Trash Your Sunscreen and Other Summer Sun Tips

By Dr. Joseph Mercola with Rachael Droege

It may seem like second nature to you to apply sunscreen before going out in the sun, as the media has been bombarding Americans with reports of the dangers of the sun for some time now, but using sunscreen is not a good way to limit your sun exposure.

Having concerns about skin cancer is valid, however, as its incidence in the United States has tripled in recent years to 54,000 cases annually, but sunscreen is one of the LAST things you want to put on your body, and sunblock does not stop skin cancer. Sunscreen is a toxic chemical that can cause problems in your system and increase your risk of disease.

The FDA regulates sunscreen as an over-the-counter drug because it contains "active" ingredients. Following is a list of active ingredients in sunscreen that the FDA classified as GRASE (generally regarded as safe and effective):

Para Amino benzoic acid (PABA) Octyl salicylate
Avobenzone Oxybenzone
Cinoxate Padimate O
Dioxybenzone Phenylbenzimidazole
Homosalate Sulisobenzone
Menthyl anthranilate Titanium dioxide
Octocrylene Trolamine salicylate
Octo methoxycinnamate Zinc oxide


Potential Toxicity

Whether some of these ingredients are toxic is controversial and there are studies on either side of the issue. But recently, a study in the April 2004 Journal of Chromatography found that there is significant penetration of all sunscreen agents they studied into the skin, and oxybenzone and metabolites across the skin.

So at best when you use sunscreen your body is absorbing synthetic chemicals, and with experts' recommendations to apply generous amounts of the product every few hours, you will likely be absorbing a fair amount. It is hard to believe that all of these chemicals will not have any effect on your system. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which act as physical barriers that reflect UV rays, may be less problematic in terms of absorption.

Even though up until now studies on the potential toxicity of sunscreens are sparse and not definitive, I believe it is wise to reduce your exposure to synthetic chemicals as much as possible and I don't recommend using sunscreens at all.

Sunscreen and Vitamin D

There is another major problem with sunscreen aside from the potential chemical toxicity and that is it blocks your skin's ability to make vitamin D by more than 95 percent. If you've been reading the site then you are familiar with the importance of having optimal vitamin D levels and know that regular sun exposure is the best way to achieve this.

Rather than burying your skin in sunscreen, it is clearly important to get regular sun exposure in order to have optimum health.

Sun Safety Without Sunscreen

This does not mean that we should all go out and get as much sun as we want--you must exercise caution and avoiding a burn is key.

At the beginning of the season, go out gradually and limit your exposure to perhaps as little as 10 minutes a day. Progressively increase your time in the sun so that in a few weeks you will be able to have normal sun exposure with little risk of skin cancer. You can further avoid the damage from the sun by staying out of the sun during the harmful times from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can stay in the shade during this time or wear lightweight long sleeve shirts, long pants and a wide-brim hat.

If you are looking to give yourself further protection against skin cancer, along with not getting sunburned diet is undoubtedly important.

In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences published a comprehensive review showing that the omega 6:3 ratio was the key to preventing skin cancer development. I believe that it is the worsening omega-3:6 ratios that are at least partly responsible for the rise in skin cancer rates.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are both essential for human health, however the typical American consumes far too many omega-6 fats in their diet while consuming very low levels of omega-3. While the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages from 20:1 to 50:1!

The primary sources of omega-6 are corn, soy, safflower and sunflower oil; these oils are overabundant in the typical diet, which explains our excess omega-6 levels. Avoid or limit these oils.

Meanwhile, omega-3 fats, found in fish oil and cod liver oil, need to be increased.

A major part of the problem is that at the beginning of 1900 we had very little processed vegetable oils, which are virtually 100 percent omega-6 fat, in our diet. In the last 100 years the U.S. population has gone from consuming virtually no vegetable fats to consuming more than 70 pounds per year. It is likely this unnaturally high consumption of omega-6 fats that is totally distorting the important omega 6:3 ratio.

So as I mentioned above, it is vital to reduce the omega-6 vegetable oils in your diet as much as possible while increasing the amount of beneficial omega-3 fats. This is an incredibly important way to prevent skin cancer and it is spelled out quite clearly in a 2000 Cancer Research study that says:

"Epidemiological, experimental, and mechanistic data implicate omega-6 fat as stimulators and long-chain omega-3 fats as inhibitors of development and progression of a range of human cancers, including melanoma."

Additionally, consuming many whole vegetables will increase antioxidant levels in the body, which will provide protection against any sun-induced radiation damage. Eating the right vegetables for your metabolic type will give you the best results, of course.

So if you want to benefit from the sun this summer, and I sincerely hope you do, throw away your sunscreen and use practical methods like clothing and shade to protect your skin from the sun when necessary. Always avoid getting burned, but be sure to get some sun on your skin. Complete avoidance of the sun is a surefire way to cause some problems for yourself down the road.

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