Sunscreens Exposed

You may think of the sun as a Goddess or a God or consider it just a ball of gas but it makes sense that humans have worshipped the sun as a giver of life. Summer is a time to boost Vitamin D levels through sun exposure. Reduced sun exposure and pollutants have resulted in a pandemic of vitamin D deficiency across the globe. Here is more information on Vitamin D and all the reasons you need it. The diagram below shows how it is made. See how it involves your liver? Drunk in the sun is not a good combination if you want to take advantage of the sun’s health boosting properties.

Diagram from Harvard Medical

But everyone knows that too much sun exposure can cause skin damage and even skin cancer. Thus, if you are out in the sun for more than fifteen minutes-an hour in the summer, using sunscreen is advised. Sunscreens can work by either absorbing or blocking ultraviolet radiation–which has an energy of less than x-rays but more than visible rays. Some of the molecules used in sunscreens are synthetic carbon-based compounds.Others, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxides are inorganic or “mineral.” I prefer these as being less stinging to my eyes.  Here is a nice overview of the chemistry of sunscreens.

Sunscreen is not benign. Side effects can include rashes, itching, and skin irritation.  Retinol based sunscreens can harm sun-exposed skin. In fact, retinol based skin products should only be used at night and even then, sparingly as they can build up and become toxic!  They might even contribute to bone loss.

Benzophenone containing sunscreens are associated with endometriosis.

Some forms of titanium oxide have been found to damage skin. Zinc oxide applied in excess could penetrate the skin and cause an overdose.  Nanoparticles provide better coverage but could be more toxic or harmful to the digestive system than regular sunscreens if they are eaten. They also pose a danger to aquatic life. 

Don’t depend on sunscreen too much. Some sunscreen manufactures cheat to get their high  SPF ratings and add anti-inflamatories and pain relievers such as benzocaine to their products. You might not feel or see a sunburn but the damage has still been done.

My tactic for sun blocking is to use a combination of zinc based sunscreen, make-up, clothing, and a hat. As with most anything, a variety of approaches is best. The good news is that the Vitamin D you create will be stored in your fat for later use. The bad news is, it probably isn’t stored more than a few months so you can’t just bank on that summer tan all year long. Also, once your body has produced its maximum, more Vitamin D won’t be made. In fact, some studies say that the best course of action is to alternate time in the sun with time away from it.

What’s up and coming in the sunscreen game? Soy based sunscreens, sunscreens made from fish slime and algae or coffee and papaya,  and a paper that changes color to signal when you should get out of the sun are all being developed. I’m looking forward to trying all of these new products and to enjoying some sun worship–in moderation.

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