Sunshine – The Universal Giver of Life
Summer is in full swing and many of us are spending more and more time outdoors. This often means slathering on the sunscreen. We’ve all been told that overexposure to the Sun’s rays can cause, not only burns, but increased risk of skin cancer. But has anyone ever told you that the chemicals found in the sunscreens themselves can also increase the risk of certain cancers? More people are using sunscreen than ever before and we are seeing “higher-quality” products appearing in the markets per the demands of the consumer yet the incidence of skin cancer in the US and other countries continues to rise (Aceituno-Madera 2010, Jemal 2008, Osterlind 1992).
In this chemical day and age, our bodies’ detoxification systems are easily overloaded. During the sunnier months, one need also factor in the large amounts of sunscreen being repeatedly applied (up to 35% of sunscreen applied to skin can pass through the skin and enter the bloodstream – Maibach, H. “NDELA-Percutaneous Penetration.” FDA Contract 223-75-2340, May 19, 1978) AND the longer the sunscreen is left on the skin, the greater the absorption of the chemicals into the body. (Bronaugh, R.L., et al. “The effect of cosmetic vehicles on the penetration of N-nitrosodiethanolamine through excised human skin, J Invest Dermatol; 1981; 76(2): 94-96.)
There are various factors that may increase susceptibility to penetration and absorption of toxins and chemicals into our skin and bloodstream:
- thinner skin areas – bikini region, scalp, forehead, abdomen, underarm.
- injured or damaged skin – wounds, open skin, rashes, infections, skin conditions (psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis herpetiformis, etc.)
- children – skin is immature and sensitive
- women – usually have a higher ratio of body fat than men, which tends to aid in the accumulation of toxins and chemicals
- elderly – often encounter a mild deterioration of the skin, reducing it’s efficiency as a barrier.
- hydration and warmth of skin – cause cells to expand and absorption capacity to increase.
- heat – also causes cells to expand and absorption capacity to increase. (aerobic exercise, sauna, massage, heat of day, hot tub, etc.)
Once you’ve considered where you fall along the spectrum of susceptibility, you will next want to consider the type of chemical and the potential hazard you are being exposed to. Here are the more common toxic ingredients found in sunscreen products (via LisaRussell.org):
- Homosalate (Moderate Hazard) – aUVB protector, weak hormone disruptor, forms toxic metabolites, and can enhance the penetration of a toxic herbicide, restricted in Japan for cosmetics, enhances skin absorption of toxins
- Octinoxate (Moderate Hazard) – most widely used sunscreen ingredient, known for its low potential to sensitize skin or act as a photo-allergen, estrogenic effects are noted in laboratory animals as well as disruption of thyroid hormone and brain signaling, produces excess reactive oxygen species (free radicals containing oxygen) that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, lead to cell death and may be implicated in cardiovascular disease, ingredient is suspected or measured to accumulate in people.
- Oxybenzone (High Hazard)– associated with photo-allergic reactions, absorbs through the skin in significant amounts, outlawed in Japan, produces excess reactive oxygen species (free radicals containing oxygen) that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, lead to cell death and may be implicated in cardiovascular disease.
- Octisalate (Moderate Hazard)– weak UVB absorber with a generally good safety profile among sunscreen ingredients, a penetration enhancer, which may increase the amount of other ingredients passing through skin.
- Zinc Oxide (Low to High Risk)– little absorption and no adverse health effects are reported, some sunscreens with zinc contain nano-particles which do not penetrate skin but may pose toxicity concerns if INhaled (like in SPRAY SUNSCREEN) or in the environment. (One or more animal studies show brain and nervous system effects at high doses and skin irritation at moderate doses.)
- Titanium Dioxide (Low to High Risk)– appears safe for use on skin due to low penetration, but inhalation is a concern. Some titanium sunscreens (SPRAY SUNSCREEN) contain nano-size particles, which may have greater toxicity to body tissues and environment.
- Octocrylene (Moderate Hazard)– may be used in combination with other UV absorbers to achieve higher SPF formulas, produces oxygen radicals when exposed to UV light, restricted in cosmetics (recommendations or requirements) – use, concentration, or manufacturing restrictions – Japan – restricted for use in cosmetics (concentration limit).
- Padimate-O (Moderate Hazard)– derivative of the once-popular PABA sunscreen ingredient, releases free radicals, damages DNA, has estrogenic activity, causes allergic reactions in some people, restricted in Japan…
- Ensulizole (Moderate Hazard)– UVB protector, produces free radicals when exposed to sunlight leading to damage of DNA, may have the potential to cause cancer, restricted in Japan.
- Meradimate (Low Hazard)– moderately effective UVA protector not permitted for use in Europe or Japan, produces damaging reactive oxygen species (free radicals containing oxygen) when exposed to sunlight.
Add to these mounting concerns, maybe you have a food allergy or sensitivity like me and need to be diligent about label reading. Now, you might be asking, “What does sunscreen have to do with food allergies or sensitivities?” Well, let’s break it down a little:
- our skin is our largest organ of absorption and elimination – there is much debate about the ability of the skin to actually absorb gluten molecules, and while science seems to state that there is little concern here, I am going to listen to my “gut” and go with the experience of others who are gluten-sensitive and err of the side of caution.
- damaged tissue – our skin “barrier” is more vulnerable to penetration and absorption of toxins (and thus gluten molecules) when tissues have been compromised.
- nose and sinus – the mucus membranes of our nose and sinuses are lined with blood vessels that enhance the absorption of airborne gluten.
Finding a safe sunscreen can be difficult, even moreso for those that suffer from gluten allergies or sensitivities. So here is a compilation of some of Environmental Working Group’s (EWG)Best (Safest) Products w/SPF (via A Gluten Free Vegan Mom Who Knows). These products are all Gluten Free and manufactured in Gluten Free Facilities. The EWG ratings are given for specific sunscreens. DO NOT rely on brand name alone! Do your research – contact the company directly if you have questions or concerns, as companies change their ingredients and suppliers frequently.
- Blue Lizard (EWG: 2)– Australian Suncream, Sensitive, SPF 30+ and Baby Australian Suncream, SPF 30+
- California Baby (EWG: 1 & 2)
- Dermagenics (EWG: 1) – Sun Savvy Solar Shield, SPF 20
- Kabana Skin Care (EWG: 1) – Green Screen Organic Sunscreen Fragrance Free, SPF 20 and Green Screen Organic Sunscreen, Skin Tone Tinted, SPF 22
- Keys Soap (EWG: 1) – Solar Rx Cosmetic Moisturizing Sunblock, SPF 30
- Loving Naturals (EWG: 1)
- Maui Natural Organics (EWG: 1 & 2) – Surfer Honey Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30 & 15 (respectively)
- Poofy Organics (EWG: 1) – “The” Sunscreen, SPF 30 (“The only products that are NOT gluten free are the ones that use wheat germ oil. However, those specific products are made using separate utensils, etc.” (email: 01 July 2011)
- SanRe Organic Skinfood (EWG: 1)
- Soleil Organique (EWG: 2, 3 & 4) – 100% Mineral Sunblock for Body, SPF 45 (the only one rated at 2)
- Sunumbra (EWG: 2) – Natural Sunscreen Organic Ingredients, SPF 30
- Tropical Sands (EWG: 1, 2 & 3)
- True Natural Cosmetics (EWG: 1 & 2) – All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 40 and All Natural Daily Moisturizer, SPF 20 (respectively)
Find a sunscreen you feel confident with and use commonsense when you are out in the Sun. While no one wants to deal with the consequences of sunburn, many doctors recommend spending time outside without sunscreen and with minimal clothing (which can mean shorts and a t-shirt) between the hours of 10am and 3pm, a minimum of 2-3 times a week, for 5-10 minutes, and as much as 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes. The Sun is crucial in helping the body to manufacture vitamin D, the “Sunshine vitamin”, a vital nutrient for the proper function of our body, regulation of many organs, glands and systems, especially our immune system. Sunscreen will block this ability.
Getting out in the Sun on a more consistent basis (along with a healthy diet and lifestyle) may allow us to rebuild our tolerance and our body’s natural ability to handle the Sun’s warming rays. We’ve become an “indoor” society – let’s move LIFE back outdoors and reap the physiological rewards the Sun and Mama Nature have to offer!