Summer is almost here - or if you are also in the Bay Area, it is DEFINITELY here - and the smell of sunscreen is ubiquitous. This is a very difficult topic for me to talk about, since I used to be a sunscreen addict. Up until a couple of years ago I wore sunscreen every day of my life since I was 14. At that time I had read an article on skin damage, cancer, and ageing from the sun, and as with all my health rituals, I took that extremely serious - even at the young age of 14 - and I started wearing sunscreen every day. As I dove deeper into health and exchanging my beauty products, sunscreen was the last thing I tackled... mainly because I was convinced I would harm myself. However, once I started looking into more studies, I was shocked to find the correlation of chemical sunscreen and melanoma and skin cancer.
Of course, when you think about it, it does make sense. For thousands of years, humans have lived in symbioses with the sun. In fact, there are so many compounds made inside our body when it gets exposed to sun rays that we simply can not supplement. Vitamin D is of course the most prominent one, being responsible for a healthy immune system, gut health, the health of cells, telling cells when to die, lowering insulin levels, reducing blood pressure, helping with depression, repairing organs, and interacting with over 2000 genes in our DNA. It is truly a powerhouse, that can never be replaced by supplementing. Taking vitamin D3 as a supplement is always fat soluble, which means it has a harder time traveling around in our body. The vitamin D3 sulfate made in our skin is water soluble, and easily flows with our blood to where it is needed. Every cell in our body has open doors to vitamin D3. If these doors are all empty, they can invite invaders such as bacteria inside, making space for diseases to grow instead.
Our body actually has a built in system to make sure we don't burn when we are in the sun. Melanin - the pigment in our skin that makes us look brown and tanned - is actually like a little bodyguard to sun rays. It interacts with the sun rays, and turns them into heat, which then just evaporates. Only about 0.1% of these rays make it through, which then cause sunburn, and damage to our DNA.
When we use chemical sunscreens, our DNA gets indirect damage, because the skin doesn't burn to warn us of possible mutations happening. Instead, the sunscreen actually inactivates melanin, which means sun rays now don't get turned into heat, but can go straight to the DNA to damage it. Yes, this is shocking to me, too! If you want to read more about this, check out this article from the American Journal of Public Health with many interesting studies cited.
The most common found ingredients in chemical sunscreens are oxybenzone, petroleum based polymers, parabens, and PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), which all block the ability of our skin to breathe, meaning we can't get rid of damaged toxins from our body through are largest organ, the skin. On top of that, these chemicals bake themselves into our bodies, accumulating in our cells and fat storages. In fact, we can now find sunscreen chemicals in baby's umbilical cord blood after birth, meaning the chemicals travel through the placenta to the baby. Oxybenzone for example is only non-carcinogenic when not exposed to sunlight - the very thing we are doing when we use sunscreen. Meaning you now have an active carcinogen floating around in your body. Some other side effects are interruption of hormone health, overloading your liver on toxins, killing off reefs in our oceans, and changing our fish and seafood population. Doesn't this just make you want to throw your hands up in the air and curl up in bed?!?
After all of this information overload, let me give you some good news. You don't need to stop going into the sun. In fact, if you read carefully above, the sun is our friend and vital to good health. Overexposure is when we can get cell and DNA damage. This why the best bet is to slowly build up your skin's tan, meaning your skin's melanin content to help with the disarming of sun rays over time. Starting in spring, go out a few times into the sun, and increase your stay every time, to slowly build up a tan. When you are in the sun for longer periods of time, use hats, and light covers to make sure your skin doesn't get overexposed. And I have to mention this here because this is nutrition blog after all - the way you eat severely influences how damaged your skin becomes. Eating rancid fats such as cooking oils or fried foods is a sure fire way to skin damage and DNA damage from the inside.
Now, I know you are here for sunscreens, so I will give you some options that are healthier: mineral sunscreens. These use zinc as a shield that literally covers your body and reflects sun rays away from you, so they can't enter your skin. This does mean that your production of Vitamin D and other essential components gets shut down. That is why I would never recommend to wear these on a daily basis. But - just like you - I like to go on summer holidays, had to the beach, paddle board, and do all the fun things in the sun all day. That is when these mineral based sunscreens come in handy.
A word of caution, because they do create a "shield", they all go on very white, and you will look like a ghost. I have created a video over on Instagram all about my favorite sunscreens from the whitest to the clearest, so if you want to see all my tips, head there plus get an extra bonus tip on how to get rid of the white look after your day in the sun. Otherwise, here is the list of the ones I love the most. I do use mostly baby/kids sunscreen in our household, because if it is gentle enough for Baby Zand, it is gentle enough for me!
Definitely goes on white like a ghost, but easy to apply.