How many times in your life have you heard people say “Stay out of the sun if you want to protect your skin.”
My trip down to Florida recently had me thinking about sun exposure, and the fear that is instilled in us regarding sun exposure.
You’ve likely heard it from news outlets, your parents, doctors, radio hosts, and the list goes on. Nearly everyone out there is under the impression that the sun is some kind of evil, unavoidable force that will ruin our skin, cause premature aging, fine lines, and sunken wrinkles. I am writing this post today to dispel the common lies and misunderstanding regarding sunscreen, and sun exposure. You may be surprised at what you have been led to believe about sun, and unfortunately, so many of these lies are spun out of the dermatological industry for increased profit.
Nearly all dermatologists you meet will tell you that the sun is bad, and you should basically avoid it at whatever cost. Worse, they will scold you if (gasp!) you have any kind of tan or glow to your skin. “Have you been wearing your sunscreen?” “What SPF?” “Do you apply it even when there are clouds in the sky?” Oh the irony that the same products we are slathering onto our skin carelessly, are the ones doing the real damage, not the sun itself.
Common sunscreens out there, and more particularly, the chemicals in them, are more likely to cause skin cancer than the sun itself.
What if I told you that sun exposure is actually not bad, despite what we are told? More than that, vitamin D is KEY to our overall health. Medical professionals blame the sun for the rise in skin cancer because it is the main source of UV light. However, many people do not believe this dogma about the sun causing skin cancer (including myself). I believe that your lifestyle choices as well as your diet are a more important role in preventing skin cancer. Shockingly, a 2004 study published in the Lancet showed that indoor workers were twice as likely to get skin cancer as those who spent more time in the sun (Source).
In addition, low vitamin D levels are also linked to severe health problems, including cancer. Vitamin D is a necessary nutrient for our immune system, and without it, the immune system simply cannot function. Think about the last time you were on vacation somewhere sunny. Think about last summer, when you were down by the beach or near a pool. Chances are, you felt pretty dang great. How about when you’re sitting inside of a stuffy office on a cold, rainy day where not a sliver of sun peaks through the sky? And it’s been like that for several weeks? Chances are, you’re probably feeling down. Not only do we need vitamin D for our immune system, we need it TO FEEL HAPPY.
What’s the problem with sunscreen?
Sunscreen blocks the UV rays from the sun (duh). Sunscreen also contains cancer causing chemicals that people have no problem slathering onto their skin while out and about on a sunny day. Some people even put on sunscreen when it’s not even sunny “as a preventive measure.” Ugh. As I’ve mentioned before in my natural skincare post, everything that we put onto our skin is absorbed into the blood stream. The main chemical used in sunscreens is called octyl methoxycinnamate which is the chemical used to filter out the UV rays. Even worse, this chemical is more toxic when exposed to the sun. Another common ingredient in sunscreen is titanium dioxide, which has been classified as a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Common sunscreens also contain oxybenzone which is a hormone disruptor, and diesoporpyl adipate which increases the incidence of tumors in lab animals reported by the National Toxicology Program.
The Importance of Vitamin D
I cannot stress the importance of adequate Vitamin D for health. The best way to get Vitamin D is natural sunlight. Vitamin D is critical for bone health, immune system as I mentioned, and preventing many forms of cancer. A fair recommendation is to get 15 to 30 minutes a day of direct sunlight to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D. Darker skinned people however, need more sun exposure because they have more melanin in their skin which blocks the UV rays.
If you do decide to wear some sunscreen, zinc oxide is the best option and is EWG’s first choice for sun protection. My all time favorite natural choice for sun protection is the Surf Mud by Eir that I bought from Follain several years ago. The only ingredients in this lovely product are coconut oil, cocoa butter, cacao, beeswax, zinc oxide and tea tree oil. Cocoa butter helps to nourish dry skin, and the zinc oxide can even help heal inflamed skin.
A healthy diet can also help prevent cancer
Eating high antioxidant foods are key. Antioxidant rich foods will help prevent a sunburn. East lots of berries, apples, and dark leafy greens as well as healthy fats. In addition, eating seafood helps because it contains natural astaxanthin which is a super antioxidant. Wild sockeye salmon, shrimp, lobster and red trout all contain this powerful antioxidant.
The Healing Magic of Sea Salt
Look, I’ve tried a lot of “natural” products out there. I’ve tried black soap, salicylic acid, clay, honey, rosehip oil, vitamin E oil, and I could go on. I love some treatments more than others, but hands down the best substance for my skin is sea salt from the ocean. Without fail, every single time I go on vacation and spend lots of time swimming in the ocean, my skin is nearly perfect. All my acne, dermatitis, spots, whatever it is, vanishes. Sea salt is truly magical for your skin. Why is this? Sea salt contains more minerals (magnesium, calcium, potassium) than regular salt. These minerals help to balance out the mineral content of our skin. It is a natural detoxifier, and has the power to literally absorb those toxins out of our skins surface. Thanks to the antiseptic qualities of salt, it can reduce inflammation and kill bacteria on the surface of the skin in a gentle manner. Besides the amazing skin benefits, sea salt can also help heal wounds and assist with joint pain. It promotes cell health, reduces stress, and improves circulation within the body (Source).
If you are like me and do not live near an ocean, I recommend taking salt baths using high quality Himalayan salt (at least a cup full). Season your food with only high quality pink salt, and you can also make an at-home toner, by simplying adding 2 teaspoons of sea salt into a small glass spray bottle, and then filling it to the top with filtered water. I used this DIY toner over the summer to achieve healthy looking skin, even without the ocean.
Remember to take this blog post with a grain of salt (literally…ha ha) because everyone has different skin types and conditions that warrant certain precautions regarding sun exposure. If you are tanning for hours on end, it is recommended to use a natural product like zinc to prevent a sun burn. But if you are simply walking to work on a sunny day, it may not be necessary to slather product all over your face. Use common sense and be smart, but do not underestimate the importance of vitamin D…both in our diets, and from the sun itself.