Redwood Naturopathic Medicine
Natural Sun Protection
Updated: Jul 29, 2021
With the transition to much warmer weather and more opportunity to be outside, people are rushing to get outdoors! But spending so much time outside, without protection, can be a bit risky! The sun offers many benefits for the body, physically and mentally. Safe sun exposure has proven to improve energy levels, elevate mood, and increase blood flow. But too much prolonged exposure to the sun can result in adverse side effects. Read along to learn the pros and cons of sun exposure and ways to stay safe while enjoying the sun!
Let's Talk About the Benefits of the Sun!
Vitamin D: The sun's UV rays react with cholesterol in the skin, which results in vitamin D3 being created. Vitamin D3 is an essential water-soluble vitamin within the body, supporting the immune system, strengthening bones, mood regulation, and protecting against diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, Parkinson's, etc. While vitamin D moves through the bloodstream, it also provides a barrier to ward off harmful microbes that enter the body.
Nitric oxide: The skin stores a nitrite, so nitric oxide is released into the bloodstream when exposed to sunlight. Nitric oxide promotes good cardiovascular health while playing a role in preventing high blood pressure and other metabolic dysfunctions.
Serotonin Production: Exposure to sunlight is believed to increase the brain's output of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that is known to boost the mood, yet promote calm focus. Serotonin can also help you get a better nights sleep, working together with serotonin is melatonin. A chemical that helps your body unwind and get a better nights sleep!
Some Risks to Know About Sunlight
Aging: The sun has been long known to promote premature aging. Too much exposure to the sun, without some barrier, results in increased wrinkles, fine lines, and sunspots.
Increased Risk of Skin Cancer:
The majority of basal and squamous cell skin cancers are due to frequent and unprotected exposure to UV radiation from the sun, and other manufactured sources, such as tanning beds. UV radiation can cause DNA damage at a cellular level and alter how they function.
Melanoma is another form of skin cancer, and the cause is not as apparent as basal or squamous cell carcinoma. According to research, one is at a higher risk of forming melanoma from sunburns and intermittent sun exposure rather than intense occupational exposure. Nonetheless, the sun can play a role in this disease, so it is essential to take precautionary measures (detailed below) to protect your body best!
Other Factors to Consider
Diet: Sugar, inflammatory fats, processed meals, trans fats, colorings and other chemicals, pesticides, and medicines are all part of the Standard American Diet (SAD). The majority of the SAD diet is devoid of fruits and vegetables, even though we require fresh fruits and vegetables to protect our skin from the sun. A whole-foods diet vital in antioxidants has been demonstrated in studies to reduce free radical-mediated DNA damage.
Inflammation: According to research, an imbalanced microbiome is one of the primary causes of chronic inflammation in the body. A few ways one can support a balanced microbiome are to heal your gut, increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids while decreasing your intake of omega-6 fats (which cause inflammation), promote proper detoxification, and support the liver.
Sunscreens made from natural or mineral ingredients are the best choice currently. Opt for using natural sunscreens with active UVA and UVB protection. Most sunscreens only contain UVB protection, so UVA has the chance to penetrate the skin and cause damage to the DNA.
Look for sunscreens that are low in toxicity. Many sunscreens include harmful chemicals that are absorbed via the skin and can alter your hormones, resulting in hormonal imbalances and thyroid disruption. Ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and avobenzone should be avoided. These chemicals are toxic not only to your body but also to the rest of the planet. Oxybenzone is well established around the globe for the damage it has caused to many coral reef ecosystems.
When choosing a sunscreen, it is essential to consider:
At least an SPF of 30
Mineral-based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide: both provide UVA and UVB protection
How to Enjoy the Sun Safely?
Consuming foods following the 80-20 rule, 80% of your diet is unprocessed, whole foods, and the other 20% are foods you enjoy indulging in. By increasing the amount of unprocessed, whole foods consumed, you provide your body with enough antioxidants to combat free radicals caused by UV radiation and boost our internal SPF. Aim for keeping your plate colorful, the more color in a fruit or vegetable, the higher antioxidant content.
According to research, an imbalanced microbiome is one of the primary causes of chronic inflammation in the body. A few ways this can be fixed are first heal your gut, increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids while decreasing your intake of omega-6 fats (which cause inflammation), promote proper detoxification, and support the liver.
Spend a safe amount of time in the sun, begin with just a few minutes per day and gradually increase your exposure over time. But under no circumstances should you be in the sun long enough for your skin to burn. The more time you spend in the sun, the more melanin is produced, hence why you get tan from a day at the beach. Melanin production is essential because it protects you from UV rays; melanin absorbs and dissipates 99% of UV light. So gradual exposure can help prevent skin damage from the UV rays. The sun is most potent from 10 am to 2 pm, so opt for exposure before or after this time frame.
Use oils to protect from UV damage. For everyday care of your skin, oils such as coconut, jojoba, sea buckthorn, and red raspberry seed oil have natural compounds that protect the skin from mild damage. This is not a substitute for sunscreen, though.
Use Sunscreen. Sunscreen is best for prolonged exposure to the sun; opt for organic, full-spectrum zinc oxide. This blocks and reflects the UV radiation instead of absorbing it into the skin. Avoid tanning oils and avoid spray sunscreens.
Other Sun Barriers such as clothing, hats, and shade should be considered. Soft layers of clothing can go a long way in protecting your skin. Opting to wear a hat or light cover-up at the beach can do wonders in protecting the skin (especially the fragile skin of the face) from the harsh sunlight.