We are what we eat, and, it may be surprisingly to some, we are what we put on our skin too. Anything we put on our skin, from hygiene products to cosmetic products, gets absorbed through the skin. Chemicals applied topically can show up in body tissues, blood samples and even breast milk. When performing a healthy-living inventory, it’s important to examine what ingredients are in the soap or body wash, shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, make-up, lotion and other daily-use products in our lives. Not least among these to examine- sunscreen!
Summer fun means summer sun, and we all have heard the dangers of too much sun exposure—skin damage, brown spots, wrinkles and worst of all, skin cancer. In turn, Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on sunscreen each year. But what chemicals do these products contain? And what if the ingredients in sunscreen indicate health risks of their own? The use of sun-blocking products is always rising, but so is the incidence of skin cancer.
Here are some tips for reducing or eliminating traditional sunscreen use while still safely and responsibly soaking up some summer sun:
- We Need Sunlight! Everyone is unique in terms of his or her own skin type, color, composition, genetic background, etc, but everyone’s skin needs sunlight to synthesize vitamin D. Vitamin D is vitally important to all major body systems’ functioning, and most Americans are deficient in this incredibly important vitamin. It only takes 15-20 minutes a day of sunshine for your body reach its vitamin D synthesizing max, so make sure you squeeze it in.
- Don’t get burned. A sunburn results from intense exposure to the harmful UVA and UVB rays and seriously increases risk for skin cancer. To avoid getting burned without piling on the chemicals, try these strategies:
- Avoid peak sunlight hours between 10am-4pm by staying inside, seeking some serious shade or limiting sun exposure to 20 minutes.
- If you are out during peak hours, cover up with clothing. Long sleeves and pants and wide-brimmed hats help block harmful rays.
- For even more protection, look into SPF clothing!
- Make your own sunscreen. Try making your own sunscreen at home. There are many good recipes easily found through a web search that utilize natural ingredients to boost your SPF. Many “natural” sunscreens still contain suspect ingredients. By making your own at home, you know (and can feel good about) exactly what is going on your family’s skin.
- **Most importantly** Eat Your Sunscreen! No, this does not mean throw back the cap on a bottle of sunscreen and give it all you got (please do not consume bottled sunscreen!) Certain antioxidant- and nutrient-dense foods and supplements can increase your natural SPF from the inside out. In addition to a vitamin- and nutrient-filled diet consisting mainly of live, whole foods, adding in seasonal summer produce like antioxidant-rich berries is a good starting place; as are foods containing astaxanthin such as red peppers and carrots.
Foods that help fight inflammation are great to consume since sunburn is an inflammatory response to overexposure of UV rays. Leafy greens like spinach and kale plus healthy fats found in nuts, seeds and fish help to protect against inflammation and sunburn.
Boosting your natural SPF from the inside out will help you avoid the painful sting of a sunburn, protect your skin against premature aging and decrease your risk of life-threatening skin cancer, all while avoiding unnecessary chemical exposure from conventional sunscreen products- a winning combination. And that is why I eat my sunscreen!