Do Sunscreens Do More Harm Than Good? Cause Cancer? Make You Gain Weight?
A look at some of the harmful chemicals that absorb through your skin from sunscreens... and healthier alternatives
by Catherine Ebeling - RN, BSN
co-author: The Fat Burning Kitchen
So we've been told over and over again that we should slather on the sunscreen when you go out in the sun to prevent skin cancer, right? Well, guess what? Think again! Many of the common chemicals in most commercial sunscreen lotions actually can CONTRIBUTE to cancer, stubborn abdominal fat (due to the xenoestrogens in sunscreen chemicals), and many other health problems.
Some of that sunscreen may be as damaging or more dangerous to your health than going without any sunscreen at all!
While there is still some risk in spending time in the summer sun without sunscreen, your sunscreen itself can pose a bigger health risk. The chemicals in sunscreen are very harsh and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
First of all, if you haven't read Mike Geary's article about the benefits of small doses of daily sunshine, click here. It's important to understand why small amounts of daily sunshine (WITHOUT burning) is important to your health, vitamin D production, hormone balance, and skin cancer prevention.
Now back to harsh chemical sunscreens... Did you know that most sunscreens only protect against the burning UVB rays? Well, it is a fact that the UVA rays are damaging to your skin as well. What kinds of chemical concoctions are you putting on your skin that are absorbing into your bloodstream? Numerous studies have raised serious concerns about these chemicals' safety:
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a new study showing that nearly all Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone, a widely-used sunscreen ingredient. This chemical so far has shown potential links to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage, as well as low birth weight in babies whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also has a guide that helps you to determine how chemical-laden your current sunscreen is.
Although sunscreens are meant for external use only, the popular ‘spray on’ sunscreens end up being inhaled as well, and are particularly dangerous. While inhaled particles of any size can pose a health risk, tiny nanoparticles -- ultra-tiny particles used in many of these formulations -- can more easily penetrate linings and tissues in your body and cause inflammation and increase risk of cancer or other respiratory issues.
Ok, so what to do to help prevent sunburn and photo aging from the sun?
Remember from Mike's article near the top of this page, that small daily doses of sunshine (10-30 minutes daily over most of body) can help to increase your Vitamin D levels in your body and actually PROTECT you and reduce your risk of skin cancer... The important key phrase there is "small daily dose" without burning.
If you are going to get more sun than that... The best and most natural sunscreen you can get if you are going to be spending more than a half hour out in the hot summer sun are the sunblocks (mineral based) that contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. These ingredients are safe, natural ingredients that physically block UVA and UVB rays by sitting on top of the skin instead of absorbing into the skin, and there are no health concerns about using these natural sunblocks on your skin.
The downside of these types of natural physical sunblocks is that they tend to leave a white coating on your skin so they don't look as appealing as the chemical sunscreens which are invisible since they absorb into your skin. So the other option is simply to make sure to cover up with clothing if you don't want to use a mineral-based sunblock that makes the skin look white.
There may be some zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide based sunscreens available that do a better job of not leaving such a white layer on the skin, but you might have to experiment with different brands to find one.
And most important, to protect your skin and minimize the damage the sun can do to your skin...
EAT your sunscreen to best protect your skin against sun damage and cancer
Ok, I’m not talking about squeezing that stuff out of the bottle and actually eating it!
I am talking about protecting your skin from the inside out with nutrition! One of the best ways to prevent sun damage, and protect your skin, is with your diet. Yes, you can actually eat your own healthy version of natural sunscreen by following these recommendations:
First, be sure to eat plenty of omega-3 rich foods in your daily diet. Research studies show that eicosapentaenoic acid (also called EPA) in omega 3 fats helps prolong the time that it takes skin to get burned during sun exposure, and reduces your chances of skin cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids best sources come from grass-fed beef, free range whole eggs, and cold-water wild caught fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
But keep this in mind: An optimal balance of omega-3's to omega-6's (1:1 to 2:1) is critical for many, many health factors, including skin health. If you are eating much more omega 6 fatty acids in comparison to omega 3’s, you actually increase your chances of skin cancer from the sun.
It is a well-known fact that people who regularly eat a diet higher in saturated fats and omega-3 fats tend to have much smoother, softer skin. In contrast, a diet high in trans fats and excessively high omega-6 fats ages skin and when people consume that type of diet they tend to have older-looking skin and wrinkles.
So, here's how to eat the healthiest kind of sunscreen that is best for your body and your skin:
To sum up:
1. Avoid the dangerous chemicals in regular chemical sunscreens. These contain potentially carcinogenic compounds as well as chemicals that are xenoestrogens, which are known to contribute to "stubborn belly fat".
2. Don't forget the skin protection and vitamin D benefits of getting small doses (10-30 minutes daily) of daily mid-day sun over a good portion of your body (without burning) before slathering on the sunblock or covering up with more clothing.
3. If you must spend a long amount of time out in the summer sun, eat a skin-healthy diet with lots of antioxidants such as various teas, berries, carotenoids, etc. It's a good idea to take a daily Krill Oil supplement in the summer to protect your skin due to the natural form of astaxanthin which has been proven to be one of the most powerful compounds to protect your skin internally.
Also, protect your skin from excess sun and burning by either covering up with clothing or with a safe and natural zinc oxide or titanium oxide based sunscreen too... but ONLY after you've received your small dose (10-30 minutes) of full sun over large portions of your body to increase your vitamin D levels which protect your skin from cancer.
And enjoy the summer sun and fun!
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Cat Ebeling - RN, BSN
& Mike Geary - Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Specialist
co-authors: The Fat Burning Kitchen - Your 24-Hour Diet Transformation to Make Your Body a Fat-Burning Machine
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