Can Sunscreen Do More Harm Than Good?
When it comes to protecting yourself from the sun, you can easily go wrong. Sunscreens are not all created equal. In many cases, they do more harm than good. Fortunately, there are natural ways to fight UV rays, including fighting them from inside out.
by Greg Montoya
Common Retail Sunscreen Options
Sunscreens sold as Protectants come in two primary types – chemical and mineral barriers.
Mineral Based Sunscreens
The minerals typically used in “mineral” based sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. While both ingredients occur naturally, they can also be produced synthetically. These sunscreens may market themselves as “mineral” sunscreens but still include chemicals. So, before you buy, be sure to read the label and verify the ingredients.
These sunscreens usually contain several chemicals, including avobenzone, homosalate, methylisothiazolinone. octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Research carried out by EWG (Environmental Working Group) discovered that the chemicals widely used in sunscreen act as endocrine disruptors (that mimic estrogen). This can interfere with hormone processes in the body including the thyroid. Of over 1,400 sunscreens tested, just 5% achieved their safety standards. Over 40% are listed as potential triggers that contribute to skin cancer. Some of the highest risk chemicals to look for on the sunscreen label include the following.
One of the most common chemicals found in retail sunscreens is oxybenzone. This was found in 96% of the population by a study performed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This was an alarming finding. Oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor. This can cause endometriosis in women and a sperm count reduction in men. The EWG also cautions against using oxybenzone, especially pregnant or breastfeeding women and children. Spray sunscreens, especially with oxybenzone, had additional dangers, particularly if inhaled.
Several sunscreens also contain methylisothiazolinone, a chemical that the American Contact Dermatitis Society dubbed as its “allergen of the year”.
This chemical is a Vitamin A derivative often found in sunscreens that has been shown to accelerate cancer cell growth by 21%.
Important to Note
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, while sunscreen can protect against sunburn, there’s no evidence that it helps prevent melanoma or basal cell carcinoma.
While mineral sunscreens and covering up are safer options, the safest way to go is internal sun protection. Antioxidants, for example, offer healthy skin protection because they’ve been proven to help eliminate the free radicals produced when skin is subjected to UV radiation. Antioxidants, including polyphenols, carotenoids and more help prevent sunburn and the long-term damage that exposure to the sun can cause. Following are some great examples of foods that act as in internal sun protection.
Tomatoes are among the richest sources of lycopene, a type of carotenoid. Potent antioxidants (carotenoids) help eliminate free radicals in the skin after it’s been exposed to the sun. One study found that people who added 40 grams of tomato paste and 10 grams of olive oil to one meal a day for 10 weeks exhibited a 40% decrease in sunburn levels compared to those who didn’t. It’s also worth noting that the healthy nutrients in tomatoes are great for your skin overall.
Omega 3 rich seafood, particularly fish, is an excellent source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a healthy, polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acid. Studies have shown that EPA helps prevent sunburn. Additional research found that EPA decreases markers of skin related DNA damage. EPA also has potent anti-inflammatory benefits.
An excellent source of lycopene and carotenoids, carrots can also help prevent sunburn. In one study, drinking 400 ml of carrot juice a day (containing 10mg of lycopene and 5.1mg of B-carotene) reduced sunburn by 45%.
Eating high quality dark chocolate can protect your skin from UV light. Dark chocolate is rich in polyphenol antioxidants (also referred to as flavanols). It helps fight cognitive decline, high blood pressure, and more. Look for a dark chocolate that contains a high percentage of cacao.
In addition to its many other health benefits (weight loss, cardiovascular disease, depression, and more), green tea is one of the best drink choices for sun protection. Green tea is rich in polyphenols that help inhibit carcinogenesis brought on by UV-radiation. Drinking green tea helps combat skin cancer, preventing tumor growth and immunosuppression. Drinking 5 to 6 cups of green tea a day can significantly protect the skin against sun damage.
Other UV Ray Fighting Foods
Other foods rich in antioxidants that protect the skin include vitamin C and vitamin E, include kale, Brussels’ sprouts, bell peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, broccoli, red cabbage, almonds, berries, sweet potatoes, and more. A good rule of thumb when it comes to UV ray fighting foods is to choose the most colorful, darkest options because they typically contain more antioxidants.
Foods to Avoid
Foods High in Sugar
Eating habits that include foods loaded with sugar are more likely to lead to the development of AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-products). A study reported by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology and the Journal of Oncology, indicated that UVA rays are a great deal more toxic to skin with an excessive accumulation of AGEs.
The processed foods that have led to so many health problems are packed with sub-standard omega-6 fatty acids instead of healthy omega 3s. If you want to create “internal” sunscreen, skip food that’s ingredients include rancid polyunsaturated oils, like canola, corn, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oil.
You Do Need Vitamin D
While it is possible to get enough Vitamin D if you eat the right foods and take a supplement, opinions are mixed when it comes to getting this from the sun. The American Cancer Society doesn’t support using sun exposure to increase vitamin D intake. The reasoning behind this is that excessive ultraviolet radiation is a major factor for skin cancer. On the other hand, many believe that safe, moderate sun exposure is the best, natural way to increase vitamin D levels. Just keep in mind that too much sun exposure is never good!
Check out Ageless Impact SunD for an excellent Vitamin D supplement!
It’s important to exercise caution when it comes to exposure and overexposure to the sun. It’s also important to note that even a good, chemical free sunscreen or “natural internal” sunscreens aren’t enough to keep you from getting a sunburn. They just provide added protection. The best thing to do is practice “sensible exposure” to the sun and to cover up (including a hat to shade your face), once your skin starts to change color.