Jul 31 2016

Sunshine is Good but Not too much

Published by at 11:38 am under Personal Care

Summer’s hot topic: sunscreen
How important is it to pick the right brand and how, when and where you should use it.

It is that time of year to enjoy the great outdoors and the warm, sunny days of summer. Many of us seek out the sun at the beach, lake, pool or park. We all need a little sun for healthy Vitamin D levels, eyes and skin. Yet too much of the sun can lead to skin damage, premature aging and skin cancer if we don’t protect ourselves. So the question is, how do we best protect ourselves and which sunscreen products are safest?*

Almost all dermatologists recommend using sunscreen, but not all sunscreens are created equal. The purpose of sunscreen is to block both the UVA and UVB rays of the sun, both of which are absorbed by the skin. These rays affect our skin differently, and this difference is important to understand.*

UVB rays are strongest between the hours of about 10am and 4pm. When the skin is overexposed to these rays, it will burn, letting us know we’ve had enough. But constant burns will lead to damage of the upper layers, which results in age spots and a thicker and more leathery appearance to the skin. *

UVA rays are present whenever the sun is up. These more dangerous rays go deeper, harming connective tissues, blood vessels and can cause the skin to be less elastic and more wrinkled. They harm cells called keratinocytes which are involved in most skin cancers. The tricky part about UVA rays is they don’t cause sunburn, so it is hard to know how much you are getting. (1,2)*

An important way to protect our skin is with a broad spectrum sunscreen. A study from Queensland, Australia, home to the world’s highest rates of melanoma, found that people who used sunscreen every day were 49% less likely to develop melanoma after 15 years than those who used it occasionally or never. Those who used it daily had nearly 75% less invasive melanoma.1*

Most Americans use sunscreen. In fact, 80% of us used it last year, and spent over $400 million on it during 2015. Though this is our primary source of sun protection, it is curious that melanoma rates have soared. “..This year, more than 76,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease-up from 22,000 in 1985 and more than 10,000 will die from it. Millions more will develop non fatal, but potentially disfiguring basal cell and squamous cell cancers…”*

So why, if we are using more sunscreen, are our cancer rates going up? “…The primary problem, according to researchers is that “many sunscreens sold in the US don’t actually block UVA, the sun’s most damaging rays. When the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 1400 sunscreen products in 2016, it found that more than 750 of them did not provide adequate UVA protection. Worse, some had no UVA filtering ingredients at all…1*

“…In theory, sunscreens labeled “broad spectrum” should filter both UVA and UVB rays, but in the US, that term isn’t a guarantee…”1*

The second part of this is that when we block the UVB rays, it fools us into thinking we can say out longer. Sunscreen with UVB protection prevents our skin from burning, which is really a warning sign that we are getting too much sun. As a result, we stay out longer, being exposed to the dangerous UVA rays that don’t show their effects until later.(1,2)*

Another factor to consider when using sunscreens are that many contain dangerous toxins such as oxybenzone, a hormone disruptor, which was found in the blood of 96% of adults and children in a CDC sample of 2500 Americans who use sunscreen. The EWG annual review of more than 1400 sunscreens found toxic chemicals in both conventional and “natural formulations. “Mineral sunscreens are the first choice of the two groups EWG and Silent Spring, Institute, a group which investigates environmental links to cancer.  Most natural sunscreens use minerals such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to physically block rays rather than chemically filter them. 1*

So what is the best way to protect yourself if you want to enjoy the sun?

  • Take cover. Be outside, but stay in the shade or under an umbrella.
  • Chose broad spectrum sunscreens which offer both UVA and UVB protection. Products containing zinc oxide, provide stronger UVA protection than most other ingredients do.
  • Take care to avoid sunscreens containing the following toxic chemicals:

-Oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can mimic the effects of sex hormones.

-Phthalates, parabens and bisphenol A, which may act as endocrine disruptors, mimicking sex hormones and interfering with natural levels.

-Retinyl palmitate, a type of Vitamin A that is used because it conditions skin, but may speed the growth of  skin tumors when exposed to the sun.  According to the EWG, this is a serious concern, because many sunscreens contain it. Prevention magazine released a list of eight mineral-based sunscreens that contain no toxic chemicals and meet the EWG’s safety and efficacy standards. These include: All Terrain, Babo Botanicals, Badger Sunscreen Cream, Elemental Herbs, Kabana Organic Skincare, Raw Elements and Sunegrity Skincare. (For more specific details refer to Reference 1 below).

  • Dress for the occasion: Protective clothing, such as hats, long sleeves, and long pants. Some fabrics are specifically designed for UV protection. Eyes can get sunburned too so choose sunglasses that provide 99-100% UV protection.


  • Don’t be fooled by numbers: People tend to think the higher number gives them longer protection, leading to fewer applications. It is best to stick with an SPF of 30, and just apply more frequently. To properly apply your sunscreen, put it on at least 20 minutes before heading outside to give it time to be absorbed into the skin. Reapply every 2 hours, and more often if you have been swimming or sweating. (1,2)*

Remember, some sun is good for you! Our bodies need it. The sun today is different than years ago, as the ozone layer is thinner, so the exposure is stronger. But we need Vitamin D that we can only get in its best form from the sun. But you only need about 4-5 minutes of direct sun during peak hours of the day during summer to get the Vitamin D you need. Remember that you are being exposed to UVA rays whenever the sun is out, so use caution to avoid too much UVA exposure. 2*

Most importantly, enjoy the summer days. A line from one of my favorite Don Henley songs is, “…there’s just so many summers, and so many springs…” So, armed with this information, and a little common sense, enjoy your summer! It only comes around once a year and we only get so many in our lifetimes.3*

Be happy and stay healthy,








  1. Prevention Magazine, July, 2016 issue, The Sunscreen Deception
  2. http://paleoleap.com/paleo-guide-to-sunbathing/
  3. The Last Worthless Evening, Don Henley

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