What do cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, depression, hormone disorders, muscle and joint pain, arthritis, Alzheimer's and fatigue all have in common?
Answer: You are likely increasing your chances of having all those conditions by using sunscreen.
*Record Scratch* Excuse me, what was that?
I know you aren't trying to give your kids cancer. Neither am I. Quite the opposite:
The reason we put sunscreen on those little munchkins (and ourselves) is because we want to prevent it!
We don't want our little boys to have weird testosterone levels and little girls to get breasts and periods at age 8 or 9, either. Yet, slathering on that SPF 50 sunscreen might be setting the stage for exactly those scenarios.
I know. You think I'm crazy. Read on and let me explain.
Let's first discuss why we need Vitamin D:
Vitamin D has been recognized as an essential nutrient for quite some time, and it was well understood that Vitamin D was critical in calcium absorption and bone remodeling. Somewhat recently, however, the full scope of this amazing nutrient has started to come to light. A deficiency in Vitamin D, which many Americans have, (we'll get to that in a minute) significantly increases the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), hypertension, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and most types of cancer. Vitamin D also has a role in controlling excess inflammation, and therefore a deficiency of Vitamin D can also lead to chronic inflammatory diseases like arthritis. Vitamin D, which acts similarly to a hormone in the body instead of a vitamin, has also been called "The Anti-Cancer Vitamin" because of its cancer preventative properties.
So where do we get Vitamin D?
Vitamin D can be obtained dietarily in moderate amounts from animal products like oily fish and some organ meats, but our bodies are most proficient at making Vitamin D through healthy sun exposure on our skin. (Actually, it is a combination of cholesterol and sunshine that our bodies need to make Vitamin D...yet another reason not to fear those yolks.)
Another consideration for obtaining Vitamin D through sun exposure is where your ancestors came from. I happen to live in Minnesota, which is in the Northern United States. My ancestors are mostly Northern European, so it stands to reason that my particular genetics are well suited for getting enough Vitamin D for me at this latitude. What is problematic is for someone whose ancestors came from the equator, but who is now living in a Northern latitude like Minnesota. It is nearly impossible for a dark skinned person living in a Northern climate to get enough Vitamin D for their bodies without supplementation, which would be advisable. (Again, let's really think about this: Never before in history has it been widely practiced that a person would relocate so far away from their homelands, where their bodies are well suited for the climate and seasons.)
What does this have to do with sunscreen?
Sunscreen blocks UVB radiation, which is the type of rays that produce Vitamin D in the skin. UVB rays are also responsible for sunburn, which is why sunscreen prevents sunburn. Sounds good, right? WRONG! UVA rays still penetrate through most mass-market sunscreens, and those rays are the dangerous type associated with skin cancer.
Do you know what else sunscreen does? Completely overloads the body with dangerous chemicals. It takes only 20 minutes for something applied topically to be absorbed into the bloodstream, so don't put anything on your skin that you wouldn't eat!
Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Retini Palmitate, Homosalate, Octocrylene, and Paragon Preservatives are on the top of the list of chemical additives to avoid exposure to that can be found in most commercial sunscreens. The effects on humans are hormone disruption, destructive free radicals that damage DNA and cause cancers, and premature aging. It doesn't stop there: chemical sunscreens wreak havoc on the environment and especially sea animals when it is washes off our skin and into the ocean or lakes.
2018 EDIT: Oxybenzone was recently banned in Hawaii for this exact reason, which is a really exciting regulation as our coral reefs are being damaged every single day from this scary compound found in sunscreens that recreationalists are slathering all over their bodies and then jumping in for a dip. Yay, Hawaii!
Pro Tip: Download the free EWG Healthy Living App and scan your sunscreen to find out its safety rating (or just go with my favorite reef-safe and people-safe sunscreen that won't turn you white as a ghost RIGHT HERE.)
In retrospect, the use of sunscreen decreases the skins ability to produce vitamin D by 97% to 100% by blocking the UVB radiation which produces vitamin D. By preventing burning of the skin, sunscreens may prevent certain types of skin cancer such as actinic keratosis (AK) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), but because they are less protective of UVA than UVB radiation and promote longer exposure by preventing sunburn they may actually increase the risk of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and the deadliest form of skin cancer, cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM). -Gray Graham BA NTP
Good news! Here is how to protect ourselves (and our little ones) from the detrimental effects of Vitamin D deficiency:
1. Don't go from zero to sixty. Ease into vacation or summertime by slowly exposing the skin, and covering up with sun protective clothing, hats, or finding shade when it feels like you've had enough. We don't ever want to sunburn! That is your body telling you that you didn't pay attention, and it is pissed off. You know the wonderful, warm feeling that your skin gets when you've gotten some sunshine and a little bit of a tan? It feels great. Your body is telling you that it is happy with that sunshine, so go with it! (Within moderation - We are not trying to clone Magda from "Something about Mary")
2. Maximize exposure to UVB rays. The UVB rays that help our skin produce Vitamin D are at their highest potential during the hot noon-time sun during the hottest months of the summer. A few minutes outside during your lunch break will really do the trick if you time it right. UVB rays only account for less than 5% of all the radiation that makes it to the earth's surface, so it's important to try to maximize exposure to those Vitamin D producing rays.
3. Use common sense - Sometimes sunscreen is necessary. My kids tan pretty well, and I happen to love the sight of their little white butts in the bathtub in July when we have been playing outside in swimsuits all summer long. There are times, however, when we are planning to be outside way longer than their young skin could take without burning, and in those times, we go ahead and apply a "Broad Spectrum" natural sunscreen. "Broad spectrum" means that it protects against UVA rays (premature aging and cancer causing) as well as UVB (sunburn causing but also Vitamin D producing.)
A good natural sunscreen has quality ingredients without the harmful chemicals we talked about earlier, so you can feel much better about slathering it on. (My favorites are these mists and sticks from Beautycounter.) Going to Disney World in July like we just did? Pack a ton of it. No one has time for a kid with a sunburn to ruin a whole trip.
That's it! Not too tough, is it? Go out and play in the sun and get a tan.
If I still haven't convinced you, try to think about how new the invention of sunscreen is (1940's) compared to the tens of thousands of years of human evolution, when we were doing just fine without it. The rates of all cancers, degenerative and inflammatory diseases has skyrocketed in the last century since we started trying to outsmart mother nature. All we need to do is use a little common sense and enjoy some time outside, in the sunshine.
Still wondering if the use of sunscreen is a scam? As with anything, don't take my word for it! Do some research for yourself, and make sure to consider your sources. Hint hint: The American Cancer Society is funded in part by Johnson & Johnson? Hmmmmm.
Who else thinks it would be great to soak up some UVB rays out on a lawn chair with a cold beverage today? (It's for our health!)
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