Summer is finally here!  With the impending heatwaves and summer travel, we are spending more time outdoors in the sun.  There are great benefits to sun therapy, including increased vitamin D levels.  However, the concern of skin cancer has many avoiding the sun or slathering on the sunscreen.  Some sunscreens can have a negative impact on health.  So, how do you navigate between getting the right amount of sun and the right sunscreen?

 Sunlight Therapy

Sunlight therapy has long been a healing modality in naturopathic medicine.  It has been known to prevent cardiovascular disease, depression, and obesity.  Exposure to the sun helps to increase vitamin D levels in the body.  The benefits of vitamin D include but are not limited to bone strength, cardiovascular and immune health.

Residents of San Francisco are often vitamin D deficient.  San Francisco lies in the latitude above 37 degrees north, the geographical cut-off for adequate vitamin D from the sun, especially during the wintertime.  However, summer fog and pollution can also hinder the skin from making vitamin D.

Sun exposure is essential for health and well-being.  Too much sun exposure can cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer.  The therapeutic time spent out in the sun without protection varies per individual.  Depending on your skin type and time of day, here are general rules of sun exposure without sunscreen:

 5-30 minutes of sun exposure

With caution between 10 am and 2 pm

3 times per week

30% of your body exposed

Protect areas of previous sun damage and high risk

Is your Sunscreen Toxic?

After the therapeutic minutes of unprotected sun exposure, it is best to start putting on the sunscreen. What type of sunscreen should I use?  A recent independent study showed high levels of benzene, a cancer-causing agent, in many brands of sunscreen and after-sun products.  When we use sunscreen to protect against skin cancer, it seems counterintuitive to apply a carcinogen directly to the skin!

 The list of sunscreens free of benzene can be found here.  

Is your sunscreen on the list?  

But what about other toxins are found in sunscreen…Read on!

There are two main types of sunscreen:  chemical and physical.  Chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone, which protect against UVB and UVA rays.  UVB rays most often cause sunburns, whereas UVA rays can cause premature aging.  Both can cause skin cancer.  Physical sunscreens include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which also block UVB and UVA rays.

The FDA found only titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are classified as safe and effective with the information they have available.  Numerous studies show homosalate, avobenzone, and oxybenzone may have hormone-disrupting effects, and the European Commission has found them to be unsafe in the dosages found in sunscreen.

Naturopathic doctors often work to limit toxic chemical exposures and detoxify the body from unwanted chemicals.  Most chemicals in sunscreen have not had enough safety data to warrant daily usage.

To summarize:

  1. Enjoy sunlight therapy and the outdoors!
  1. Choose a safe and effective physical sunscreen, zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide lotion, not the spray.
  1. Know your skin and get your sun.   Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or more depending on if you are sweating or in the water.
  1. Wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the skin, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats.

 Be Safe and Happy Summer!


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