The big sunscreen lie

Let me start off by referring to the quote that I started my second book with. It is from Buddha and I think it is relevant in pretty much everything I write and research. “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

Today’s topic certainly falls into that category. I am always baffled by the whole sunscreen issue. Yes, we have certainly affected our planet, and changed our ozone, so the sun can be more powerful than it used to be. Okay, I get that. Here’s what I do not get – this scare tactic that we should be hiding from the sun at all costs.

The sun gives our planet life. The sun, and its distance from our planet, its rays, its heat and its light make everything about our planet work. Plants, animals, oceans, lakes, streams, bugs, and everything around us require sunlight.

We spend the winter cooped up and blocked from the sun by thick clothing, an indoor lifestyle and the inescapable cold. Our Vitamin D levels plummet and people get miserable.

The day after it has been sunny and warm out everything changes. People are more energetic, excited about life, invigorated, and just plain happier.

Vitamin D is very powerful stuff. It is required for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus (healthy bones anyone?). Vitamin D is directly associated with healthy weight loss. Vitamin D will protect you from illnesses like autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease, and cancer on a genetic level.

Vitamin D has been linked to lower cases of MS, reduced incidence and severity of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and so much more. All it takes is 15-20 minutes of sunlight a week and you are set.

So why is it that a study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination

Survey (NHANES), USA found that 9% (7.6 million) of children across the USA were Vitamin D deficient (defined as less than 15 ng/mL of blood), while another 61%, or 50.8 million, were Vitamin D insufficient (15 to 29 ng/mL)?

By the way, Canada is far worse – given our colder, longer winters with less opportunity for sunlight exposure. So what is going on? Cold weather, cloud cover and smog in bigger cities are a problem, but the big one; is over use of sunscreen.

We are taught, in fact, bullied into thinking that we have to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before we leave the house for any reason and should never be outside without a layer on. We are told to stay out of the sun and hide from it – which goes against our very instincts as mammals.

Getting past that, let’s have a good look at sunscreen, shall we? The main active ingredient in most screens is oxybenzone. Given that we know skin is the largest organ our body has, and that skin absorbs pretty much anything left on it, we should probably think about this chemical that we are slathering on every day all summer right?

Oxybenzone is a compound that absorbs solar radiation, it doesn’t really block it. A 2008 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the compound to be present in 96.8% of human urine samples analyzed as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

In Europe sunscreens have to have warning labels stating that it exists in the product. Research on rodents suggested that oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen, can penetrate the skin, may cause allergic reactions, and may disrupt the body’s hormones, producing harmful free radicals that may contribute to melanoma. But the folks that control the FDA say it is perfectly healthy for humans….

So we block the sun, which produces Vitamin D, which prevents cancer, by using something that possibly causes cancer in rodents. Interesting.

Over the years, several studies have already confirmed that appropriate sun exposure may even help prevent skin cancer. In fact, melanoma (the bad kind of skin cancer) occurrence has been found to decrease with greater sun exposure, and can be increased by sunscreens.

My top three tips for enjoying a healthy, happy summer are:

1- Do not burn. Burning is bad. If you are Caucasian, cover up or head inside as soon as your skin turns the slightest bit pink. At that point you are no longer making Vitamin D, and burning is imminent.

2- Find sunscreen with zinc or titanium minerals and healthy oils such as coconut, jojoba, sunflower or eucalyptus oil and use it appropriately to prevent burning, but allow for 15 minutes of sun each week.

3- Use clothing as the best sunscreen.

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.