There are thousands of sunscreens on the market and it may seem daunting to find a safe one. The majority of chemical sunscreens contain endocrine disruptors, which are particularly risky for pregnant women, infants and small children. These can disrupt growth and development, cause early puberty and result in small testicle size and low sperm count in boys. They also have carcinogenic potential. Among the worst are those containing oxybenzone, synthetic fragrances and retinyl palmitate. When choosing a sunscreen, your safest choice is a lotion or cream with zinc oxide. It’s stable in sunlight and provides the best protection from UVA rays. Your next best option is titanium dioxide. Just make sure the product:
- Does not contain nano sized particles.
- Protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Keep in mind that SPF protects only from UVB rays, which are the rays within the ultraviolet spectrum that allow your skin to produce vitamin D. The most dangerous rays, in terms of causing skin damage and cancer, are the UVA rays. Avoid sunscreens with an SPF above 50.
While not intrinsically harmful, the higher SPF tends to provide a false sense of security, encouraging you to stay in the sun longer than you should. Moreover, higher SPF typically does not provide much greater protection. In fact, research suggests people using high-SPF sunscreens get the same or similar exposure to UV rays as those using lower-SPF products.
I recommend spending time in the sun regularly, ideally daily. Sunshine offers substantial health benefits, provided you take a few simple precautions to protect yourself from overexposure.
Here are top five safe sunning tips:
- Give your body a chance to produce vitamin D before you apply sunscreen. Expose large amounts of your skin- at least 40 percent of your body to sunlight for short periods daily. Optimizing your vitamin D levels may reduce your risk of many internal cancers, and actually reduces your risk of melanoma as well.
- Stay out just long enough for your skin to turn the very lightest shade of pink. Shield your face from the sun using a safe sunscreen or hat, as your facial skin is thin and more prone to sun damage, such as premature wrinkling.
- When you’ll be in the sun for longer periods, cover up with clothing, a hat or shade, either natural or shade you create using an umbrella. A safe sunscreen can be applied after you’ve optimized your skin’s daily vitamin D production, although clothing is your safest option to prevent burning and skin damage. Keep in mind that in order for sunscreen to be effective, you must apply large amounts over all exposed areas of your skin. This means the product should not trigger skin allergies and must provide good protection against UVA and UVB radiation. It also should not be absorbed into your skin, as the most effective sunscreen acts as a topical barrier.
- Consider the use of an ‘internal sunscreen’ to gain additional sun protection. Typically, it takes several weeks of daily supplementation to saturate your body’s tissues enough to provide protection. Astaxanthin can also be applied topically, which is why it’s now being incorporated into a number of topical sunscreen products.
- Consuming a healthy diet full of natural antioxidants is another highly useful strategy to help avoid sun damage. Fresh, raw, unprocessed foods deliver the nutrients that your body needs to maintain a healthy balance of omega-6 and animal-based DHA omega-3 oils in your skin, which are your first lines of defense against sunburn.
Vegetables also provide your body with an abundance of powerful antioxidants that will help you fight the free radicals caused by sun damage that can lead to burns and cancer.