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  • Writer's picturevanessa

What About Sunblock - Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed the issue of sun avoidance and how, contrary to popular belief, avoiding sun exposure is actually detrimental to our health due to Vitamin D deficiency. I also brought up the fact that what we really need to avoid is not the sun, but sunburn.

One of the best ways to prevent sunburn is to expose your skin to small amounts of sunlight on a daily basis in late spring or summer and gradually increase that time. What this does is gradually increases the amount of time your skin can tolerate sun exposure without burning. The amount of time you need to start with can depend on a variety of factors, such as skin color, heredity, age, general health and level of nutrition. Many people can start with 10 minute of sun exposure and gradually build up to several hours a day without burning. Others may need to start with as little as a minute at first.

The important thing to remember is this - once your skin is starting to turn even slightly pink, it is time to get out of the sun. After that, your skin has reached it's saturation point and will not make any more Vitamin D, but it will burn.

But what to do if you are not able to get out of the sun?

What are our choices when we know that going indoors is not an option?

I think planning in advance is key here. There are several options. Knowing them and planning your strategy beforehand so you can be prepared is essential.

Once you have spent a few minutes in the sun and/or your skin is starting to look slightly pink, some options for avoiding sunburn are:

  • Go into the shade

  • Put on light reflective long sleeve clothing and a broad-rimmed hat

  • Apply a natural, safe and effective sunblock for the remainder of your time in the sun

While the first two options are pretty straightforward, the last one needs some serious thought. As a cosmetic formulator and a mother, I have put much time into researching the best, most effective, and most importantly, the safest, options for sublock.

Here is what I have found:

There are two main categories of sun screen:

  • chemical absorbers

  • physical barriers

Chemical absorbers create a chemical reaction to absorb UV rays. Some of the most common chemical absorbers used in sunscreens are are a class of chemicals called Benzophenones, including dioxybenzone and oxybenzone. In fact, according to Dr. Mercola, oxybenzone is present in up to 90% of all commercial sunscreens. Unfortunately, it has also been found to be extremely toxic and even more so when exposed to ultraviolet light (like the sun!).

The list of chemical absorbers used in sunscreens also incudes:

PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB, glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA)

Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate)

Salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate)

Digalloyl trioleate

Menthyl anthranilate

Avobenzone (butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane)

According to Dr. Loren Pickart, there are several reasons we should be concerned about using these chemicals on our bodies. Not only are they powerful free radical generators, which means that they increase cellular damage and changes that can lead to cancer, but they often have strong estrogenic activity, interfering with normal sexual development and engendering a host of secondary medical problems. Additionally, they are synthetic chemicals that are alien to the human body and accumulate in body fat stores. This is because "the human body is well adapted to de-toxify biologicals that it has been exposed to over tens of millions of years. But it has often has difficulty removing new and non-biological compounds such DDT, Dioxin, PCBs, and chemical sunscreens."

As early as the 1970's, it was proven that up to 35% of sunscreen applied to the skin can pass through the skin and enter the bloodstream (Maibach, H. "NDELA-Percutaneous Penetration." 1978).

In effect, this means that chemical absorbers in sunscreen, which may inherently be very toxic, absorb UV rays in a chemical reaction and then a certain percentage of it may be absorbed into your skin, carrying with it the UV it absorbed, including the very damaging UVA rays. (Note: It is only the UVB rays that provide the body with Vitamin D. )

What about the physical barrier sunscreen agents, sometimes called reflectors? These are compounds that literally reflect or block the sun's rays from your skin. The physical barriers used in sunscreens are:

  • Titanium Dioxide

  • Zinc Oxide

These are natural minerals that have been used in cosmetics for up to thousands of years. They have an impressive safety record throughout history. Most people are familiar with the white stripe of zinc oxide on the nose of lifeguards in years past. While these 2 ingredients are considered the safest sunblocks (they are full spectrum, by the way), many people are put off by their opaque white appearance.

That fact has led to the recent appearance on the market of sunscreens including micronized zinc and titanium dioxide, or nano-particles. This is the process whereby these ingredients have their particle size reduced to mere nanometers. This process has the effect of diminishing the opacity and eliminating the appearance of whiteness. However, one fact that is not well known, is that this process also converts titanium dioxide and zinc oxide from physical barriers into chemical absorbers and changes their chemical properties! So now they have the same dangers as other chemical absorbers, including the extra hazard in this case of photo-activity, which means when exposed to sunlight it can react with other sunscreen chemicals and increase their free radical generation abilities.

There is also the questions of whether nano particles can be absorbed into the skin and eventually enter the bloodstream. There are conflicting report on this and in my opinion, the jury is still out on that one.

So, if you've made it this far, I applaud you on your conviction and determination to take responsibility for your own health and the health of your family by learning all you can about issues such as these and I will try to summarize my conclusions for you.

According to the empirical, anecdotal and scientific research I have been able to find, regular sized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide seem to be the best options for sunblock that are available to us today. Along with sensible sun exposure, light reflective clothing, hats and use of shade, these sunblocks are the best tools we have to protect ourselves from the damaging effects of sunburn.

One other note of importance is that what you eat can affect the tendency of your skin to burn easily. According to Dr Mercola, foods rich in antioxidants, especially Vitamin C and astaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the tendency of your skin to burn and increase it's tolerance to sun exposure.

For ease of use, I personally (and for my family) use my Natural Look Mineral Makeup Foundations (which include a base of titanium dioxide) as sunblock.

What is your favorite sunblock and why do you use it?

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