Is it necessary to use a natural sunscreen?
- Mar 18, 2022
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Can sun exposure cause cancer? Can sunlight boost your immune system? There seems to be a constant debate as to whether sun exposure is truly needed. Because if they are not, why risk the harmful effects such as increasing the risk of skin cancer? Most people know they need to put on sunscreen before they spend the day in the sun, but it’s important to remember that you don’t need to avoid the sun entirely. We need sunlight to produce vitamin D, balance our circadian rhythm and keep our bodies strong and healthy.
The concern with UV rays
Sunlight from the sun is composed of three types of light energy: visible, infrared, and ultraviolet (UV) rays. UVA and UVB rays are known to be light rays that react with the melanin in your skin cells and can cause serious skin damage. Your body’s skin cells are designed to absorb the dangerous UV rays, but there comes a point where the amount of ray exposure exceeds what your cells can absorb.
When you develop a red sunburn, it is a sign that your melanin cells have reached their limit. After this point, the UV rays can create free radicals and oxidative damage in your body. Oxidative damage can result in a wide range of conditions – in mild cases, it may increase the levels of inflammation and prevent your organ systems from working optimally. In severe or chronic cases, the DNA in your cells can become mutated and develop into cancerous tumors.
Not everyone develops sunburns, but the people who do likely notice it does not take long for their skin to reach this point. One of the reasons why there is so much debate regarding safe sun exposure is because every person has a different risk factor. Heredity and environment play a huge role. If you are fair-skinned and get sunburned easily, sun exposure for long periods may be more dangerous for you. If you have darker skin and do not get sunburned, you can have safer sun exposure. It’s all about knowing your own body!
Why natural sunscreens offer a safer alternative
There are two main types of sunscreens on the market, physical sunscreens, and chemical sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens are designed to sit on your skin and absorb the UV rays, so they do not enter your cells. However, the active ingredients used to accomplish this important task can also enter your body and bloodstream. These ingredients are not recognized as safe and can be harmful in high quantities or with daily use. The main UV filters oxybenzone, homosalate and octocrylene have been linked to increased risk of cancer, which defeats the purpose of its protective functions.
On the other hand, physical (mineral) sunscreens are designed to form a barrier to physically shield the UV rays, which bounce off harmlessly. The ingredients are not absorbed into the skin and are considered more natural because they do not use harmful chemicals.
Because physical sunscreens form a barrier, they must be applied as the last layer on the skin, over your daily skincare and makeup. Its active ingredient, zinc oxide, can sometimes have a white cast, though many natural brands have formulas that prevent this from happening. Choosing natural sunscreens ensures you are not applying more toxins and harmful chemicals on your skin, while still protecting yourself from excess UV rays.
Best options: Badger Sport Sunscreen Clear Zinc SPF 40 Unscented 87ml, All Good Sport Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 89ml, Thinksport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ 6oz
Other ways to protect yourself from the sun
Even though sunscreen is the foundation of safe sun exposure, you can take steps to protect yourself on a daily basis. Wearing clothes that cover the areas where the sun is most likely to hit (forehead, shoulders, arms, legs) can offer sufficient protection if you must be outside. Keeping a hat or a light sweater can be great options to keep around.
Keep in mind that the sun is strongest from 11 am to 2 pm, so avoid spending time in direct sunlight during these hours, and you’ll be cutting the risk dramatically!
Grace Tien is a women’s health holistic nutritionist. She helps her clients optimize their nutrition habits so that they can get rid of afternoon slumps and live each day full of energy. Grace specializes in nutrition for healthy periods, you can find out more at @gracetien.ca on Instagram.