It’s the time of year when I can’t take one more day of bitter, bone chilling cold. Good thing I don’t live anywhere north of Texas or I’d never make it! The nostalgia of bundling up in my layers of soft and fuzzy comfies to nestle up by the fire has surely worn off, and I start counting down the days until the much needed holiday – Spring Break. This year, like so many others, my family chose to make a run to the sun in order to thaw and relax on a beautiful beach somewhere far south of here. Besides packing a bathing suit and sunglasses, we loaded up on sunscreen in order to protect our largest organ from the quickly increasing threat of skin cancer and premature aging.
Although the sun does emit harmful rays (UVA and UVB rays we often hear about), it also does some pretty healthy things for us too. Sunshine lifts our mood by increasing the production of serotonin. And, vitamin D, the amazing nutrient crucial to a healthy body, is produced in the skin upon exposure to sunlight. With the increased use of sunscreen, vitamin D deficiency is a growing epidemic. I hear about someone new that has a critically low vitamin D level about once a week (one being my husband). Vitamin D is necessary for so many functions, but one that stands out to me is its role in a healthy immune system. With so many of the diseases these days being linked to an under or over active immune system, vitamin D deficiency is nothing to mess around with. Although you can eat foods and supplement with vitamin D, nothing beats good old-fashioned sunshine to boost your levels. And this sunshine must be soaked up without the sunscreen barrier in order for vitamin D to be produced in your skin. 20 minutes of daily sun exposure without sunscreen should do the trick – just avoid the hours between 10 and 2 when the sun’s harmful rays are most potent.
A few other ways Vitamin D helps maximize your health and wellbeing:
- Actually protects against cancer, skin included
- Supports your kidneys
- Boosts your muscle strength
- Nourishes your teeth and bones
- Promotes healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular system
- Necessary for a well functioning immune system
When you go to the beach on vacation like my family just did, you stay out in the sun much longer than the recommended 20 minutes for vitamin D production. Sun protection becomes a necessity, as the sun’s harmful rays can quickly burn your skin, damage and age your skin cells, and ruin your vacation. Because all sunscreen is not created equal, choose your sunscreen wisely to maximize your protection while avoiding harmful chemicals. Your skin has a very large surface area with lots of tiny blood vessels swarming right beneath, so anything that soaks into your skin has direct access to your bloodstream. Approach picking a healthy, holistic sunscreen the same way you do when selecting packaged food – inspect the label and avoid harmful ingredients while choosing natural and effective ones instead.
What should you look for in a sun protection product? Let’s start by identifying the difference between a sunscreen and a sunblock. A sunscreen is an often toxic chemical that soaks into the skin and filters the sun’s rays (more effective against UVB than UVA) so they can’t penetrate into the skin. A sunblock is a physical sunscreen that sits on top of the skin and actually blocks all of the harmful rays (UVA and UVB) from the surface. Because sunblocks sit on top of the skin, they are thick, white, and greasy and don’t easily wash off – remember the white noses of lifeguards so many years ago? Two common sunblocks are the natural minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
Many sunscreens are a combination of both chemical sunscreens and a physical sunblock. When picking out a sun protection product, inspect the ingredient label and avoid products with these chemicals:
- Benzophenones like dixoybenzone and oxybenzone
- Vitamin A or retinyl palmitate
- PABA and PABA esters like ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB, glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, and padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA
- Cinnamates like cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, and octyl methoxycinnamate
- Salicylates like ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, and octyl salicylate
- Digalloyl trioleate
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Avobenzone or butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane and Parsol 1789
Opt for all natural ingredients instead, making sure a mineral sunblock of either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide is included. Other natural ingredients that nourish your skin in a sunscreen product are:
- Coconut oil
- Vitamins D and E
- Shea butter
- Jojoba oil
- Eucalyptus oil
A few of other sun protection tips…
- Your first line of defense is a healthy diet: Eat plenty of fresh raw foods that deliver nutrients to your skin, a balance of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids that protect your skin, and avoid processed foods that fill your skin cells with unhealthy toxic fats.
- Take advantage of clothing: Choose SPF clothing for water and outdoor sports, and always wear a hat.
- Choose SPF of 30: SPF means Sun Protection Factor and is the ability of the screen or block to protect against the sun’s harmful rays. The number determines the length of time you can stay out in the sun, so an SPF of 15 means you can stay out in the sun 15 times longer than you can without sunscreen. Any increase in SPF after 30 provides only a miniscule amount of increased protection, so focus on picking sunscreens of SPF 30.
- Don’t forget your lips: Nothing hurts worse than burning your kisser, so choose natural protective lip balms too!
- Re-apply often when in the water: The difference between waterproof and water-resistant is in how long the sunscreen maintains its strength. Water-resistant sunscreens maintain their strength after 40 minutes in the water, while waterproof sunscreens maintain their strength after 80 minutes in the water. Either way, re-apply every hour to be the safest.
- Avoid toxic and less effective spray-on sunscreens: They damage the lungs and add extra chemicals to the mix while providing a lower quality of protection.