Buzz About Sunblock and Sunlight Exposure

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By Aja Uranga-Foster

Do you get enough sunlight? Do you get too much? How do you get healthy doses of sunlight, and how much does your body need?

There is buzz in the media this season about the potentially harmful effects of popular packaged sunblock ingredients on our bodies. As a wellness coach, I've heard from several concerned clients wondering what sunblocks to use. And I’ve seen online posts from people talking about whether or not to use sunblock at all anymore, and whether the perceived danger from sunblock is just hype.

The sunblock discussion is centered around 2 main points:

1) Whether the chemical ingredients are carcinogenic. The Environmental Working Group identifies oxybenzone and retinyl palminate as the main ingredients to avoid.

2) Whether reduced sun exposure from wearing sunblock leads to potentially harmful vitamin D deficiency.

Interesting facts about our skin:

1) The Harvard School of Public Health (and other health/wellness orgs) recommends 15 minutes of unprotected (no sunblock) sunlight each day for the most vitamin D benefits, without the risks of negative effects. Real sunlight, NOT tanning bed "sunlight."

2) Your skin is your biggest organ. It is an effective barrier to protect the body, but it absorbs any molecules which are small enough to move through the skin. Transdermal delivery of medicine through the skin via "patches" is an example of this. Research is showing some ingredients in many sunblock brands are small enough to pass through the skin's barrier.

Thus, it is clear we do need sunlight daily, but not very much of it. Also, it’s important to be aware that your skin can absorb chemicals just from touching them.

If you have a job or hobby outdoors that requires daily sunblock to avoid sunburn, the sunblock discussion can be frustrating. But don’t despair! Use the information to your benefit, and find the best course of action for yourself. There are a variety of sunblock ingredients available from different brands, so do your homework to find which is best for your lifestyle. To get your research started, an example of a natural sunblock you can make at home is at WellnessMama.com, and the link mentioned above for Environmental Working Group lists examples. Talk to your health practitioner or dermatologist about all the options.

Getting sunlight through food:

There is one more very important way to get your daily dose of sunlight. Through your mouth! When you eat plant foods, especially raw ones, you are eating sunlight that has been processed by the plant to become edible. So much variety, so many leaves, so many colors.



Conclusion:

So, load up your plate with plants, and make an informed decision about how much sun to get and what kind of sunblock is best for you. And do your best to get around 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure per day to support adequate vitamin D3 production. Enjoy the sun this summer!

Other references:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2700785/

http://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun/sunscreen-safety-labels-ingredients

http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/16/health/sunscreen-report/index.html

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