Nutrition : sunscreen

Tuesday 08 May 2018

Do you think this is summer? It certainly feels that way. So this week I thought that it may be a good idea to look at safe sunning and sunscreens.

There is a huge amount of literature and research into sunscreens and whether they are safe to rub into our skin or not because of the ingredients that they contain. A lot of the research into this  is observational and casual so quite hard to quantify, but there is no doubt that some of the ingredients in some sunscreens may be more harmful than protective. So let’s have a look at what is being said.

Some sun exposure is good
Some exposure to the sun is a good idea because the sunshine is our only reliable source of obtaining sufficient vitamin D and the lack of vitamin D in the western hemisphere does cause some health problems. Ironically lack of vitamin D can be a possible precursor to the development of cancer. It is recommended that to make enough vitamin D we should expose our skin to the sun for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, 2 to 3 times a week.

If you do use sunscreen all of the time then it would take between 3 and 5 hours of exposure to the sun twice a week to for adequate vitamin D to be made. Any longer than this and the vitamin D will then start to break down so no real benefit to vitamin D levels after the initial 15 to 20 minutes.  

If you want to stay in the sun any longer then some sort of protection is advisable. Apparently a cream with an SPF factor of 8 or above will inhibit 95% of Vitamin D production on the skin. Most naturalists would say that after the time for safe exposure to make sufficient vitamin D, to simply wear a hat and cover up rather than use a sunscreen. But this is not always possible or even desirable.

What should we look out for when buying a sunscreen or what ingredients should we try to avoid that are in some sunscreens.

It is advised to buy a sunscreen that is SPF 15 or less and use it more frequently. This is because anything stronger usually contains more harmful chemicals that once absorbed into the skin can cause health problems. Let’s have a look at some of these.

Titanium dioxide - has been shown to cause genetic damage in laboratory experiments.
Zinc oxide –  used as a UBV blocker once absorbed into the skin has been shown to damage the DNA of skin cells which again can be carcinogenic. It is well known that DNA alterations are necessary for cancer to occur.
PABA (Para-aminobenzoic Acid) - is said to have the same effects as Titanium oxide.
Retinyl Palmitate – a synthetic form of Vitamin A has been shown to encourage tumour growth in animals, which is obviously not good.

The absorption of sunscreens into the skin does not happen immediately but will increase over time so obviously the more you apply it or the length of time you use it may start to have a negative impact.

There are other ways to help protect the skin.

Vitamins Although sunlight is important it is worth bearing in mind that the sun does reduce the levels of antioxidants in the skin which can cause signs of aging, wrinkles !!!. To get around this you can apply vitamin A, C and E oils to the skin or you could get the vitamins from your food by eating plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly the berry fruit. Interestingly the company Environ products make a sunscreen that already contains antioxidants so might be worth looking out for.

Melanin is the name of the protective pigment in your skin that makes you look brown. Fair skinned people who tend to burn easily are low in melatonin so are a higher risk of skin damage by the sun. To ensure the natural production of melatonin eat plenty of seeds and copper rich foods like chicken, nuts, coconut, olive oil and butter.

The amino acid Tyrosine (remember amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein foods) can also be effective at helping to produce melatonin. You can get Tyrosine from nuts particularly almonds also all types of beans, dark green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas and dark chocolate.

Personally I love to see the sunshine but do not spend too long in it so do not use a sunscreen, however if you do enjoy being in the sun, and I know many people that do, then this information may help you to have safe sun exposure without a worry.

Sunlight does generally boost the immune system and improve health, this may be down to the boosted levels of vitamin D or just the feel good factor. I would say that it is a bit of both.

In Australia they have a motto which is ‘slip. Slap, and slop’, which translated means slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on some sunscreen!!.

Blog originally written by Caroline July 2013

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