With the arrival of sunny weather, it's time to think about sun protection - although it should be on your mind all year long.
Wouldn’t it be nice to shorten your morning routine by applying one less product to your face and skin? Perhaps sunscreen?
No? Wouldn’t leave the house without it?
You’re partly right because commercial wisdom (or good sense) says to slather on some sunscreen and call it a day.
But to really benefit from sunscreen or sunblock, you'd have to apply it every 45 minutes - even if you don't sweat it off in the sun.
And this could be a problem for a couple of reasons.
First, sunscreen blocks your body’s natural ability to produce Vitamin D, a vital nutrient for protection against a variety of cancers including melanoma, a deadly skin cancer.
Second, most sunscreens and sunblocks contain toxic chemicals more harmful to your skin than moderate times spent in the sun.
So is there a way we can boost the body's natural sun blocking ability?
But first, let's learn why sunburn happens.
HOW SUNBURN WORKS
You might be thinking the best way to avoid a sunburn is to stay out of the sun, and to apply large amounts of sunscreen.
And you’re right. Staying out of the sun for extended periods helps you avoid sunburn.
But are you aware of the many benefits the sun provides your health? You get a natural boost of vitamin D3 just by spending short amounts of time in the sun.
In fact, spending time in the sun helps prevent heart disease and stroke.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh report when sunlight touches your skin, it releases a powerful compound that lowers your blood pressure.
Ever wonder why some people leave their desks to go stand in the sun?
Besides a nice thaw from a cold office, the sun's UVB rays improve our mood and energy levels and act as a natural stress buster.
So how does sunburn occur?
Well a few interesting things happen when we spend too much time in the sun.
Our skin cells start to take on a specific form called sunburn cells, or SBCs. Different wavelengths of light cause different changes in your skin cells. And most sunscreens are only geared for protecting you against the rays responsible for sunburn – ultraviolet B rays, or UVB light.
However, UVA rays are the culprits responsible for damaging your DNA, aging your skin and are related to issues like melanoma.
Studies on UVA and UVB sunlight reveal our cells basically “shut down” when sun damage becomes too great.
So when certain skin cells (called keratinocytes) suffer prolonged sun contact, a type of stress called oxidative stress, occurs.
As this happens, your natural antioxidant supplies are hindered from helping your cells maintain their youth and vitality. This is one reason why you’ll appreciate how antioxidant-rich supplements help reduce your risk of sunburn.
Think of UVB as “the good light” helping your skin produce vitamin D – crucial for sunburn protection and preventing many types of cancer.
And UVA as “the bad light” - able to penetrate deep layers of your skin leading to free radical damage.
For this situation, there may be a special role nutrients play to protect our DNA and the foods we need to supply them.
So what of sunscreens? Aside from protection against sunburn, do they really help prevent skin cancer?
Let’s find out.
CALLING ALL SUNSCREENS!
A report released by researchers at the Environmental Working Group, claims:
”… nearly half of the 500 most popular sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate….”
Let's consider this - do you really need to use sunscreen in the first place?
Maybe, and only if you’re planning on direct sunlight all day.
For instance, if you work outdoors, or want to protect sensitive areas of your face, like around your eyes (this area is prone to photo aging and doesn’t supply much vitamin D production). So you can use a safe sunblock or wear a cap to keep your eyes shaded.
You want to avoid the commercial sunscreens. They not only block your body's ability to produce vitamin D3, but they're also loaded with toxic chemicals.
Since most sunscreens contain synthetic chemicals, once they enter your blood stream, you may notice some unwanted toxic side effects, including hormone disruption.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics reports:
“Sunscreens protect against sunburn, but there is no evidence that they protect against basal cell carcinoma or melanoma. Problems lie in the behavior of individuals who use sunscreens to stay out longer in the sun than they otherwise would….
…Safety of sunscreens is a concern, and sunscreen companies have emotionally and inaccurately promoted the use of sunscreens.”
So while the sun is beneficial in aiding our bodies to produce vitamin D3, the easiest way to avoid sunburn is to increase your exposure over time and wear protective clothing.
OPTIMIZE YOUR VITAMIN D3 WITH SUNSHINE
Most people believe sunlight contributes to skin cancer, but as you’ll see, this is not true.
If you avoid getting sunburned yet have regular sun exposure, you decrease your risk of the dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma.
And optimizing your vitamin D3 levels helps prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate, and skin cancers.
Vitamin D3, when produced in the skin or ingested, is essential for life.
And vitamin D3 does more than just impact cancer; it cuts your risk by 60 percent! Vitamin D3 goes to work for you in the following ways:
- It increases self-destruction of mutated cells (which, if allowed to replicate, could contribute to cancer).
- Vitamin D3 reduces the spread and reproduction of cancer cells.
- Vitamin D3 removes the “veil” on cancer cells and makes them easier to identify.
- Vitamin D3 is vital in reducing new blood vessel growth in the early stages of tumors and hinders dormant tumors from becoming cancerous.
- And optimized blood levels of vitamin D3 protects against sunburn and skin cancer.
What else do you need to know about vitamin D3?
Sunlight is the BEST way to optimize your D3 levels. An important thing to keep in mind is only use vitamin D3 if you choose an oral supplement.
Why D3 and not D2? Vitamin D3 is naturally active in your skin.
Vitamin D3 is a fat soluble steroid hormone and is formed on your skin when exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. When UVB hits your skin, your skin converts D3 to its active form and is absorbed by the body.
So you’re probably wondering how to get enough sun while avoiding sunburn. Below are some factors worth considering when you’re ready to catch some rays:
- Clouds can block UVB sunlight (UVB is essential for vitamin D3 formation).
- Pollution -- Smog and ozone can block UVB.
- Altitude -- The higher up you are the more UVB reaches you. Too much of a good thing, well, is not good. So when flying, consider taking astaxanthin at least a few weeks before your trip.
- Your age -- As we age we produce less vitamin D. The elderly will need to supplement with vitamin D3 as their skin produces vitamin D at a lower rate.
- Skin pigmentation -- Darker skin takes longer to acquire UVB to produce vitamin D3.
- Fair skinned individuals need far less sun exposure to produce vitamin D3.
- Winter is when UVB exposure is at its lowest and when you should consider supplementing with vitamin D3.
Another thing you should know is it takes up to 48 hours for your body to absorb vitamin D3 after sun exposure.
So what am I about to suggest?
To reap the full benefits of D3 on your skin after hanging out at the beach – ready? – don’t shower with soap for up to 48 hours!
That's right. If you wash with soap, you’ll simply wash away much of the D3 formed on your skin.
Most of you are not going to wait 48 hours before bathing. So just try to avoid soaping the larger areas of your body exposed to the sun. You can figure out the rest.
ADD SPF TO YOUR DIET AND SKIP THE LOTION
Okay, by now you should have a good understanding of how sunburn works, and why vitamin D3 is key in preventing skin cancer and boosting your immune system.
But there's one more thing you can do to ensure you and your family are spending quality fun in the sun without worrying about skin damage.
Just as unhealthy foods can be harmful to your skin, a real food diet containing antioxidant-rich foods and supplements are smart ways to add skin and cancer protection to your diet.
Here are some easy ways to get SPF on your plate and in your cup.
FOODS THAT PROVIDE SPF PROTECTION
To help your body protect itself from oxidative stress, nature provides thousands of different antioxidants in various forms like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes.
In fact, studies show folks who drink a daily antioxidant rich cocktail showed 50 percent fewer free radicals in their blood in two weeks than those who didn't. And both groups were exposed to 3 to 6 hours of sunlight a day.
So when your body needs to put up its best defense, antioxidants are crucial to its success.
Below are real foods that naturally boost your SPF and let you play outside (without fear of sun damage) all year long:
- Tomatoes - Nature's sunscreen. A study in the Journal of British Dermatology showed 20 healthy women, ages 21 to 47, who ate a quarter cup of tomato paste in olive oil every day for three months, were better protected against sunburn than those who consumed olive oil alone.
- Carrots – This rabbit food not only helps prevent sun damage, but might even reverse it. In a Korean study, 30 healthy women received a daily dose of 30 milligrams of beta carotene (about six carrots' worth) for three months. After 3 months the antioxidants both protected and repaired cells from photo aging.
- Sweet Potatoes – Sweet potatoes are also a major source of skin-protecting beta-carotene. Slice them into chip-like disks (not too thin or they'll burn quickly). Brush with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and oregano or fresh cilantro. Grill until golden brown (about a minute-and-a-half per side). Voilà—you've got another perfect summer snack!
- Dark Colored Veggies - You know a colorful plate is a healthy one. We’re talking your reds (tomatoes, radishes), greens (romaine lettuce, kale, parsley), purples (cabbage), yellow (peppers), and oranges (squash), and make sure their hue is on the darker side.
- Watermelon – Eating lycopene can reduce your chances of inflammation and reddening of the skin.
- Strawberries, Kiwis, and Oranges - oh my! High in vitamin C, these three fruits help block cancer cells from developing. Vitamin C is great for killing off free radicals your body produces in response to the cell damage caused by over exposure to the sun.
- Almonds and Sunflower Seeds - Top off a salad, yogurt, or smoothie with slivered almonds or sunflower seeds—both contain vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant that protects against sun damage. This vitamin has also proven to slow the aging of skin cells and to help diminish the appearance of scars.
- Apples - An apple a day can help keep skin cancer away—but only if you eat the scarlet peel! According to a 2007 study at Cornell University, the skin of Red Delicious apples is home to a dozen chemical compounds called triterpenoids, which have proven to block or kill cancer cells in lab tests.
- Red Snapper Fish - Snapper is high in omega-3 fatty acids and the mineral selenium, which reduce the risk of sunburn and promote even skin tone.
An Italian study focused on the Mediterranean showed dwellers in this region were less likely to get melanoma than Americans. Their plant-based diets, packed with vegetables and fruits, olive oil, fish, and fresh herbs, cut their melanoma risk by 50 percent!
SUPPLEMENTS THAT PROVIDE SPF PROTECTION
As we shared earlier, getting the right mix of antioxidants into your diet is vital to reinforcing your skin’s sun protection.
It's also important to realize that not any antioxidant or supplement will do. These compounds should work in a synergistic way - where one increases the usefulness of the other.
So how exactly do antioxidants work? They work to stop the damaging and disease-causing chain reactions free radicals start.
And each antioxidant, whether from food or vitamin, works to either prevent the chain reaction or stop it after it's begun.
This is why we follow the USDA's advice for eating multiple fruits and vegetable servings a day. We're compensating for the effects of environmental toxins around us.
So when you're gearing up for the summer months ahead, consider these vitamins for their anti-inflammatory and sun protection benefits:
- Vitamin C captures free radicals before they starts. It stops the cycle of cell damage before it begins.
- Vitamin E is a chain-breaking antioxidant. It prevents our skin cells from becoming sunburn cells.
- Selenium also stops free radicals at the cellular level, reducing inflammation and skin damage caused by too much sun.
- Vitamin D3 studies show that optimizing your blood levels with vitamin D3 can have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer.
- Astaxanthin is an internal sunscreen for reducing inflammation from sunburn. It's also a cancer fighter and anti-aging supplement.
WHAT'S IN YOUR BEACH BAG?
For many years now, the push to use sunscreen and limit our sun exposure increased our awareness of skin cancer. And despite the push for daily sunscreen, incidences of skin cancer, like melanoma, continued to rise.
Rather than consider other causes for this rising rate of skin cancer, conventional wisdom called for more of the same. Use more sunscreen. The idea being, sunscreen prevents sunburn and also prevents skin cancer.
But over the past decade, new studies confirmed sensible sun exposure far outweighs its risks. Moderate sun exposure actually prevents skin cancer and is essential for Vitamin D production.
We don't have to avoid good times under the sun. We can prevent skin cancer by adopting the smart eating habits of the Mediterraneans and adding cancer fighting foods to our diet.
So protect your skin's health by supplementing your diet with the right nutrients and boost your natural sun protection. You might be pleasantly surprised!
- Experimental Dermatology 2009 Mar;18(3):222-31
- Journal of Dermatological Science 2002 Oct;30(1):73-84
- Journal of Dermatological Science 2010 May;58(2):136-42
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 2005 Dec;4(4):277-84
- United States Patent No: US 6,433,025 B1. August 13, 2002. Method for Retarding and Preventing Sunburn by UV Light
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Jun 2007, 85(6):1586-91
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Mar 2004, 79(3):362-71
- UVB Radiation, Colorado State University