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Sunscreens and Skin Cancer

After the harsh winter we endured this year, people are delighted to feel the strong rays of the sun on their skin. Hours in the sun means more use of sunscreens as the connection between sun exposure and cancer has been embedded in our heads. In the last few years however, there has been a dilemma regarding the safety of many sunscreens.

Problems With Many Popular Sunscreens

Skin cancer is a relatively new epidemic, and it seems there is a direct correlation between the daily use of sunscreen and skin cancer rates skyrocketing.

First of all, we must understand that being in the sun without sunscreen for a short period of time does have benefits. We have been taught to be afraid of the sun and wear sunscreen on every part of our body every time we step out the door. While it is true that burning the skin is very harmful and contributes to premature aging and possibly cancer, a little sun exposure is harmless and actually needed.

Our body uses the sun to synthesize vitamin D, an extremely important nutrient whose deficiency can lead to a plethora of diseases such as autoimmune illnesses, hormone disorders and 27 types of cancer. You can make sufficient Vitamin D by exposing face, arms and legs to the sun for 10-15 minutes a day. For those of us who do not live near the equator, vitamin D is not made as efficiently during the winter months and supplementation may be required. So what many do not realize is that wearing sunscreen all the time during the summer months may inhibit the synthesis of vitamin D.  It’s best to get some sun exposure during off peak hours (early morning or late afternoon) to get adequate vitamin D in the body.

If you are going to be in the sun during peak hours for extended periods of time, then sunscreen should be used. This brings us back to our question if the right sunscreen is being used.  Studies are revealing that those who use sunscreen products regularly have an increase risk of developing skin cancer. How can this be? How is it that the very product you’re using to protect yourself from cancer is the product perhaps causing it? It’s because not all sunscreens are created equal!

Many sunscreens have chemical ingredients that can actually damage and age the skin. Ingredients such as oxybenzone, very commonly used in these products, absorb through the skin and get into systemic circulation. This can damage all the cells in the body, especially when these chemicals mix with UV rays inside the body. Poor quality oils or other substandard ingredients may also increase oxidative damage to the skin. Furthermore, other chemicals collectively known as parabens are used in sunscreen products and are known carcinogens (carcinogens are substances that can cause cancer) and hormone disruptors. Our bodies are “fooled” by these TOXINS, which bind to the same sites that our natural hormones bind to, altering, magnifying or blocking the function of the natural hormones.

Recent sunscreen reports also exposed retinyl palmitate (a derivative of vitamin A and a very common sunscreen additive), as an ingredient that helps malignant cells spread…Yikes!

Lastly, in the Environmental Working Group’s study they also found that “People don’t get the high SPF they pay for,” the report says. “People get about a quarter of the recommended amount.”

What To Avoid

The Environmental Working Group, or EWG, is a non-profit organization made up of lawyers, engineers, policy experts and scientists that collect research and documents to help protect public health. They evaluated over 600 sunscreen products and compiled a list of both safe and what they consider unsafe sunscreens.

The following is their list of sunscreens that have evaluated NOT to be safe and thus should be avoided:

EWG recommend avoiding any products containing oxybenzone and Vitamin A.

So what can you do to ensure you’re actually getting protection?

Here at Complete Nutrition And Wellness we have been educating our patients about this sunscreen dilemma over the last few years. We recommend using sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide because they are large molecules that form a physical barrier to block the damaging rays and do not absorb into the skin and get inside the body.  Look for combinations that contain these ingredients in natural oils versus parabens and other preservatives.  Also avoid sprays and powders that can be inhaled by anyone, especially children.

The EWG is in line with our thinking.  Which products did they recommend? Here’s a list of its best beach and sport sunscreens.

Safer, Affordable Sunscreens: 

I have had great success with the Aubrey Organics brand. They just reformulated their whole sunscreen line so it is no longer thick or goes on white. Their body and face blocks go one smoothly, feel silky and do not leave a residue. I have not had a chance to try some of these others, but if you have a favorite, please feel free to email me with your recommendations so we can pass it on to our patients.

What Can You Do If You Accidentally Burn?

Applying blocks during peak hours (even on cloudy days) as well as reapplying after prolonged swimming will protect your skin and prevent burning however if you have a slip up and accidentally burn there are a few things you can do.

Overexposure to the sun creates free radicals which damage the skin and are the cause of skin turning red. Antioxidants are very useful in quenching the free radicals and can help minimize some of the damage. (Please note that they will not prevent the damage completely and avoiding burning is the only way to completely prevent it).

From the outside:

Using a complete natural, chemical free moisturizer with antioxidants immediately after can soothe the skin and actually prevent you from peeling.  

From the inside:

Taking antioxidants such as the Detox Antioxidant, Stellar C, Lipoic Acid Supreme and/or Ubiquinol immediately following the episode and for the next few days will help reduce the free radical load to lessen the damage and allow the skin to heal faster.

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