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Sensible Sun Exposure

Posted Apr 16 2009 11:15pm

As the weather gets warmer, the days longer, and spring breaks and plans for summer vacations are upon us - we need to be reminded of the potentially harmful effects of over exposure to the sun. Certainly, given our thinning ozone, we want to avoid excessive sun exposure to protect ourselves from the free radical damage and wrinkling that can ensue and to minimize the risk of skin cancer.

Certainly sunshine can be a valuable source of vitamin D, but it can't be denied that sunshine exposure ages and wrinkles the skin and increases risk of skin cancer. So, you need to be sensible about sun exposure. Sensible means avoiding the midday sun and especially protecting those parts of the face that most easily can get overexposed such as the nose, cheeks and around the eyes, where most wrinkling occurs.

Since the generous amount of sunshine that can assure sufficient vitamin D exposure is potentially damaging and can cause skin cancers, and because most of us work indoors anyway, it is advisable for most people to assure their vitamin D adequacy with supplements, not sunshine.

When we are outside for longer periods of time, it is important to use the right kind of protection. Since what you put on your skin can be absorbed into your bloodstream, it is important to know what is really in your sun care products. Beware, sunscreens with a high SPF may not be protective & may be hazardous to your health!

Sunscreens versus sunblocks: There are two types of sun protection: sunscreens and sunblocks. Sunscreens absorb and deflect the sun's rays through a chemical reaction. They vary in their ability to protect against UV-B and UV-A rays depending on the ingredients used in the formulation. Sunblocks create a physical barrier against the sun's rays. They physically block or scatter both UV-A and UV-B rays.1

While UV-B rays cause sunburn, UV-A rays penetrate deeper into the skin, lowering our resistance to skin cancers and causing skin to age. The SPF number or Sun Protection Factor on sunscreens refers only to UV-B protection. A product with an SPF of 20 for example, would let a user remain in the sun 20 times longer without burning.

The FDA has no standards for measuring how well a sunscreen blocks UV-A rays. Many sunscreens do not even protect against UV-A rays. Ironically, a product with a high SPF factor, and no UV-A protection, could make you falsely believe that you can safely stay in the sun longer, overexposing yourself unprotected to UV-A rays. Chemical sunscreens can dilute with sweat and burn your eyes. In addition, a number of studies have linked allergic reactions to chemical sunscreens, particularly oxybenzone.2,3 Little is known about the potential harm of chronic sunscreen use and the systemically absorbed chemicals deposited after topical application.4,5 The fact that red flags keep showing up regarding oxybenzone is of particular concern since it is a benzophenone commonly used to make sunscreens with especially high SPF factors.

Mineral sunblocks that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are preferable to chemical sunscreens because rather than being absorbed into the skin, the minerals lie on top of the skin, reflecting UV rays before they cause damage. To effectively block UV-A rays you need a physical sunblock such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. As a result, more sun care products are available that use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, but there is more to the story. Serious concerns have been raised about the safety of these ingredients used in most commercially available sunscreen products.6

Often these sun care products use a form of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which is micronized by nanotechnology. This technology is used to make the sunscreen more transparent - so it is better absorbed by the skin. These tiny nanoparticles, however, can penetrate biological membranes and easily reach cells. Nanoparticles are smaller than anything humans have put into commercial products before.

These ultra small particles may even enter the bloodstream. Lab studies indicate that both of these nano-ingredients create free radicals that damage the DNA of cells and possibly cause other harm as well.7 Preliminary investigation into the ability of these nanoparticles to penetrate healthy skin has revealed conflicting results.

Public interest groups are currently asking the FDA to declare all currently available sunscreen products with nanoparticles a potential hazard to public health. Until complete safety-assessments are made, I recommend steering clear of products with these nanoparticles.

Most products, do not reveal the use of nanoparticles on their label. To make matters worse, there also are other ingredients found in sunscreen products that should be avoided such as: PABA, Benzophenone (homosalate and octy-methoxycinnamate), Parabens (butyl-,ethyl-,methyl-, propyl-), Padimate-O and Parsol 1789 (2-ethylhexyl-4-dimethylaminobenzoic acid and avobenzone). So what is safe?

Sunblocks are the safest: Overall, the physical sunblocks, with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are the safest choices for sun protection. They are the least irritating, and they safely provide protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays. Keep in mind, however, that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide products that contain nanoparticles should be avoided until more is known about the effects of this technology.

We've done our research and found a product-line which uses a form of nonmicronized titanium dioxide that is safe and effective at blocking both UV-A and UV-B rays without those harmful chemicals. Our Lavera sun care line protects against both UV-A and UV-B without the use of harmful chemicals and stays on the skin for an incredibly long time.

Remember, sun protection products must be applied liberally to insure you receive the SPF protection claimed on the label. Most people apply 25-75% less sunscreen than the amount used when the manufacturers test their products.8 Make the sun a healthy and enjoyable experience for you and your loved ones!

To learn more about sun exposure, protection, and nanotechnology read Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times Newsletter, May 2007.

1. Levy S. "Sunscreens and Photoprotection." www.emedicine.com (accessed June 20, 2007).

2. Szczurko C, Dompmartin, Michel M, et al. "Photocontact Allergy to Oxybenzone: 10 years of Experience." Photodermatol PhotoimmunolPhotomed 1994;10(4):144-7.

3. Schauder S, Ippen H. "Contact and Photocontact Sensitivity to Sunscreens: Review of a 15-year Experience and of the Literature." Contact Dermatitis 1997;37(5):221-32.

4. Hayben H, Cameron, M. Roberts H, et al. "Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen after Topical Application." The Lancet 1997;350:9081.

5. Gustavsson G, Farbrot A, Larko O. "Percutaneous Absorption of Benzophenone-3, a Common Component of Topical Sunscreens." ClinExp Dermatol 2002;27(8):691-4.

6. Schlumpf,M., Cotton, B., Conscience, M., Haller, V., Steinmann, B., Lechtensteiger, W., March 2001. In Vitro and in Vivo Estrogenicity of UV Screens, Environmental Health Perspectives 109(3):239-244.
7. Consumer Reports - July 2007 " Nanotechnolody Untold promise, unknown risk."

8. "Sunscreens: Some are short on protection." Consumer Reports July 2007.

Image credit: theshuttersounds

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