Everybody knows that when we spend time in the sun, we need to protect ourselves from excessive exposure. Most people assume that slathering on sunscreen will stop the damaging rays that cause premature aging and skin cancer, but there is evidence to the contrary. We already know the benefits of daily sunlight exposure and the Vitamin D it produces from previous postings. There is a limit, of course, between what is healthy and what becomes damaging sunlight exposure. It is true that with prolonged exposure to UV radiation the dangers of skin cancer go up and we accelerate the aging process and this is where sun protection comes into play.
The best way to manage UV radiation is simple - clothing. Lightweight, cool and breathable clothing that covers your skin. It’s the safest way to limit exposure. When clothing is not practical, we typically turn to sunscreen lotions. Unfortunately a lot of sunscreens don’t block UV radiation. Instead they absorb the radiation with a chemical reaction.
What is so wrong with sunscreen? First, we know it is a detriment to our health to block all sunlight. Simply put, the chemicals that make sunscreen lessen the UV radiation and in turn creates masses of free radicals both on and in the skin. This process essentially creates the same atmosphere of advanced aging and the potential for cancer as the UV rays would (the same stuff it is supposed to protect you from). Another big concern is that some of these chemicals are hormone mimickers (they work like estrogen in the body), too much estrogen upsets many very delicate balances throughout the body.
So there are two ways of protecting yourself from the sun.
sunscreen = chemical reaction (side effects still cause aging and the potential for cancer)
sunblock = physical barrier (no side effects)
When shopping, the distinction will not be handy, so you’ll have to read labels.
A quick list of dangerous chemical sunscreens to avoid:
Benzophenones (dixoybenzone, oxybenzone)
PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB, glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA)
This is not a complete list, but these are the most common chemicals listed on labels for reference. These are powerful free radical generators used extensively in the industry to promote free radicals and drive reactions. Interestingly, the only chemical sunscreen allowed in Europe is avobenzone and even that is probably not safe as it has also been shown to readily absorb into the bloodstream. Many sunscreens also contain triethanolamine, a compound that can cause the formation of cancer causing nitrosamines (compounds found to have carcinogens) in products by combining with nitrite used as preservative and often not disclosed on sunscreen labels. So far this all sounds a little surprising since we are supposed to be protecting ourselves from maladies by using sunscreen.
Ironically, many of the same conditions we use sunscreen to avoid may be actually enhanced by these chemicals. All of these free radicals produced by the reaction of sunscreen with UV radiation have the potential to damage cell membranes, alter DNA and its expression, and create dangerous chain reactions not just on the skin, but throughout the body.
The estrogenic effects of these and other sunscreen chemicals are also interesting and possibly more damaging. Hormone disruptions, gender bending and tissue proliferation are the problems we all thought would not happen again since the famous problems encountered with DDT, dioxins, PCB’s and others in the past. True, we have removed many estrogenic compounds from the environment, but we now have others and specifically for this article, others that we put directly on our skin and which absorb into our bloodstreams. Sexual dysfunction and menstrual problems are commonly known but many other issues less popularized are the result of excess estrogenic compounds. Many cancers, especially ones with a tendency for high proliferation like breast, uterine, and colon as well as migraines, decreased fertility, and a whole host of developmental abnormalities are common problems associated with estrogenic activity.
In the end, what we need to know are some simple facts. Used prudently, sunlight is very valuable and very underrated as a health promoter due mostly to its vital role in vitamin D production. Excessive exposure should be avoided by physically blocking the radiation first with clothing and when needed with a physical barrier sunblock. Sunblocks typically contain titanium dioxide and or zinc oxide. Chemical sounding but really just minerals with reflective properties, like little mirrors on your skin.
Sunblocks should contain few ingredients and the above minerals should be the hardest to pronounce words on the label. Avoiding chemical sunscreens will be one more way to keep toxic chemicals out of your body and protect you from the masses of free radicals they produce. As a note, old sunblocks typically were opaque and even colored on the skin, today micronization has become popular and now the mineral particals are small enough to allow the sunblock to be clear like the chemical sunscreens making them easier to wear.