens contain chemicals? Aren’t those chemicals harmful?

In a word, yes. All sunscreen ingredients can be toxic. The mineral-based sunblocks are considered to be safer, but now there are even studies suggesting that titanium dioxide can get absorbed into the bloodstream and cause damage over time. Many cosmetic manufacturers who use titanium dioxide are starting to either use lower concentrations (“nano” or “micro-sized” particles) of it, or are switching to zinc oxide.

Absorbing sunscreens contain chemical ingredients that are all potentially harmful, and create free radicals. Of course, some are less harmful than others. You want to avoid PABA, oxybenzone, and anything containing any form of Vitamin A, like retinyl palmitate (increases photo-sensitivity). Many cosmetic companies are using avobenzone (don’t confuse this with oxybenzone. “oxy”=bad, “avo”=better), and Mexoryl SX as sunscreen ingredients. These are considered safer.

A good rule of thumb is to look for a sunscreen that not only contains the nano or micro-sized physical ingredients and safer absorbing ingredients, but also antioxidants. Many higher quality product lines are now adding antioxidants into their sunscreen formulations to neutralize the free radicals caused by the sun protection ingredients before they can cause any damage to your body.

Antioxidants are very important to everyday health.

But just like any other product, it has to be formulated correctly. Not all antioxidants are effective against every free radical, just like not all antibiotics are effective against every strain of bacteria. The manufacturer needs to know which antioxidants will neutralize the free radicals caused by the sunscreen/block ingredients in their product, and they need to know how much of it is necessary to be effective. Another example of the importance of quality and quantity.

But I’m not a scientist, how do I know what product to choose?

As consumers, it is very hard for us to know which products are safe and effective. Unfortunately, we cannot always trust the manufacturers or fall for their marketing tactics. We really need to start educating ourselves about ingredients and reading product labels.

When it comes to assessing the risks posed by some of the ingredients, this really is a scenario where the risk of not wearing sunscreen far outweighs any risk posed by wearing it.

Make sure to always put sunscreen on your children.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a sunscreen safety guide every year that offers a wealth of information. Please take the time to read it and educate yourselves.

The Facts

The American Academy of Dermatology says that “UVA exposure…is known to lead to signs of premature aging of the skin such as wrinkling and age spots,” and according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “[m]ore than 90 percent of all skin cancers are associated with sun exposure.” These are facts, not opinions, beliefs, or issues that are in any way up for debate. Sun damage can be minimized by prevention measures. So, protect yourselves and your children from the sun!

Need more information?

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1 thought on “Fighting Off Free Radicals: Protect Yourself from the Sun”

  1. Pingback: Sun Safety Facts and Common Sense - LEAF Lifestyle

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