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  • Writer's pictureLauren Williams

Sunscreen & Vitamin D: Yes, No, Maybe-So?

Updated: Jul 3

These days, it's hard to know what is what when it comes to sunscreen and sun exposure. Conflicting reports by doctors, the news, and social media are rampant. What seems to be a growing rate of skin cancer, despite the plethora of sunscreen options on the market, leaves people wondering why? Are sunscreens not the same as they used to be? Is the sun more intense than ever? Do sunscreens really help- if so, which ones? A person can get lost in the questions and swirling conversations. But maybe, it's not as complicated as we think.


Vitamin D

First, let's talk about the importance of Vitamin D to your skin and overall health. As you can see from the table (below), sufficient amounts of Vitamin D are vital to our wellness and support a healthy immune system, including reducing the risk of certain cancers. Your body makes Vitamin D when it is exposed to UVB rays from the sun. You can also take supplements, Vitamin D3 being the best option. "In the past decade, studies have shown that vitamin D3 cuts the risk of several types of cancer by as much as 65%." [1] However, 10-20 minutes a day of sunlight is an ideal way to help your body get Vitamin D. Unfortunately, if you put sunscreen on right away, it blocks the UVB rays and can inhibit the benefits of your body naturally producing Vitamin D.

Vitamin D Dose:

Affects:

< 20 ng/mL

Increased risk of osteomalacia (softening of the bones)

< 20-30 ng/mL

Increased risk of osteoporosis

< 30-40 ng/mL

Elevated risk of multiple sclerosis

< 40-50 ng/mL

Reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases

< 50-60 ng/mL

Optimal for bone health

< 60-70 ng/mL

Enhanced immune function

< 70-80 ng/mL

Reduced risk of certain cancers

< 80-90 ng/mL

Potential risk of hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the blood)

< 90-100 ng/mL

Risk of Vitamin D toxicity

< 100 ng/mL

Significant risk of kidney damage

*Disclaimer: This table was created from information posted by Dr. Adrian Sznajder & Dr. Giulia Gandolfo. However, you should consult with your health practitioner on healthy supplement dosage for you and your health needs.


UVA VS. UVB Rays

The sun emits UVA & UVB rays. UVB rays are the rays that usually cause sunburn. While sunburn is a leading factor in skin cancer, UVB rays are not the villain. As stated earlier, when UVB light comes in contact with your skin, your body begins to produce Vitamin D, which can actually help prevent certain cancers. UVA rays, however, are the more dangerous rays that can reach the middle layer of your skin, and according to Dr. Mercola, "...UVA rays are most dangerous in terms of causing skin damage and cancer." UVA rays can cause premature aging, as well.


SPF

Ironically, most sunscreens do not protect against UVA rays. When you look at the SPF on a sunscreen bottle, typically, it only applies to UVB ray protection. However, Broad Spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater is supposed to shield you from both UVA and UVB rays.


Sunscreen Ingredients

The next factor to evaluate is the ingredients. According to an article by Dr. Mercola, "Oxybenzone and at least 8 other active sunscreen ingredients are suspected of having endocrine disrupting effects." Around 70% of sunscreens have oxybenzone, which "has been linked to reduced sperm count in men and endometriosis in women." In fact, "13 of 29 sunscreen chemicals (45% allowed in U.S.)...have the ability to reduce male fertility".


There have been concerns about some of the ingredients in sunscreens crossing the blood-brain barrier, posing a risk to our brains, as well. Additionally, one study found that the following sunscreen ingredients: Octyl Methoxycinnamate, Benzophenone-3 (oxybenzone), Benzophenone-4, 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor, 3-Benzylidene Camphor, Octocrylene have been shown to be neurotoxic.


What To Look For In Sunscreens

Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide because those two sunscreen ingredients have been deemed to be safe. Just make sure they are NOT nano-sized particles. This is one reason to stay away from spray sunscreens and powders, where the particles are smaller and could be inhaled. Therefore, it is best to get a lotion sunscreen, instead of a spray or powder sunscreen. Utilizing an app, like Yuka, to check out the safety of your sunscreens can be helpful, as well.


Internal Sunscreen

Is the sunscreen we choose to apply or not apply the only contributing factor to skin cancer and skin protection? No. According to Dr. Daniel Pompa, "When you look at some of the studies on this, people that spend more time outdoors in the sun are not getting more cancer. That's a fact. It's the fats that you're eating, meaning if you're eating a lot of rancid Omega-6, like vegetable oils, canola oils. They accumulate. They actually cause an oxidation in your skin cell. Then, we radiate that with UVA and now we can drive cancer. The combination of sun and what most Americans are being exposed to and that's these bad fats. You have to read ingredients. Get rid of these rancid seed oils."


Along with avoiding seed oils in your diet, you should aim to eat antioxidant-rich meals and fresh, raw unprocessed foods. This will help keep your skin balanced with healthy amounts of Omega-6 and Omega-3 oils. Eating vegetables will help fight against free radicals, as well.


In addition, Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant supplement that naturally helps protect your skin from getting burned. It acts as an internal sunscreen. It takes many weeks of taking the supplement daily for it to become effective. You can apply Astaxanthin topically, as well.


Final Thoughts

There's a lot of talk these days about skin cancer and fear around getting "too much " sun. If you're out in the sun frequently, there's a chance you could get a cancer that has a 0.3% death rate, but the frequent sun exposure also acts to PREVENT cancers that are much worse (cancers with a death rate of 20-65%).


Sun exposure is good for your health in doses. Ideally, allow your skin to absorb some UVB rays for 10-20 mins. before you apply sunscreen. This allows your body to make that much needed Vitamin D. When your skin starts to turn a very light pink, you should put some protection on via sunscreen, hat, clothing, etc. You don't want to let your skin burn.


Homemade Sunscreen Recipe
















Yuka App Recommendations:


*Disclaimer: This article is a reference and guide. However, you should consult with your health practitioner for your personal health needs.


References:


Dr Alexis J. Cowan, PhD


Dr. Mercola


Dr. Adrian Sznajder & Dr. Giulia Gandolfo


Dr. Daniel Pompa


Dr. Paul Saladino


Yuka App




 

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