A little while ago, I shared a controversial link on Facebook. It was an article about a blogger who was a huge proponent of sunscreen protection. She advocated its use to the extent that conventional sunscreen companies ultimately hired her to do promotional posts for them. That’s how much she believed in sunscreen. Sadly, the rest of the article went on to share that the same blogger was diagnosed with skin cancer. After all the publicity she gave sunscreen use as preventing skin cancer, can you imagine what a blow this diagnosis must have been to her and to her career?
You can find the article here, if you’d like to read it. Unfortunately, the post was not particularly kind and went to the extreme of linking the cause of her skin cancer directly to the toxic chemicals in the sunscreens she was using. It also mentioned that her Vitamin D levels were low and blamed sunscreen as the culprit, since exposure to the sun naturally increases Vitamin D levels in the body and anything that would block it, like sunscreen, would conversely inhibit it.
Why would that piece of information be important? Because adequate Vitamin D strengthens the immune system and has been shown to fight cancer, the flu, bacteria, and infections. The only way the body receives ample doses is through exposure to the sun, diet, or supplementation.
As soon as I posted the link, I regretted it because I don’t believe in using someone else’s pain to further the chemical detox fight—even though it mentions that her prognosis is good. Beyond that, the information is false. Yes, false. Let me explain.
In spite of a great deal of maligning of toxic chemicals in personal care products, there is no study proving direct causal link to cancer through sunscreen use. Buying into fear-mongering that isn’t true is not constructive but learning the facts about safe sun is. Monitored sun exposure is a healthy practice. Fear isn’t.
Cancer is a complex illness that assumes many different forms. Its cause is still a huge question mark according to most research. That we choose to lighten the toxic load is a great idea for many reasons, but there are still no guarantees that we’ve done everything we could to prevent a mysterious disease. We simply do the best we can with the information we have. And, truthfully, so did that poor blogger.
However, as a result of sharing the article, a lively discussion about safe sun ensued. I received some interesting and astute comments from several wellness professionals that I’d like to share with you because they were very helpful. It’s thanks to their comments that I stopped regretting that I posted the article and took the value of their wise words as a sign that this was an educational moment and one worth sharing.The timing is right to head off the barrage of sun fear-mongering and establish healthy sun practices. Click To Tweet
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Part of me believes that the correlation between these numbers—increased use of SPF and rising cases of melanoma—has something to do with the false sense of safety SPF provides. Most apply SPF (usually not enough at that) and then feel like they will be fully shielded, allowing them to stay in the sun longer, and during peak hours. At the same time vitamin D deficiency is also a real concern. However, it only takes 10-15 minutes of exposure (during non peak hours) to get your daily dose. What I don’t want happening is for the industry to make all SPF out to be the villain here. Conclusive studies show the links between UVA and UVB exposure and skin cancer. However, I DO agree with choosing SPF wisely, and steering clear of chemical SPF, and opting for physical options like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Sunlight is good in the proper quantities and with the proper education!
Sunscreen products are drugs so they come with big marketing budget same as antibacterial products with Triclosan. I don’t use sunscreen because my skin has natural SPF (the darker the more SPF) but I also take Astaxanthin supplement 12 mg daily and then the night before going to the beach I take 2 softgels and at the beach I take another cap. Of course, I don’t let direct sunlight on my skin for longer than 1 hour.
Joshua’s sun picks: Aside from astaxanthin, Joshua recently released Summer Guard After Sun Face Serum that includes camellia, red raspberry seed, sea buckthorn, calendula, lavender, and helichrysum to speed recovery of damaged skin, protect skin from free-radical damage, and soothe sunburn or irritated skin. I’ll be testing it out soon, but for $29 it sounds perfect for the whole family too.
Very few chemically based sunscreens provide *any* level of UVA protection, and if they do, it is the most chemically unstable part of the formulation and prone to rapid degradation. SPF measures only UVB inhibitory capacity, not UVA. UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin than UVB rays do, and can cause much more long term cell damage in the layers where new skin cells are actually produced. This can result in abnormal cell growth and potentially the development of cancer. Unfortunately if people are using non-mineral based sunscreens and thinking they are safe, they are sorely mistaken. Chemical sunscreens still result in users being exposed to lots of UVA rays. People are then prone to stay out longer in the sun because they aren’t burning and they feel like they are protected. Inhibiting the skin’s natural burn response has endangered many people. Burns are no fun, and of course no one wants a severe burn and we should all take precautions as burns can be dangerous as well. But that bit of pinkness in the skin is like your body’s timer, and is your built-in natural warning to get out of the sun.
Sunscreens are not the only way to improve your skin’s natural defenses against sun damage. Nutrition can do a lot as well. Astaxanthin is a fantastic antioxidant carotenoid with solid research backing its ability to improve sun damage resistance, and is now in my daily routine. I’ve noticed increased resilience in my skin as well visually. It’s good stuff. I haven’t seen improvement this substantial from the Coenzyme Q10 I also take.
Julie’s sun picks: Here is the sunscreen/sun safety talk from YouTube.
For my face I frequently use Marie Veronique’s Everyday Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30 which gives a little coverage and acts as a light foundation. If I need to look chic and normal and my arms will be exposed (such as a business lunch or event on a patio) then Keys Solar RX is lovely and totally invisible and easy to wear and can be used for body as well as face. I often will use something a little less expensive on arms and neck if I’m just gardening and know I’m going to be very sweaty and messy anyway, so that’s when I dip into the All Good or potentially Badger. I always have a need for more expendable items that I can send with my daughter Tru on day trips with school or camp too because who knows how many people will use them and if they’ll even come back home at all, and I don’t want her using anyone else’s! 😉
For after sun skin repair of course I would use Amend Facial Solar Repair for face and Amend Antioxidant Body Lotion because it is so soothing and cooling. Blissoma may be still the only company using the Pomella extract in a skincare product and that particular pomegranate extract has numerous studies backing up its benefits for improving sun damage resistance and recovery.
Lola Gusman, self-proclaimed “know-it-all dilletante” and well-researched blogger at The Hermes Hippie
I found out that I was Vitamin D deficient and changed my sun care habits drastically. I still use sun protection fairly religiously on my face (only physical sunblock, of course), but am a lot more laissez faire with my body. Obviously, I don’t want to burn and try to always stay in the shade while on the beach/use moderate amount of sun protection, but I’ve given up on religious reapplying. I like a bit of tan on my legs *and* I think that the risk of overdoing it with sunscreen is as big as with not using any. I’m the same with my son. He’s even darker than me and goes brown in the sun. I was super-careful when he was a baby, but these days I let him get a bit of color. Heavens knows, I’d never let him burn (sunburn is the thing that most often has bad consequences cancer-wise), but his skin needs that sunlight, especially when we go to Miami in the winter/early spring.
The [article’s] implied “sunscreen gives you cancer” correlation is both untrue and dangerously irresponsible. I’m easygoing with sunscreen, but I’m also not especially fair. On the other hand, we had an Irish friend when we lived in (sunny, hot) Romania who got diagnosed with massive skin cancer and was told he had to move somewhere like Ireland, Scotland or New Zealand or he would die. For some people, sunscreen is an absolute necessity.
Lola’s sun picks: Josh Rosebrook Nutrient Day Cream with SPF 30 for everyday/light sun scenarios, Raw Elements, Keys, and Suntegrity for the face when on the beach and for the body in super-intense sun, especially on easily burned bits like shoulders. In the spirit of the whole “let the sun do its thing” approach, I tried Everybody Loves the Sunshine and it did exactly what I wanted it to do: provided moderate sun protection to help me not burn, but didn’t block out the rays completely. Based on that, I wouldn’t recommend it as the only sun protection in high sun (e.g. Miami in July), but it’s great for light/moderate sun protection (e.g. Miami in January, staying mostly in the shade).
I wear hats with brims (as seen here in this totally awesome/embarrassing selfie with SkinOwl founder, Annie Tevelin, and Plein Vanity’s Kasey Lum) and rarely sit in the sun—especially during high exposure hours (this post gives the latest surprising information that contradicts the times most people say to avoid). When I do go into the sun, I cover up. On face: either Josh Rosebrook when I need extra moisture or Pratima Neem Rose Sunscreen when I’m a bit oilier because it absorbs incredibly well and never breaks me out. Consonant The Perfect Sunscreen is great for evening skin tone and pairs well with an antioxidant layer sold here. I just received a promising sunscreen from new shop Aqne Pharmacy that contains argan and yarrow that my skin is absolutely loving so far too. At $24 it’s a great price point and is designed to be used on blemish-prone skin types. Block Island Organics Sunscreen with clear zinc is something that I’ve tried too but it tends to leave me a bit shiny so I reserve it for days when my skin feels dry or under a matte foundation.
For body and kids: My kids prefer sprays so we’ll be testing Mychelle’s new sunscreen spray this summer (so far it’s great), as well as Acure Organics Spray which sells for the unbeatable price of $13. For face or when we want lotions, we love Keeki Pure & Simple, Keys, Badger, Block Island, and hope to try Babo Botanicals.
Take your research further:
- A Healthy Amount of Sunshine
- Sunshine on Tap: Treating Vitamin D deficiency
- 22 Undisputed Sun Safety Facts
- 9 Bits of Common Sense Sun Safety Advice
- Are oils with SPF enough? This study indicates that the UV blocking from most natural oils is insufficient to get significant UV protection. (Shared by Formula Botanica founder Lorraine Dallmeier in the Green Beauty Insiders group)
What are your safe sun tips? Join the discussion in the comments below.
*This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thank you in advance for helping keep my blog sustainable. <3
**None of the information here is meant to diagnose or treat skin conditions. Please see a qualified practitioner for any changes in skin.