LaVie Organique Skincare Blog

All posts in category "sun protection"

How to Optimize Sun Protection Through Seasonal Eating

As summer approaches, I’ll be focusing my diet on helping my body cope with this season’s biggest environmental challenge: sun exposure.
Ultraviolet radiation causes free radical damage, a series of cellular changes associated with premature aging and serious diseases, including cancer. By eating foods that are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, we can help prevent these damaging changes from occurring. While this dietary strategy isn’t meant to replace external sun protection like hats and a natural mineral sun block, it should be added to your summertime health practices to ensure a complete approach to sun safety.
The following list highlights five of the best foods for protecting yourself against the risks of sun exposure this summer.

Tomatoes are one of the summer foods that offer natural sun protection. Image: graur razvan ionut; FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tomatoes – A British study suggests that the antioxidant lycopene found in tomatoes acts as an internal sunscreen. Study subjects who ate 5 tablespoons of tomato paste a day for 12 weeks were found to have 30% more protection against sunburn than those who did not. A plate of fresh sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and vinegar and sprinkled with fresh basil is a delicious source of this natural sun protection.
Mushrooms – Several species of mushrooms are high in selenium, an antioxidant mineral that counteracts free radical damage. Selenium also works together with vitamin E to help prevent the aging effects of inflammation. Choose crimini, portabella, or white mushrooms to maximize the selenium content of my favorite summer risotto.
Fatty fish – A piece of grilled, steamed, or broiled fatty fish such as salmon or tuna provides a hearty dose of omega-3 fatty acids.  According to a recent study at the University of Manchester, these essential fatty acids may help prevent skin cancer by reducing the negative impact of sunlight on the immune system.
Carrots – In addition to neutralizing free radicals, the beta carotene in carrots may also reduce sensitivity to the sun. Raw carrots are the perfect choice when you crave a crunchy summer snack.
Greens – From fresh herbs like parsley and basil to spinach, chard, and other dark green leafy vegetables, this diverse range of foods is another plentiful source of beta carotene. Greens are also packed with polyphenols, which combine antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. To find enticing ideas for adding greens to your summertime meals, stay tuned to our Facebook page.

Sunscreen Scare Stories: Should You Be Worried?

Do Sunscreens Cause Cancer? Science fiction vs scientific fact Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Like most concerns about consumer product safety, the public’s emerging fears about sunscreen’s possible dark side didn’t come out of nowhere. The original source is a simple statistical observation: Since 1935, the average lifetime risk of melanoma has jumped from 1 in 500 to 1 in 5. During that time, both the use and SPF numbers of sunscreens have also soared. Sunscreen skeptics cite the simultaneous rise in these two trends as evidence that sunscreen may be carcinogenic. But while the appearance of a connection between these two trends may hint at a worthwhile avenue for scientist to explore, there’s a big difference between an intriguing clue to a broader understanding of skin cancer risks and statistically significant evidence that sunscreens cause skin cancer.

So if you’re on the brink of swearing off sunscreen – don’t. Although questions about how sunscreens actually work remain, the solid evidence needed to directly link their physical effects on the skin to cancerous cell mutations, or to rule out more logical causes for rising melanoma rates, just isn’t there. Does that mean the apparent correlation between these statistics is pure coincidence? Not necessarily.

 

What the Skin Cancer Statistics May Be Telling Us

Most scientists attribute the ongoing climb of skin cancer to the interplay of a variety of changing social, public health, and environmental conditions. Many of these contributing factors, including longer life spans, the widespread popularity of suntans, the thinning ozone layer, and skimpy clothing styles, are totally unrelated to the effects of sunscreen on our skin. According to a National Institute of Science report, however, common misperceptions about sunscreen, also rank high on the current list of likely suspects.

 

Playing the SPF Numbers Game: Proceed with Caution

While marketers continue to point to their high SPF sunscreens as effective skin cancer prevention, recent research suggests that these reassuring numbers may be endangering our health. To sun worshippers and tanning booth addicts, an SPF 50+ looks like green light to ramp up their risky behavior. If they see the long-term health implications of their habits at all, it’s through a haze of misleading advertising claims and popular misconceptions.

Part the problem is a widespread misunderstanding about sun protection factor (SPF) numbers. Many people, for instance, believe that a product SPF of 30 is twice as effective in preventing UV absorption as an SPF of 15. In fact, the difference in absorption rate is only about 3.4 to 4%. In fact, SPF numbers are supposed to serve as guide to the length of time an individual can stay in the sun without getting sunburned.

Theoretically, then, a person whose unprotected skin burns in 10 minutes could extend that time to 150 minutes by using an SPF 15 sunscreen. However, these numbers are based on tests performed under ideal conditions. In practice, most of us only about half the amount of sunscreen required to achieve this degree of protection and seldom comply with recommendations to reapply it at least every 2 hours.

Does Your Sun Protection Deliver Full Coverage?

This dangerous overconfidence in sunscreen also comes from misleading marketing claims. Recent consumer research indicates that many so-called ultra-high SPF, “broad spectrum coverage” sunscreens actually provide little or no protection against the long-term damage cause by UVA radiation. Likewise manufacturers who label their products “waterproof” are overlooking the fact that all sunscreens degrade in water.

Are All Sunscreens Ingredients Equally Safe?

Some recent studies have raised doubts about the safety of several common sunscreen ingredients. Preliminary research data on oxybenzone, for instance, suggest it may be linked to increased risk of cancer and hormonal disorders.

Natural: The Latest Word on Safe, Effective Sunscreens

The fact that some brands of sunscreens fail to live up to their promises is no reason to dismiss them all as worthless or risky. A recent Environmental Working Group report rated natural mineral sun blocks as the best of all product options. Micronized particles of minerals such as zinc oxide physically shield the skin surface from UVA/UVB radiation without penetrating into deeper cell layers. In addition to providing safe, effective broad-spectrum coverage, zinc oxide helps reduce acne flares and heal skin irritations, maximizing the bright side of your sun protection routine.

Dazed and Confused About Sun Protection?

This recent comment from a reader raised some excellent questions about one of the most vital aspects of a healthy seasonal skincare routine:

What about wearing sunscreen in the winter? I saw an article that said wearing it this time of year could lead to a vitamin D deficiency. Is that true? Also one of my friends insists that skin cancer rates have actually gone up since people started wearing sun protection—and that sunscreen is full of “poisons.” There seems to be a lot of disagreement and confusion surrounding this whole issue. I’d really appreciate a professional opinion!

sunscreen controversy

The best cure for confusion about sun exposure is is reliable information. Image: Now and Zen Photography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Balanced Perspective on Sun Protection

For today’s skincare consumers, the search for definitive answers to these questions can get pretty frustrating. New and contradictory opinions about the risks and benefits of sunscreens seem to pop up in the media almost daily. One of my goals as a skincare educator is help you make informed decisions about this growing multitude of competing and conflicting claims about your health and beauty practices and the personal care products you use.  Let’s start by looking beyond the hype and the headlines to what the scientific evidence is really saying…

Should sunscreen be worn in the winter?

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the National Institutes of Health (DIH) continue to recommend wearing sunscreen all year-round. Substantial evidence supports the wisdom of this advice. Repeated studies by leading research institutions confirm that incremental cell damage occurs with each exposure to solar radiation. That means even the low doses we absorb in the winter and on cloudy and rainy days can increase our risk of cancer and accelerate the development of wrinkles, brown spots, and other visible signs of aging.

wintertime sunscreen use

Gray winter days don't rule out the need for sun protection. Image: Boaz Yiftach / FreeDigitalPhotos

Does that mean our skin should never be exposed to sunlight?

Not according to current scientific opinion. Unless you’re literally allergic to sunlight, a mole-like existence isn’t really a healthy alternative. Sunshine plays an important role in helping our bodies synthesize vitamin D, a vital nutrient that helps not only maintain strong bones, but also regulate cellular, neuromuscular, and immune functioning.

Do I need to risk bone disease and other serious health problems to save my skin?

Not at all. The amount of sun exposure our bodies need to manufacture adequate levels of vitamin D is relatively small. According to the National Institute of Health’s (NIH’s) most recent fact sheet on this subject, most people require approximately 5–30 minutes of sun exposure of an area of your body such as your arms, legs, or back at least twice a week without sunscreen. To estimate a reasonable amount of exposure for yourself, consider the amount of melanin (the brown pigment that reduces UV absorption) in your skin, the time of day, weather conditions, and other factors that affect the sun’s intensity.

While I advise always wearing sun block on your face to keep visible sun damage at bay, that doesn’t mean being wrapped up in hats and scarves during a long, hard winter will put you at serious risk of a vitamin D deficiency. According to the NIH, “ample opportunities exist to form vitamin D (and store it in the liver and fat) from exposure to sunlight during the spring, summer, and fall months even in the far north latitudes.”

The NIH fact sheet also makes another important point. Scientists have yet to reach a consensus about how much vitamin D we need to stay healthy. Likewise, the issue of which factors play the dominant role in determining the vitamin D levels in our bloodstream remains open to debate. (I’ll say more about vitamin D and sun exposure in a future post.)

Do sunscreens provide safe, effective sun protection?

The weight of scientific evidence supports the inclusion of sunscreen in your total defense system against UVR-induced skin damage. But while sunscreen may be a useful adjunct to your sun safety practices, it’s not meant to serve as a replacement for reliable commonsense measures, including wearing a hat and protective clothing, staying in the shade, and avoiding exposure during the hottest part of the day.

Is there any truth to recent media reports claiming that using sunscreen actually does more harm than good?

The real story behind the sensational headlines not only raises a variety of complex questions but also points to some potential answers that may surprise you. In my next blog spot, you’ll learn why viewing the sunscreen issues in terms of black and white can lead to risky health decisions.

Find out more about the safety and efficacy of sunscreen in my next post.