Friday, June 14, 2013

Lions and Tigers and...Sunscreen!? Oh My!

Summer is upon us, so its only fitting to do a post on sunscreen. Over the past few weeks I have been asked by friends,

    "What's your take on sunscreen?"

 I would reply,

   "Sunscreen can be toxic so we use it in moderation."

To which came the next question, 

    "But don't your kids get sunburned!?"

To which I would answer,

   "Well, no, they never have."

Although at the time I had no idea why it was toxic, or why, for unexplained reasons, my sunshine loving kids have never been sunburned. What? You say, how is this possible? To be honest I was as perplexed as you probably are right now. So, being the information junkie I am, my curiosity was sparked and I did some digging. This is what I found.  

There is much controversy over the once widely excepted idea, that slathering on a high SPF sunscreen every time you walk out the door, is the best way to prevent skin cancer and premature aging. The controversy stems from the known carcinogens and nano-particles that are in almost all sunscreens. Yes, you heard me right, known carcinogens in the very thing we are applying to our skin to prevent the carcinogenic affects of the sun! 

First there are two main types of sunscreens, chemical and organic. No, not organic as in grown without pesticides. Organic meaning, containing carbon compounds. These are the "physical" sunscreens. They block the suns rays by refracting light. An example of an organic sunscreen is any product containing zinc oxide. These organic sunscreens could be the safest potentially, but most have particles so small that they enter the blood stream through the skin. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if our body just flushed them out before they could do much harm. But that's not the case. Nano-particles of a normally non-reactive substance like zinc oxide become reactive. This happens because the properties of matter start changing at this size. While the relative volume of a particle shrinks its surface area becomes larger in ratio to its volume. This larger surface area causes it to become more reactive than the same substance at a larger size. The smaller the particle, the more reactive. So you can see why you may not want nano-particles floating around in your bloodstream. Why do companies use nano-particles? Because they can take a substance like zinc oxide that would normally appear white on the skin and make it appear clear when rubbed in, and that's what consumers want.

 The second main type of sunscreen, chemical, has just as many issues. These sunscreens work by neutralizing the free radicals caused by UV rays on the skin. Well that's great you say! Yes while the neutralizing of free radicals is great, at what cost? While there are many potentially carcinogenic chemicals used in these types of sunscreens, oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate are two of the most studied. Oxybenzone may potentially disrupt endocrine function, changing a persons hormone levels and promoting the growth of cancer cells. Also in studies of hairless mice, the use of retinyln palimate as a sun protectant proved to cause more cancer growth than rats exposed to the sun without the use of this chemical. So what if we just avoid these two chemicals in sunscreen? Well, as I stated earlier, these are just the two most studied chemicals. There are hundreds of other potentially harmful chemicals that haven’t had enough, if any research done, (due to lack of funding) to prove they are harmful. Where is the FDA in all of this? When it comes to funding they put it in the hands of producers, and what motive do sunscreen companies have to dish out money for studies when they are still raking in the dough? None. The FDA will continue to promote the use of chemical ridden sunscreens and perpetuate the myth that it is our only option when it comes to sun protection.

 This leaves us with a catch 22. Wear sunscreen, get cancer. Don't wear sunscreen, get cancer. Not so! There is more to the story. So what are your options? There is mounting evidence that diet can play a role in whether you sunburn or not. Specifically, consuming antioxidant rich foods of many kinds have shown to lessen your chances of burning in the sun. It makes sense right, since sunburn is the sign of oxidative stress, that antioxidants would counteract that, and they do! Specifically, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, lycopene, resveritrol and astaxanthin just to name a few. So which foods contain these? Good sources of vitamin C, I'm sure we all know but just in case, two good sources are citrus fruits and strawberries. Vitamin E rich foods include, sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, olive oil and egg yolks. The best sources of selenium are fish and mushrooms. Lycopene, tomatoes, (cooked is better) and watermelon. Resveritrol, Peanuts, (although I recommend consuming these in moderation for reasons I may talk about in blogs to come) Japanese knotweed, blueberries and red grapes. Astaxanthin, shellfish, salmon, fruits and vegetables with red pigment such as red bell peppers. If you can't remember all of these foods specifically you will no doubt be getting at least a few in your diet if you eat veggies and fruits daily! Even more so there is a bioflavaniod found in green tea called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that has shown in studies of mice and human trials to drastically reduce oxidative stress, specifically from the sun. Just any old green tea will do but if you want to up your dose of this amazing compound get matcha green tea powder. It can have 100 times more EGCG that regular green tea. Matcha can be kind of spendy but in my opinion it is well worth the price because the benefits do not end with sun protection. You are getting all the benefits of high doses of antioxidants, such as, slowed aging and lower risk of all types of cancer. If eating even just a few of these foods isn’t realistic for you on a day to day basis there are so many antioxidant supplements on the market these days. I am not a big supplement taker so wouldn't know which ones may be the best. Who knows there may even be a supplement to help protect your skin specifically.

This should go without saying but I'll say it anyway. Diet is not the ONLY factor. Things like the natural pigment of your skin, time of year and location have much to do with how easily you burn. This being said, my two year old who it very fair, with blue eyes and blond hair, can be in the full sun for up to two hours in the summer without burning. 

Another option, which I must say I have not tried yet but plan to this summer, are seed and vegetable oils applied topically before and during sun exposure. Red raspberry seed oil has up to a 50 SPF, carrot seed around 40. Others include wheat germ at 20 SPF and soybean at 10. These findings where published in Pharagognosy Magazine in 2009. 

Then there is the most basic preventive measure you can take and that is cover up! Wear a hat, sunglasses, lightweight long sleeves and pants. There are even clothing lines devoted entirely to sun protection. Although I feel I should add, a tan accrued from gradual sun exposure starting in early spring will not cause cancer! The pigment, melenin, in your skin actually shields you from a good deal of free radical damage. This doesn't mean go lay in the sun for two hours without protection when your pasty pale. What this means is gradually increase your time in the sun throughout the summer. Also I am sure you've heard over the past few years all the new findings on vitamin D and why its so important. One finding being that larger amounts of this vitamin in the body show direct correlation with less occurrence of all forms of cancer. You've probably also heard that a fair skinned person only needs 15 minutes on their arms and legs to get their daily requirement. While this is true, it doesn't account for those winter months where your getting little if no sunshine. Well what about a supplement you say? I don't discredit that a supplement is a good option for vitamin D in the winter. But depending on the dose and form, very little may actually be absorbed. Our bodies are designed to store vitamin D for the winter. Vitamin D is a fat soluble, meaning it is stored in our fat and gradually released when our body needs it. 

Lastly, if you’ve utilized some of these other options and your still worried about burning, sunscreen is definitely an option! Yes there are safe sunscreens out there. The Environmental Work Group has a site  that will give you safety ratings on many popular brands. Thinksport is one but I'm sure there are others. 

If all of this information isn't enough, there is one statistic that should put all doubts out of your mind. Since the 70's sunscreen sales have increased 30 times,  yet we have seen a 30% increase in deaths from melanoma, coincidence, I think not!

At the very least I hope this information makes you think twice about slathering on chemical laden sunscreen every time the sun touches your skin. Because now you know there are safe and affective options that you can feel good about utilizing. If all of them are used in conjunction I believe we will be healthy, happy and burn free!

Disclaimer: These are my opinions based on information gathered and my own personal experiences. In no way is this article meant to take the place of a qualified medical professional.