Midsummer Sun Sense (healthy exposure, sunscreen chemicals, make your own)

Are you concerned about what sunscreen you’re using? What about its effectiveness and chemical ingredients? This year, Summer has been especially warm, with lots of bright sunshine right through until evening. Today is a cloudy day in Palmerston North, but Metservice is still posting a sun protection alert for between 9.10am and 5.40pm, because we can get burnt even on cloudy days. This is a longer period of the day than NZ skin cancer organisations generally advise, which is between 10am and 4pm.

From a natural health point of view there is a balance between getting a good dose of Vitamin D from the sun, and covering up to prevent skin cancer. We need Vitamin D for strong, healthy teeth, bones and immunity. This can be achieved by exposing our upper bodies (face, arms, chest) to the sun each day for 10-20 minutes, depending on your skin type, as follows:

Fair skin = 10 minutes per day.

Olive skin = 15 minutes per day.

Dark skin = 20 minutes per day.

There are many environmental and physiological variables that can affect Vitamin D synthesis from the sun, including season, time of day, cloud cover, latitude, gut, liver and kidney health, etc., so it is a good idea to source Vitamin D from foods as well, such as milk, cheese, oily fish, liver and egg yolks. Vitasoy Oat Milk ‘Bone Essentials’ is a non-dairy milk alternative fortified with Vitamin D. Cod Liver Oil and multivitamins are good dietary supplements for it.

In December 2017, Consumer NZ tested a range of popular sunscreens to see if they stood up to their claimed SPF factor and broad spectrum UV protection, (https://consumer.org.nz/articles/sunscreens). Three “all natural” sunscreens (Snowberry, Pure South and Pure Blend) failed to provide adequate sun protection and were withdrawn from the market. Oasis sunscreen failed to provide broad spectrum protection against UVA rays.

Most sunscreens contain a range of chemical sun filters and preservatives with unpronounceable names, which immediately sits uncomfortably with us Naturopaths. The American Environmental Working Group examined these ingredients in their 2017 sunscreen guide saying that they may mimic and interact with human sex and thyroid hormones, and cause allergic skin reactions. For many of them there is no information about their potential to cause cancer. Of existing data, the most worrisome ingredient is oxybenzone, which is a weak oestrogen. EWG have given it a hazard score of 8/10, closely followed by Octylmethoxycinnamate, which scored a 6. These chemicals have been found in mother’s milk, have hormone-like actions in the body and relatively high skin allergy (https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/#.WmE4fUxuKDs). They can be found in many New Zealand sunscreens and SPF moisturisers, including Banana Boat, Daylong, Neutrogena, Le Tan and Aveeno, so check the labels. Common brands which don’t contain them are Nivea, Cancer Society and Surf Life Saving.

The mineral ingredients found in sunscreens, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally considered safe and effective for use by all people. They sit on the skin and don’t penetrate it, although there are still concerns about new technology nano particles, which are ultrafine and do penetrate the skin, but results are still inconclusive. Most natural sunscreens use non-nano zinc oxide.

If you are looking for an effective all natural sun screen Soleo Organics and Badger brands are available at around $35 per 100gms, while Natural Instinct is $16 per 100gms. These contain around 20% non-nano zinc oxide and no artificial preservatives or chemical sun filters. They claim to, and meet SPF 30, which might seem insufficient, but isn’t because we should be reapplying any sunscreen every 2 hours anyway.

EWG provides some very good sun smart advice before you go out in the sun;

· Use shade, clothing, hats and sunglasses.

· Check the metservice UV index.

· Use sunscreen as a last resort.

Blogger, Wellness Mama, has a very good article about natural common sense around the sun, explaining the balance between sun protection and meeting our Vitamin D requirements. She takes Astaxanthin daily to help protect her skin from the inside, and spends a moderate amount of time in the sun without getting burnt. These are great natural measures, but we have particularly damaging sun rays here in New Zealand, compared to America so extra caution is needed.

Wellness Mama posts a good homemade sunscreen recipe on her website, using coconut oil, olive oil and beeswax carriers, zinc oxide, carrot seed oil and red raspberry seed oil as sun filters, and any non-citrus essential oil such as vanilla for fragrance (citrus oils enhance sun penetration). For the recipe, go to https://wellnessmama.com/2558/homemade-sunscreen/. The ingredients can be bought reasonably cheaply online in New Zealand from www.gonative.co.nz (for zinc oxide: NB take safety precautions not to inhale powder) and www.lotusoils.co.nz (for carrot seed & raspberry seed oils). Homemade sunscreen could be a cost-effective sun protectant used in combination with shade and proper clothing at home, and could potentially generate a lot of fun activities for the kids around being sunsmart. For example, sunscreen and leaf skeletons on UV light sensitive paper, (bought from https://thegardenparty.co.nz/products/details/sunart), can be used to make sun art, and to compare the effects of the sun in various places around home (full sun, shade, behind window glass, behind the car windscreen, a glass of water, sunglasses, under clothing, at different times of day, using different types of sunscreens etc).

However, if you’re heading out anywhere in New Zealand for the day this summer, I would take a commercially made sunscreen with scientifically proven SPF and broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection that doesn’t contain potentially hormone disrupting chemicals.

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