I started this summer bragging about how tan I can get. My skin is a fair and light, with freckling, and splashes of pink here and there. Ohh but if I have a nice roast I get a deep russet. Then I started to research what sun screen is the best. Which one is the least toxic to my body while I sizzle in my beach chair and work on my bronze. What I came across shook me to my core. Articles titled “Sunscreen Causes Cancer!”, “Skin Cancer, A Disease of Affluence”.
New summer plan: An umbrella. A Hat. A shady spot during the peak hours of the day.
OK, but what about that tan. And the river adventure that provides no options for shade. What then? I have spent my summer in the shade reading articles every where, and glaring at the sunblock on the counter like some evil spawn that has lied to me my whole life.
All I could find were articles about the link between sunscreen usage and skin cancer rates. Looking deeper none of the scientific studies are conclusive as to why the rise in sunscreen use is directly proportional to the rise in skin cancer rates. The finger pointing is undeniable that tanning beds (1), and tanning oils have a direct link to skin cancer. Your risk can go up by as much as 75% for Melanoma with the use of tanning beds. Tanning Oils they say work like a magnifying glass on your skin, and hastens up the damage, causing frequent sunburns. There is also a strong link between skin cancer risk and frequency of sun burns. Which makes sense.
Then I came across this article citing studies that show across the board in all cancers, patients with a Vitamin D deficiency died quicker with more aggressive forms of Cancer. And that Vitamin D Deficiency can increase your risk of developing cancer, including skin cancer. (2) The studies also when on to say that Vitamin D Supplementation is not advised because toxicity can be just as deadly, and time in the sun is advised.
Wait a minute Stop Right There, we are saying don’t go in the sun because of cancer, and at the same time go in the sun to prevent cancer.
After Gary Nulls got sick from over dosing on Vitamin D, we learned all about Vitamin D toxicity and that supplementation is not the best route to go. (3) The way our body processes Vit D, our bodies will absorb every milligram we consume. Which in the wild makes sense. It is only available in very small amounts, and only in animal products. Your average north american needs to consume about a gallon of fortified milk DAILY, to maintain good vitamin D Levels. More if you have a gray winter. This just does not seem natural. And you should probably get your blood levels tested because toxicity can make you just as ill if not more so then deficiency. This just does not work realistically in any one’s life.
So yes, we all know we can get it from the sun. And this is the fun part. Direct sun for 15-45 mins about every few days can provide all of the Vitamin D you need. This is how the animals absorb it, from which we get it in our food. Further evidence that sun exposure is the best source for Vitamin D, is that it is impossible to get Vit D toxicity from sun bathing. Once your body has what it needs it stops absorbing. Coincidentally, while your body is absorbing, your skin naturally protects itself from sun burn. As soon as you have what you need, you begin to over tan, and burn. The more often your are exposed to this period of burning, the more at risk you are for skin cancer.
Scientists following the Vitamin D Deficiency, Skin Cancer link, are starting to point fingers not at sunscreen, but at our own behaviors of what they are calling sunscreen abuse. Using sunscreen to allow yourself a false sense of security to spend long hours exposed to the sun during peak hours. OR wearing sunscreen on every piece of exposed skin every time we are outside, never allowing our skin exposure to a full spectrum of the sun’s radiation. Sunscreen is essentially slowing down the time it takes for our skin to absorb vitamin D, which comes from the UV B rays. Thus delaying the time it takes for that burn to start. As sunblock gets better and better at blocking UV B rays, it gets better and better at blocking absorption of Vitamin D. Causing Vitamin D deficiencies and higher risk for cancer.
OK so my advice, go in the sun and play! Try and get out there every few days, at least 4x a week. Be exposed for 30 mins. Find what time is right for you. How long does it take for you to burn. Then set a timer when you go out, and keep and eye out for any redness, then jump under your umbrella and get your sunscreen on. Sunscreen should have protection from UV A and UV B. The UV A needs to be blocked because of some science that I don’t really understand yet, but is blamed for wrinkles and aging. The best sunblocks use Zinc Oxide, as a lot of the chemicals used in sunscreen have not passed a lot of standards proving their safety due to some FDA loops holes allowing them to enter the market while in certain phases of testing to prevent too big of a back log in products waiting for approval.
So the conclusion. Sun shine in the amount that is right for you in your area, during all times of the year. When you are going to be out high summer 12-4 pm slather on Zinc Oxide based sunscreen with both UV B and UV A, to prevent your sunburns. Avoid tanning beds, and tanning oils. Love the Sun!
1. IARC, “The Association of Use of Sunbeds with Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers: A Systematic Review,” International Journal of Cancer 120, no. 5(2006): 1116 – 1122)
2.http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/278323.php, “Study Links Vitamin D Deficiency to ‘All-cause Mortality and Cancer Prognosis’, ” Medical News Today 18,June(2014), Honor Whiteman