Friday, July 6, 2012

Enjoying Sunshine, Naturopathically

There's no doubt of the importance of protecting yourself from excessive sun exposure.  From avoiding skin damage and aging to preventing skin cancer, minimizing exposure to UV rays is key for long-term skin health.  However, there are multiple ways to do so, and if sunscreen is your best option, read on for what to consider when choosing a product!

On the beach of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, sunscreen was a necessity - 
here, Green Beaver worked well to nourish our skin and prevent sunburn.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s recommendations include spending time in the shade and wearing clothing and sunglasses to protect skin and eyes from the harmful UV rays.  They also recommend avoiding indoor tanning - it has been linked to several types of skin cancer, including melanoma (the most deadly form), squamous cell carcinoma, and ocular melanoma (cancer of the eye)

When spending time in the shade or covering up from the sun are just not options, be sure to apply sunscreen to protect yourself from excessive sun exposure.  Building on this recommendation from a naturopathic point of view, it is important to choose a sunscreen that will protect you while not causing absorption of unnecessary chemicals - ironically, often carcinogenic chemicals - into your skin.  

In time for the season, Environmental Working Group has put together a comprehensive 2012 Sunscreen Report, which evaluates over 1,800 sunscreens for their efficacy, ingredients, and any health concerns associated with them.  There is an easy search to learn more about your favourite brands, or you can view the list of Top Sunscreens, which outlines the cleanest products available.  

Sunscreen at the beach, by Alba Botanica

The best natural sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, mineral compounds which act to reflect, scatter, and absorb UV rays.  Additionally, look for products that do not contain:
  • Oxybenzone (may be listed as methanone, 2-hydroxy 4 methyoxydenxophenone, or benzophenone-3): These compounds are potential hormone disruptors and contributors to cell damage, which can lead to cancer.
  • Retinyl palmitate (vitamin A): May increase the risk of skin cancer when used on sun-exposed skin.
  • Parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben): Parabens are ubiquitous in cosmetic products, being used a synthetic preservatives.  Unfortunately, they also have undesirable effects such as hormone disruption, which is linked to cancer.
My personal favourite brand of sunscreen is Alba Botanica, a company which makes a variety of natural products.  I find that their sunscreens tend to not be as greasy as some other natural sunscreens, and I find them to work quite well.

With all this in mind, it is important to remember that there are benefits to sun exposure as well.  Our skin synthesizes natural vitamin D when exposed to the sun, a process which is completely blocked by sunscreen.  Interestingly, vitamin D has an important role in cancer prevention, as well as bone health and proper immune system function.  Therefore, moderate amounts of time in the sun can be healthy, while ensuring to be mindful about preventing excessive exposure.

Stay tuned next week for what factors determine the amount of sunshine you need for optimal vitamin D levels, and what foods to eat to prevent sunburn.  Until then, enjoy the sunshine and stay healthy!


1 comment:

  1. By what percentage does a window pane of glass reduce the harmful rays of the sun? Is it the same percentage by which it filters out the vitamin D producing rays of the sun? Or the tanning rays of the sun?

    Does the sunscreen you recommend block vitamin D production to the same extent that it stops sunburn?