Should I use sunscreen? What about my Vitamin D? If I use sunscreen, what should I use? How often should I reapply? What SPF should I use? What about the chemicals, aren’t they just as bad? The list of questions can be boggling.
If you want to bronze while getting Vitamin D, get out in the sun for 15-20 minutes (torso exposed) without sunscreen, 2-3 days per week. Then, get dressed and cover up. Once you are out of the sun, a cool shower will remove the heat from your skin and reduce your likelihood of burning. After drying off, spray yourself with a mixture of aloe vera, lavender and eucalyptus diluted in water (30 drops of essential oils per 2.5 ounces of water in a spray bottle) over all sun affected areas. If you use aloe fresh from a plant, use approximately 2 tablespoons in this mixture. Lastly, have a glass of red wine to finish!
If you plan on being in the sun for longer than 15-20 minutes, apply sunscreen.
If you would like more sunscreen tips and advice, see below.
What about Vitamin D?
Sunlight, specifically UV-B, is the most efficient way of getting Vitamin D without risk of Vitamin D toxic overload. Supplementation is great but you may have to take large doses. Almost all Vitamin D is produced within your first 20 minutes of sun exposure; after 20 minutes, your skin makes very little Vitamin D, especially if a large surface area of skin is exposed. This means that after 20 minutes, you should protect yourself from further exposure.
What you may not understand about sunscreen.
SPF, or sun protection factor indicates the amount of time that it will take for you to burn. SPF focused ingredients, especially older formulations, typically only block burn-causing UV-B rays.
The number on the SPF label is a multiplier. For example, if you normally burn in 15 minutes under specific conditions, then under those same conditions it would take you 300 minutes to burn using an SPF of 20. However, even the most water resistant sunscreen can’t resist sweat. Your sweat actually pushes the sunscreen off from the inside out (don’t you wish you pots and pans could do that?). Under normal tanning conditions, the average person will have sweat off most of their sunscreen in two hours and nearly all of it in three hours. An SPF of 25 (which would get you 6.5 hours without a burn, despite your normal 15 minute roast time) is useless unless you reapply every two hours.
The second problem is that SPF offers no UV-A protection. UV-A is the part of sunlight that makes you tan, but also affects deeper layers of skin and causes an increase in risk for specific cancers. So for all-around protection, you need a blend of ingredients that protect from UV-A and UV-B. Most sunscreens over SPF 30 will offer good UV-B ray protection but poor UV-A protection. Research suggests that the best all around sunscreens have an SPF around 25 and offer UV-A protection (indicated by a new UV-A label).
What ingredients should a good sunscreen contain?
The best are modern broad spectrum UV filters: BEMT (Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine), DHHB (Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate), DTS (Drometrizole Trisiloxane), MBBT (Methylene Bis-Benzotriazolyl Tetramethylbutylphenol), TDSA (Methylene Bis-Benzotriazolyl Tetramethylbutylphenol), TiO2 (Titanium Dioxide) and ZnO (Zinc Oxide).
The zinc and titanium compounds are actually natural (though they are now offered in nano sized particles for better protection), and are common in natural sunscreens.
The product should never contain Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate (EHMC) as it causes the product to be unreliable.
What about natural products?
First, don’t worry too much about the nano-particles in natural products. Particle size has little effect on toxicity. The two most common, and probably most important ingredients for a natural sunscreen are TiO2 and ZnO. Both are minerals that block UV light (all rays). Other common and effective ingredients are essential oils, particularly aloe, lavender and eucalyptus. You may also see extracts of green tea and even resveratrol.
All of those essentials oils and extracts work topically to reduce free radicals. All of them are skin protecting, but very little research shows any sun screening or sun blocking properties. They work to reduce free radical damage, meaning they offer faster healing rates when you do get burned and they also help prevent skin cancer. Anyone that has ever used pure aloe vera on a burn of any sort can attest to the faster healing rate.
Aloe vera and lavender are the best for burn prevention and healing, especially when applied post sun exposure.
Resveratrol used topically or orally is highly effective for prevention of skin cancers. This may explain why the French have a much lower skin cancer occurrence than much of the rest of the world (wine consumption).