In summertime, especially, we’re constantly being cautioned to protect ourselves from the sun before going outdoors. Doctor’s offices, magazine ads, and product labels now carry frightening warnings about the link between sun exposure and increased risk of skin cancers. A few decades ago, people thought of sunscreen as something you used to prevent getting sunburned when you went swimming. We’d buy a fresh bottle at the beginning of the summer and keep it in our beach bag. Today, chemical sunscreen ingredients are finding their way into more and more everyday products, from lip balm to hair conditioner. But do we really need so much sun protection, and should we be worried about all those chemicals? The answer is a bit complicated, but two things are for sure. The cosmetic skin care industry wants us to believe all UV exposure is harmful. And, they don’t want us to know there are natural ways to protect ourselves from the sun’s dangerous rays.
The sun is our natural, intended, and most effective source of Vitamin D. This vitamin is now known to be extremely important to our overall health and for the prevention of cancer and other serious diseases Our skin makes about 90 percent of our Vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B rays. That’s why it’s so important for us to spend some time outdoors in the sun every day. The amount of sunshine we need depends on many factors, such as the color of our skin and the intensity of the sun’s UVB rays. About 20 minutes of exposure to the arms and legs each day is ideal for most people.
Chemical sunscreens interfere with our skin’s Vitamin D synthesis. Most people today area already deficient in Vitamin D because we spend a lot of time working indoors. If you slather every inch of yourself with sunscreen before you step outside, your skin will never get a chance to make the Vitamin D your body needs. But that’s not the only problem. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV light. As a result of this process, they can sometimes generate free radicals that damage our DNA and cause certain cancers. Chemical sunscreen ingredients get absorbed by the skin, and most are considered endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with normal hormone function. Endocrine disruptors cause early puberty, low sperm counts, infertility, and a host of other problems. Some act like estrogen in the body and cause breast and ovarian cancers in women, others increase the risk of prostate cancer in men.
These are troubling facts. Fortunately, Mother Nature has built in natural ways to strengthen and protect our skin from the inside! Many foods contain key nutrients, like antioxidants and phytochemicals, that can help our skin defend itself against too much sun and reduce our risk for sunburn, sun damage, and skin cancers. Amazingly, carotenoids found in yellow and orange vegetables and fruits create a pigmented barrier that helps prevent dangerous UV rays from penetrating our skin! And antioxidants in plant foods protect our skin’s DNA against the free radical damage that causes premature aging.
Some of the most sun protective foods you can eat include green leafy vegetables, beets, and yellow and orange produce like sweet potatoes, carrots, and mangos. Red-pigmented foods like watermelon, tomatoes, red bell peppers are also excellent because they contain a phytonutrient called lycopene. It’s important to emphasize cruciferous veggies containing lutein, such as kale and broccoli. You’ll be glad to know that dark chocolate ranks high on the list, too, for its polyphenol content. Polyphenol is also found in green and black teas, and in many herbs like garlic, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. Another important nutrient is astaxanthin, which is found in salmon, shellfish, and certain types of edible algae. Those same foods are also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and protect your skin from sunburn and cancer. Eat plenty of nuts, seeds, and whole grains for their Vitamin E, which absorbs harmful UV rays. And make sure to load up on Vitamin C rich foods like strawberries and citrus for their powerful antioxidant activity.
While these foods are extremely beneficial and help protect our skin from the inside, we still need to take cover if we plan to spend a lot of time in the sun. Clothes and sunglasses with UV lenses offer significant protection. Surprisingly, pure coconut oil, almond oil, and shea butter all have an SPF of about 4 to 6; so these might be an option when very light sun protection is needed. When these measures aren’t enough, look for a natural sun protection product like a sunblock. Sunscreen is made with chemicals that penetrate the skin, but sunblock is made with minerals like zinc oxide (the white stuff) that sit on top of the skin and provide a physical barrier against the sun’s dangerous rays.
The Environmental Working Group has researched thousands of cosmetics on the market today and rated each one for safety and effectiveness. Check out their annual sunscreen guide for safety ratings to help you make the right purchase. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can look into making your own natural sunscreen with non-toxic ingredients. There are a number of reputable websites that provide recipes. Be sure to check with your doctor or dermatologist before using those products, though.
We promised to tell you the whole truth about natural sun protection, and now you know that it is possible—and, indeed, preferable—to protect your skin from the sun naturally. Don’t let the media and the cosmetic companies scare you into coating your skin with dangerous chemicals when much safer options exist!
So, what’s your favorite natural sun protection product? Tell us in the comments!
This article is for educational use only and is NOT intended as medical advice. The information presented herein is based on the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are NOT intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. We encourage you to do your own research and consult a qualified health professional before making any health-related changes.
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