Integrative and Functional Medicine’s Perspective on Protecting Your Skin
Do you remember the song by Raffi, “Oh, Mr. Sun, Mr. Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, Please shine down on me”? Just the sight of sunshine can lift our spirits and bring us joy and energy. We all need daily sunshine but in moderation. Sun exposure is needed for critical functions in our body. Spending 20 minutes in the sun each day helps to maintain healthy Vitamin D levels. But, excessive sun exposure, for most people, leads to skin damage and cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States than all other types of cancer combined. 1 in 5 people will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70 years, and 1 in 50 people will be diagnosed with melanoma. Considering the high incidence rates of skin cancer, properly protecting our skin from sun exposure and using sunscreen is extremely important.
Extra care should be given when choosing a sunscreen. Be familiar with ingredients that could cause health problems such as allergic reactions, inflammation, and hormone dysregulation. As we have seen in the recent recall by Johnson & Johnson, the concern that toxic ingredients are used in some sunscreens is a valid one. Toxins found in oxybenzone and octinoxate can cause hormone imbalance, irregular thyroid levels, and lead to reproductive problems.
Which ingredients should I avoid when choosing a sunscreen?
Avoid products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are toxic. Look for sunscreens containing avobenzone and/or zinc oxide. Clinical studies haven’t identified issues with these ingredients.
Cream sunscreen or spray sunscreen, which is best?
Always choose cream. Spray sunscreens have particles that are inhaled and could be potentially dangerous to our lungs.
SPF 50….or SPF 50+?
Stay with SPF 50 or less. Sunscreen products with higher than SPF 50 contain greater amounts of potential toxins. Clinical studies on products with higher than SPF 50 show they are only slightly more effective at blocking the sun. Don’t take the risk!
Are sunscreens containing nano-particles safe?
Currently, there is debate within the medical community about the safety of nanoparticles, and if nanoparticles are able to transfer into the blood stream. My advice is to steer clear and choose non-nano-particle brands.
Any additional recommendations?
- Wear protective clothing during times of excessive sun exposure. Avoid sunburns at all costs!
- Limit sunblock application to specific areas of concern. Do not apply it to your entire body.
- Stay out of the sun during times when UV radiation is at its highest. Typically, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Visit the EPA’s website for specific UV intensity information for your local area.
- Have your skin checked by a dermatologist or your primary medical provider at least once per year.
To learn more about sunscreen products, including product analysis and review, check out environmental working group at ewg.org.
- “Skin cancer.” American Academy of Dermatology.