For the past few years the common sense and knowledge about spending time in the sun has been: lots of sunscreen, if possible applied thirty minutes before going out of the house, for the best protection. These are the recommendations of The Skin Cancer Foundation and we all tend to respect them the best we can. We walk around with the sunscreen in our bags, our children never make it out in the “wild” without complete coverage. However, if we prefer not to take the recommendation just as it is, but think about it some more, we realize that all is not that simple.
First of all, let’s consider what exactly we put on our skin and what other effects that can have. Most of the products widely available in supermarkets and basically everywhere you go, contain harmful chemicals. That is a concern. But it is not enough. Many of them protect the skin only from sunburn (UVB rays) but do not offer real UVA protection, UVA being the rays linked to skin cancer. More information about these aspects you can find on the Skin Deep, Cosmetic Database created by the Environmental Working Group. But the sunscreen companies don’t stop there. They keep increasing the SPF protection number shown on the bottle, knowing that appeals to customers. It has reached a point where that number doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Now, if you choose carefully, we can find sunscreens that are both safe and protective. We can happily slather ourselves in the natural goo and go outside with no worries. But things are still not as simple as that.
Due to the over-use of sunscreens in the late years, the scientists observed an increase of Vitamin D deficiency. You know, this is produced by our bodies through exposure to the sun. Lack of Vitamin D can cause serious health problems (among which a number of cancers, but also depression and mental illness) and now researchers are actually recommending mid-day sun exposure for at least fifteen minutes for all of us. How does that reconcile with applying sunscreen half an hour before leaving the house?
Another argument that makes a lot of sense to me is that all the sunscreen does is allow us to ignore the body’s natural signals that let us know when it’s time to get out of the sun. Following this reasoning, the sunscreens are the ones causing melanoma, instead of protecting us from it.
And if you don’t know which side to believe, to me the money aspect always makes sense: who has to profit from the use of sunscreen and is there any profit for anyone in people’s basic exposure to sun? Did you know that the sunscreens are just a re-named, differently marketed tanning lotions? Did you know that before the 1970s there were not common at all and the ’70s were the time when the tanning lotions began to be widely used, and allowed people longer exposure to the sun? Just read this article from Mother Jones called Sunscam.
With all the confusing information out there, it is very hard to take a decision for ourselves. Especially if we had skin cancer in the family, or children with very light skin who seem to burn before they get out of the house. But I think that as long as we are informed and take the best decision for ourselves, then we’re good.
I did buy a natural and effective sunscreen as recommended by the Skin Deep site. I also plan to use plain coconut oil (more info on coconut oil uses here) or olive oil at times, because it does seem to offer natural sun protection. But mostly I plan to use long sleeved clothing like I’ve seen people use in India, cover our heads and generally stay out of the sun when it burns. No sun bathing for us, but no sun fear either.