If you are like me you are enjoying the summer sun more than ever this year.  The warm vibrant rays are calling us outdoors after many months of being confined inside the home. Although I am an advocate of daily fresh air and sunshine, I am also very wary of the need to protect our skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Exposing your bare arms and legs to direct sunshine several minutes a day is essential for vitamin D production, but if you are going to be in the sun for long periods of time it is important to safeguard your skin by covering up with clothes, hats or use of sunscreen.

However, finding a sunscreen that can both withstand the powerful UV radiation from the sun and is made with ingredients that are safe for our body and environment can be challenging.

Your skin is the body’s largest organ and is very effective at absorbing whatever it comes in contact with. Almost any product you lather onto your skin gets soaked up into the bloodstream and travels to every cell in the body. So when you are striving for optimal health, remember that what you put on your body is just as critical as what you put in your body. That is why it is important to educate yourself on the ingredients in sunscreen.

Here is what you need to know.

If you do a quick scan of the ingredient label on popular sunscreens you come across chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.   A study published in the JAMA last year showed that these ingredients are absorbed into the bloodstream, through your skin, in high enough levels that the FDA is now requiring manufacturers to study them further. 

The lack of safety data on these chemicals has left many concerns for harmful toxicity.  The few studies that have been done suggest that these chemicals may interact with our endocrine system altering sex and thyroid hormones and affecting reproduction.

After reviewing the existing data on the toxicity of these chemicals, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) states that the chemical oxybenzone is the most worrisome. It is known to cause allergic skin reactions and can interfere with the function of estrogen and testosterone in the body. 

Parabens are another chemical commonly found in personal care products and sunscreens. They are commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast, and molds in shampoos, lotions, makeup, and sun products. Parabens have also been cited for disrupting your hormones and potentially causing health problems. The good news is that many brands have recognized the cause for concern and will clearly label their products as ‘paraben-free. You can easily spot parabens in the list of the inactive ingredients because they all end in ‘….paraben.’

Want to spend a day in the sun, but avoid the burn?

Look for sunscreens made with minerals, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These sunscreens provide a physical sunblock as opposed to relying on a chemical reaction like the above chemical blockers. They don’t appear to get absorbed through the skin and provide safe broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection.  Try to look for a sunscreen that is free of parabens and fragrances as well.  

There are many sunscreens on the market that are now using zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredient. My favorite skincare company, Beauty Counter, has been making sunscreens and personal care products without toxic chemicals and parabens for years. They have a wide range of products including skincare, makeup, bath and body products, and of course, suncare.

Lastly, cover-up and/or find shade. There are many sun protective clothing options now on the market.  Many are designed to keep you cool and comfortable even when exercising outside in the summer sun. 

What if you get sunburned?

Sunburn is not a heat burn like what you’d get if you touched a hot stove but an actual radiation burn.  The UV radiation from the sun damages the DNA and sets off an immune response that produces redness, swelling, and pain.  To help the body repair the damage, turn to foods that are rich in antioxidants.

Six notable foods that have been shown to repair UV-damage skin:

  • Blueberries, especially wild blueberries are a powerful antioxidant that can combat free radicals from sun exposure.
  • Pomegranates have high antioxidant content and have also been found to offer anti-inflammatory benefits to the skin
  • Watermelon rich in lycopene which absorbs both UVA and UVB radiation
  • Carrots/sweet potatoes/leafy greens/cantaloupe are all excellent sources of beta carotene which not only protects against sun damage but also can help to reverse it
  • Green tea is packed with antioxidants and polyphenols to help your body repair any UV damage and reduce inflammation after a long day out in the sun
  • Almonds and other nuts and seeds contain high levels of vitamin E and selenium. Both are important antioxidants for the skin and can help neutralize the free radicals that cause inflammation and damage.

Why wait for the burn? If you know you are going to be spending an extended time in the sun, feature these foods into your daily day.  Start off the morning with a green smoothie blended with blueberries and your other favorite ingredients.  Snack on watermelon, cantaloupe, and nuts while sipping on iced green tea throughout the day.  

Remember, the sun is not our enemy. It has great healing powers and can deliver radiant health, but getting sunburned is harmful. This is why I recommend everyone to choose the best kind of sunscreen with the safest ingredients if they know that they’re at risk of getting a sunburn.

Additionally, take added steps to protect your skin by finding shade or covering up with light clothing when your skin begins to pinken, and don’t forget to replenish needed nutrients with skin nourishing foods!

Click here to learn more about my favorite sunscreen and toxin-free beauty products from Beauty Counter.

Susan Brady
is a Physical Therapist,
Nutrition Consultant and
Doctor of Integrative Medicine.
She has been treating women with osteoporosis for over 30 years and is dedicated to helping people achieve
lasting good health and vitality.

Want to learn more about how you can improve your bone health? Contact me for a free 15 minute phone consult to learn more about the BONES Method™ and how it can help you achieve strong, healthy bones for life!

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