Originally printed in At the Wedge. Reprinted by permission. -by Kelly Hagee
The harsh realities of too much sun exposure include skin cancer and premature aging, which have been clearly linked to time spent outdoors without protection. But is sun protection really just as simple as choosing a “good” sunscreen?
There are two types of sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens filter ultraviolet (UV) radiation before it reaches the skin, protecting it from specific types of radiation. UVA is responsible for tanning and is implicated in tumor formation. UVB rays cause sunburn and skin cell damage. No chemical sunscreen blocks 100 percent of UV radiation, so they are often combined and marketed as “full-spectrum.” These preparations are invisible on the skin and must be applied before sun exposure and reapplied frequently.
Physical sunscreens, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, reflect and scatter all types of UV rays by creating a barrier between skin and the sun. They give a white appearance to the skin and are effective when enough is applied to create a reflective surface. Physical sunscreens need to be used in ample amounts, and must be reapplied after swimming and sweating.
Sunscreens are rated with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF). This number, multiplied by the number of minutes it takes you to burn, gives you the total protection time of your chosen sunscreen. Putting on more sunscreen at the end of that time period does not give you more protection! Also, all types of sunscreen should be discarded after one year of use (two years if unopened).
Unfortunately, sunscreens may have a dark side. Many chemical sunscreens may be endocrine disrupters, that mimic or block hormones and disrupt the body’s normal functions. These chemicals have been found in surface and groundwater, soil and air, and may affect the liver and bone marrow of animals ingesting large amounts of contaminated water. Chemical sunscreens enter the water system when we swim or bathe, eventually winding up in fish, amphibians and marine wildlife and affecting their reproductive cycles. Titanium dioxide is a highly processed ingredient, and is mined using open pit “strip” mining technology (most zinc mines are underground), which can cause deforestation, erosion and water or air pollution.
Additionally, the “nanoparticles” of minerals that are now favored in physical sunscreens are new to our bodies and lack a safety track record. A 1996 study showed that if titanium dioxide particles are small enough, they can penetrate cells, leading to an accelerated photoreaction within the cells, generating free radicals and causing DNA damage after exposure to sunlight. Other studies on subjects who used sunscreens with microfine titanium dioxide daily for two to four weeks showed that the skin can indeed absorb these small particles.
Even the simple act of choosing a sunscreen can be complex. What to do? Remember tried-and-true options like covering ourselves with tightly woven clothing made of natural fibers and wearing wide-brimmed hats. Voluntarily limiting sun exposure between the peak hours of 10:00am and 2:00pm is a good tactic. But don’t forget that the sun is the best source of vitamin D, which may, among other things, protect against cancer. A few minutes of direct sun exposure every day is healthful, preferably not in peak hours.
You’ll need to assess your own risk for developing sun-related problems and choose accordingly. If you must use a high SPF that only a chemical sunscreen can offer, reduce your chemical exposure by using the least amount necessary to be effective. Choose one that is “full spectrum” for maximum protection.
Physical sunscreens with a larger particle size are the best option currently available. They do, however, leave a white film on the skin. Aubrey Organics, in particular, offers a wide selection of sunscreen formulas that contain minerals that have not been processed into “nanoparticles.” These would be especially recommended when you’re going to be swimming in lakes and rivers. After making an informed decision about what you put on your body, you can also make the connection between the ingredients in your sunscreen and their impact on the land!
Skin Care Tips
by Lisa Stag-Tout, Wellness Manager
In the March newsletter I wrote about taking care of your skin with a healthy diet and a few supplements. I also mentioned that I have a few external skin care routines and I wanted to share a few tips that will further help get your skin ready for summer.
In the shower I use exfoliating gloves. In addition to removing dead skin cells, I think it’s the easiest way to lather up a bar of soap. Using sisal, hemp or ayate washcloths or loofas would also serve the same purpose.
A few times a month, or more often if my skin needs it, I’ll use an exfoliating scrub. Sugar scrubs are really popular, but I have also enjoyed others that have rice, oatmeal or clay as ingredients. It’s best to use them at the end of the shower when dead, dry skin is easiest to slough off. Start off gently using a small circular motion.
The last thing I do before turning off the water is use a nailbrush on my toenails and pumice on the soles of my feet. Using a soapy nailbrush not only cleans the toenails, but also helps to maintain cuticles. This could help to prevent ingrown toenails. Pumice stones are great, but I have found that the foot file made by Earth Therapeutics is just as effective and much easier to use. It takes less than a minute to give each foot a once over.
Before I reach for the towel I apply body oil. I prefer oils to lotions and always apply oil before I dry off to seal in the most moisture possible. I don’t think you can get the same result by applying oils, or even lotion, to dry skin. (With most lotions though, it’s best to dry off after a shower while still being in the damp, steamy bathroom.) I have blended my own body oils for years but Weleda’s Birch Cellulite Oil is one that I’ve recently found works well on my skin. I can’t say for sure if it reduces cellulite or not, but after about three weeks, my skin does feel much smoother.
Sometimes I’ll use the body oil on my feet too, but my favorite foot balm is “Do Your Feet a Favor” by WS Badger, with Burt’s Bees Coconut Foot Crème a close second. Both of these are pretty heavy, greasy balms—just what you want to help soften calluses. You may want to wear a pair of cotton socks for a while.
Here’s a suggestion for making your own exfoliating scrub. You can make this as simple or as complex as you like and for just one application or several.
Start with 1/2 cup brown or white sugar and 1/4 cup oil—sweet almond, apricot kernel, sesame, jojoba—I like grapeseed but even olive is fine. Maybe add a few drops of a favorite essential oil too
If you want to experiment, try adding one or more of the following ingredients one tablespoon at a time. Then adjust the consistency by adding more oil until you get it to your liking.
- salt (may not be good for sensitive skin)
- green or bentonite clay
- almond meal (just finely grind a few almonds in a coffee grinder)
- oatmeal (also finely grind up in a coffee grinder)
- coffee grounds (said to eliminate cellulite)
- cocoa powder (smells yummy)
- aloe gel or juice
- lavender or other herbs finely ground
- yogurt or milk powder
If you’re not feeling ambitious enough for this creation, you can soften just your hands by putting about a teaspoon of sugar in your hand along with a little olive oil and use that as a quick treatment after cleaning the kitchen. Rinse well and enjoy.