I realize what I’m about to share with you might very well be “a day late and a dollar short” but this is such a burning question (pun intended) that I consider it “never too late” to answer – before you get burned again by being misinformed!
Do you find yourself asking:
- Should I wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses or not?
- If I do venture outdoors, which sunscreens are safe and which aren’t?
- When are the best or worst times to be out in the sun – REALLY?
Or do you confidently believe:
“Oh, I’m safe Nattacia, I slather on sunscreen with a 70 SPF all the time.”
WAIT JUST A SUN-SCORCHED MINUTE … did you know that the rate of skin cancer has done nothing but rise steadily since sunscreens first came on the market. Yup, that’s right. About the same time people started to slather “protection” on with blind faith, without realizing that the chemicals in most sunscreens have been shown to actually cause cancer? Yikes!
When it comes to getting your rays, understanding some sun-safety rules may actually help you prevent cancer — and I’m not talking only skin cancer either. Vitamin D has been shown to reduce your risk of not only cancer but many other diseases as well.
Before you strip off all of your clothes and head for the beach…
Or, in my humble opinion, even worse, cower in fear under a shady tree until fall is safely upon us, let me take a quick moment to explain how sunshine can actually slash your cancer risk by 50% … when done properly that is.
Vitamin D – explained beautifully by Dr. J. Mercola:
You can create as much as 20,000 units of vitamin D per day if you have enough of your uncovered skin exposed to the sun. The beauty of getting your vitamin D from healthy exposures to sunshine is that your body has this built-in feedback loop that prevents you from overdosing on it.
After that, however, you’re only increasing your chances of getting burned, which is something you definitely want to avoid. There is NO additional benefit to staying in the sun any longer. You only risk damage by extending your time in the sun.
It’s not like your gas tank. Your body can only produce a limited amount of vitamin D every day. Once it reaches its limit you only cause damage by going beyond that amount.
To be certain your vitamin D levels are where they should be, have your doctor test your blood and supplement (or, preferably, get moderate sun exposure) as needed in order to maintain that level.
The correct test your doctor needs to order is 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D. The OPTIMAL value that you’re looking for is 45-52 ng/ml (115-128 nmol/l).
Bear in mind that even though 25-hydroxyvitamin D lab values of 20-56 ng/ml (50-140 nmol/l) are considered “normal,” your vitamin D level should NEVER be below 32 ng/ml, and any levels below 20 ng/ml are considered serious deficiency states and will increase your risk of breast and prostate cancers and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Now, how should you get your vitamin D levels into that optimum range? Ideally, from sun exposure. This is always the preferable method.
If you live in an area without year-round sunshine, as I do, you can supplement your diet with vitamin D. But know this:
- It IS possible to overdose on oral vitamin D supplements (there’s very little risk of overdosing on vitamin D from the sun, however), so you need to have your blood levels of vitamin D measured regularly.
- Only vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), the type of vitamin D found naturally in foods like eggs, organ meats, animal fat, cod liver oil, and fish, is appropriate for supplementation. Do NOT use the highly inferior vitamin D2.
WHEN is the Right Time of Day for Safe Rays?
Longer rays are called UVA (ultraviolet A), these are the ones believed to increase the risk for cancer. Cloudy days and later afternoon sun is when these rays are most prevalent, unfortunately most of us use both opportunities to work on bronzing up our otherwise pasty bootilicious bods.
The beneficial rays are UVB (ultraviolet B) – those are the rays that your body can convert into vitamin D. Ahh, good ol’ vitamin D, believed to be a big player in cancer and other disease prevention.
Early morning sun is a great time to build a base for those who are fair maidens or pale faces. Keep in mind that on a sunny day (versus cloudy) the UVB rays are hard at work between the hours of 12 noon and 3 PM and once you’ve established a base tan this is when your body can convert those rays into vitamin D.
Take it off, take it all off! (Imagine stripper music playing here)
That’s right, bare as much as you dare – within the legal limits of course. “Take it off” includes hats and sunglasses too. I realize that may be a controversial statement but the top of your head and your eyes actually absorbs a lot of the health producing benefits of the sun.
However, I’m NOT suggesting you bake yourself in the sun for hours! Just 10 to 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight through the eyes and top of the head during the prime-time hours I’ve mentioned is enough to produce some incredible health benefits without the risk of cataracts or heat stroke:
HOW SUNLIGHT ENTERS YOUR BODY – 98% of sunlight enters through the eyes, and 2% through the skin. The 2% on the skin is important because that is the only way your body can develop vitamin D.
LIGHT TRAVELS IN THE BODY — Light enters through your eyes and follows two pathways, each of which has a different effect: 1) The visual pathway, which enables you to see, is the upper pathway which goes up to the cortex. If you’re blind, that pathway may be blocked, but the lower pathway continues to function. 2) The lower pathway goes to the hypothalamus gland, an extremely important gland in the distribution of sunlight to the rest of your body.
SUNLIGHT AND ENERGY — The hypothalamus has another important duty and that is converting light to chemical electrical pulses that follow the nervous system in the body, providing energy to every cell in your body. Your cells require nutrients from foods, and oxygen from the air, but what ignites energy in the cell is light. Sunlight is the spark plug, which provides the spark in cells to produce protein, and to replicate and repair. This is the mechanism of sunlight in the body. It regulates the body clock; it produces the hormones in your body and it produces the energy that goes to the cells, so it’s important that good light enters your eyes.
Shed sunglasses to shed weight!
An added perk of not becoming dependent on sunglasses is that sunlight allows your digestion to stay strong. I know so many people who have created such extreme light sensitivity through their constant use of sunglasses, interestingly enough all of them are also dealing with weight issues. I’m just saying — it might be a piece of the puzzle worth considering.
You can reduce light sensitivity by simply taking a minute when you’re in the sun to do a little eye basking. Simply close your eyes and face the sun, then slowly, with your eyes still closed, roll your head side to side for a minute at least. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can reverse the sensitivity you’ve built up towards the sun!
Put simply — save wearing those sunglasses for the times when the wavelengths are long, (late afternoon, sunset or when it’s cloudy) or when the reflection off of water/sand is glaring and causing you to squint.
Sunny side up – not fried!
Sun exposure — just how much and how long is safe? The answer to this question depends on your skin’s natural pigment (seems like an obvious answer I know, but I for one am a wannabe sun-kissed Greek Goddess and need it spelled out in minutes). Caucasians and others with paler skin may only be able to handle a few minutes in the sun initially. Darker skins can usually handle 3 to 6 times more exposure.
In other words, at the beginning of sun exposure a blue-eyed blonde like me is best to start off with 10 to 15 minutes, whereas those with darker pigment can bare their bodies for perhaps 30 minutes to one hour initially, until a base tan is built up. What you’re looking for is your skin to turn the lightest shade of pink, no more. Of course once you’ve established a nice tan you can start to spend a little more time in the sun without the risk of burning.
Ah, the real burning question answered at last! As I mentioned earlier, the arrival of sunscreens brought with them an increase in cancer. Here’s a brief guide to choosing safe sunscreens:
Avoid the following ingredients:
- Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate)
- Added insect repellent
Look for these ingredients:
- Titanium dioxide
- Avobenzone or Mexoryl SX
Avoid these products:
- SPF above 50+
Look for these products:
- Broad spectrum protection
- Water resistant for beach, pool & exercise
- SPF 30+ for beach & pool
Summing up Sunning:
- Build a base tan by spending just 10 to 20 minutes in the sun, 3-5 days a week at the beginning of the season (or when on a tropical vacation).
- Bare as much skin as is legal and keep the use of hats and sunglasses to a minimum – save them for times when UVA (longer) rays are at their strongest and most damaging.
- Expose your skin to the sun at optimum UVB times such as early morning (especially when building a base tan) and between noon and 3 pm.
- Wear ONLY a natural sunscreen – check out www.EWG.org for more info.
- Don’t burn your skin!
I realize that last bullet point makes perfect sense, but it’s far too easy to start having a great time in the sun and the next thing you know you’re a crispy critter instead of a wonderfully bronzed beauty or golden toned Adonis.
Okay, now go play outdoors and enjoy some real-deal, natural vitamin D courtesy of our life-giving friend, the sun!