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The Definitive Guide To Sunscreen and Sun Protection

Whether you’re exercising outdoors or hanging out by the pool, catching some rays improves how you feel. The sun does a lot for you, a little sunshine not only raises vitamin D and serotonin levels, but also reduces the risk of diabetes and certain cancers, and boosts fertility.[1] It’s good to get outside.

While most believe sun exposure to be the primary cause of skin cancer, studies confirm melanoma cells are more often found in those areas not exposed to sunlight suggesting a protective role for brief, regular exposure to sunlight.[3] This directly aligns with recent laboratory studies which have shown vitamin D to suppress growth of malignant melanoma cells in tissue culture.[4]

But as is the case with most things, the health benefits are dose dependent. Too much sunlight is bad news: there’s a correlation between the number of sunburns you get and your likelihood of developing skin cancer.[5] The trick is to avoid overexposure.

You may ask what constitutes overexposure, and that’s a great question. What constitutes overexposure is your skin type. Below is a chart known as the Fitzpatrick skin type scale. It designates different categories for the range of skin pigmentation in modern humans. The darker your skin is the more resistant you are to overexposure of sunlight, the lighter you are the more sensitive you are to overexposure.

It’s important to note that if you rank higher on the chart you do not eradicate the threat of overexposure, you simply have a higher level of inherent resistance based on your pigmentation. While you can’t change your natural skin type, you can modify it through the process of exposure and the building of your solar callus, ie tanning. But even this has its limitations as even if you have Fitzpatrick skin type one, your ability to tan is almost non existent.

The best way to protect yourself from overexposure is to cover up with clothing, but that’s obviously not always a practical option. Sunscreen is useful for those times when you’re going to be exposed in the sun for extended periods of time, and especially in the middle of the day when UV levels are at their highest.

Unfortunately, some sunscreens aren’t much better for you than the sunburns they prevent. Many varieties contain unsafe chemicals, and their producers use questionable marketing tactics.

Here’s the lowdown on the sunscreen industry, which chemicals to avoid, and how to protect yourself from the sun, both inside and out.

Chemicals In Sunscreens, Plus Misleading Claims

There are hundreds of sunscreen brands out there. Many claim to be “dermatologist tested,” “all-natural,” etc., but these phrases aren’t regulated by anyone. Companies don’t really have to back up these statements and they don’t mean much. It’s marketing.

What can you learn when you strip away savvy sunscreen marketing?

A massive study conducted by the scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a national environmental organization (one I support with meaningful donations) that analyzes toxic chemical use in consumer products, scrutinized over 1,700 SPF rated products from sunscreens, creams to lip balms.

The study found that many sunscreens contain hazardous chemicals and claim protections that they don’t live up to.[6] Here are a few of the study findings:

  • Oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. One of the most common sunscreen chemicals was the hormone disruptor oxybenzone, linked to endocrine imbalances and skin damage. Also prevalent was retinyl palmitate, a possible carcinogen.
  • Harmful inhalants. The study noted that spray sunscreens often contain chemicals that are highly damaging when you inhale them and fail to cover the skin evenly
  • Higher SPF numbers are bogus. SPF protection tops out at 30-50 SPF, so anything advertising a higher SPF is a marketing gimmick. In fact, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia do not allow ultra-high labeling for SPFs, but the U.S. does.
  • One of the most popular brands raised a lot of red flags. The study says that Neutrogena products were particularly concerning because of the brand’s egregious marketing. It markets itself as the “#1 dermatologist recommended sun care brand.” Yet EWG has given most of the Neutrogena’s products it analyzed a failing grade.[7]

Other products EWG scrutinized and found lacking include Banana Boat, Coppertone, Kroger and CVS’s house brands.[8]

The bottom line: only 21 percent of the 1,000 sunscreens analyzed for EWG’s guide scored high marks.[9]

10 Ways To Avoid Sunburn Without Exposing Yourself To Chemicals

Check out these easy hacks to minimize the sun’s harmful effects and maximize sun-soaking benefits:

  1. Cover up! Intuitive, but still worth emphasizing. Protect yourself with clothing and headgear. Make sure the weave in your clothing is tight enough to block harmful UV rays.
  2. Read sunscreen labels. Always check ingredients, and avoid retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone.
  3. Use natural or mineral-based (titanium-based and zinc-based) sunscreens that reflect the sun’s rays away from your skin, as opposed to chemical sunscreens that absorb the sun’s rays. Many natural sunscreens protect skin just as well as conventional sunscreens without harsh chemicals.[10][11]
  4. Choose lotions over sprays. Sprays don’t provide adequate coverage and inhalation poses a serious risk.
  5. Patch test. Test spot yourself and your children for allergens on the inside of the wrist the day before sun exposure.
  6. Reapply. Apply and reapply sunscreen every two hours. Sweat and swimming diminish its effectiveness.
  7. Don’t fall for high SPF numbers. Be aware of high SPF claiming products over 50+ SPF. They give you a false sense of security. Apply and reapply every two hours regardless of SPF.
  8. Avoid sunscreen + bug repellent combos. Sunscreen and bug spray combos double down on harmful chemicals. Use natural bug repellants.
  9. Plan ahead. The day can take unexpected turns, so always have a hat and a shirt handy. Also, if you’re planning a winter vacation to a warm and sunny destination and have lost your tan (solar callus), consider red light therapy which serves to build a large local store of melatonin allowing skin to absorb massive quantities of UV light.
  10. Choose a high-performance sunscreen. Environ Broad Spectrum SPF 25 Sunscreen is a face and body sun protection cream containing sun absorbers and reflectors to provide SPF 25 sun protection, along with antioxidants, titanium dioxide, Coenzyme Q10, Edelweiss Extract, and vitamins A, C and E which help to fight free radicals. It’s light, creamy texture is easily applied to the entire body for smooth, satiny after-feel and it is suitable for use under makeup. You can also check out the EWG’s sunscreen guide to choosing the best sunblocks for your favorite activities.

Boost Your Internal Sunscreen

You can optimize your internal sun protection system by eating antioxidant-rich foods and taking certain supplements. Here are a few:

  • Omega-3s: from diet and from supplements like krill oil[12][13]
  • Resveratrol: blueberries, red grapes[14]
  • Astaxanthin: salmon, krill oil[15]
  • Vitamin E: supplement[16]
  • Beta-carotene: carrots, red bell peppers[17]

You can also protect yourself (and feel awesome all day) by eliminating foods that encourage sun damage.

Sugar is a kryptonite food that contributes to the formation of AGE’s (advanced glycation end-products), which play a role in the breakdown and aging of vascular and connective tissue. Studies have shown that UVA rays are far more toxic to skin that has an excessive buildup of AGEs.[18][19]

Avoid spoiled and processed omega-6 fats from sources like canola, corn, soy and vegetable oil. These damaging fats can promote the development of skin cancer.[20]

Health & Beauty Tips

At PLEIJ Salon+Spa, we are committed to sharing health and beauty tips to enrich your life. Everyone deserves to live an empowered life and we want to help you get there.

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