Thinking Beyond Safe Sunscreen for Better Sun Protection

Thinking beyond sunscreen for sun protection
small girl holding a ball at the beach
Photo by Steshka Willems from Pexels

Some of my most vivid childhood summer memories are of me standing and waiting for my mother to slather me in the highest SPF sunscreen available before I was allowed to go outside. This was, of course, long before we knew about the dangers lurking in some sunscreens. Many sunscreens currently on the market rely on chemicals, both to protect skin from the sun and to help sunscreen better stick to skin, meaning that there isn’t just one toxin present, but oftentimes a combination of many. You can avoid this toxic stew and sun overexposure with a few easy solutions that allow you to enjoy the warmth and health of the sun.

Priming skin for prime-time summer

In old medical texts heliotherapy, or sunbathing, was recommended for everything from skin conditions to tuberculosis. Exposure to the sun is still important and, in the case of the synthesis of vitamin D in our bodies, is essential! According to a recent study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, moderate sun exposure (non-burning UV) should be considered a recommended health benefit as sensible exposure to the sun is the most effective way to optimize vitamin D levels.

Soak up those rays in the spring

Preparing skin for summer can help us spend a little longer in the sunshine without burning. Start building a tolerance in the spring by exposing your skin to the great outdoors for 10-20 minutes.

Eat skin protective nutrients

Avoid sunburn from the inside out with nutrients that help the skin become more resilient to the sun’s powerful rays.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally protective and are found in wild-caught fatty fish, and krill oil which also contains astaxanthin, a super antioxidant.

  • Lycopene is a protective phytochemical found in tomatoes, red grapefruit, watermelon, and guava.

  • Anthocyanins help protect skin from sun damage and are found in dark-coloured berries.

  • Good fats from avocados, coconut oil, and butter help with skin cell membrane function and promote bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin D.

  • Vitamin C is an antioxidant star and can be found in many fruits and veggies like pineapple, strawberries, and bell peppers

  • Ellagic acid found in pomegranates has anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic effects.

Cover up when necessary

When you’re planning to be out in the sun for a long period of time bring along a cover up, a beach umbrella, and wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, neck, and shoulders. Wear long sleeves and rash guards to protect from excess sun exposure and skin irritation.

Slather up with safe sunscreen

Look for sunscreens that have the ability to block UVA and UVB rays with safer ingredients, and always opt for mineral-based over chemical-laced, as mineral-based sunscreens can create a physical barrier and offer good protection from both UVB and UVA rays without the added toxins. Look for ones that feature zinc or titanium oxides.

The typical toxic sunscreen culprits

  • Oxybenzone interferes with estrogen hormones and has a high potential to trigger allergic reactions.

  • Octinoxate penetrates the skin and has hormone-disrupting activity.

  • Homosalate interferes with estrogen, androgens, and progesterone.

  • Octocrylene can cause allergic skin reactions.

  • Methylisothiazolinone is a preservative that was named the “allergen of the year” in 2013.

High SPF doesn't mean better protection

Contrary to what we’ve been taught, higher SPF doesn’t mean better protection. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has pointed to the dangers of high SPF finding that sunscreen with greater than SPF 50 offers only marginally better sun protection and has a higher concentration of potentially toxic chemicals. High SPF may also give users a false sense of protection leading to overexposure as SPF 100 doesn’t mean you can stay in the sun 100 times longer. In fact, the difference between a lower SPF 50 sunscreen, which blocks 98 percent of UVB rays, and a SPF 100, which blocks 99 percent, is quite negligible. Further, while high SPF sunscreens offer protection from UVB rays (sunburns), the rating has little to do with its ability to protect from the deeper penetrating UVA rays.

You can, and should, safely enjoy the life-giving warmth and light the sun provides. It just takes a little preparation. So eat healthy, cover up and live your best life outdoors this summer!

For more reading, visit our TWF Summer 2019 References page.