Nothing is better than a gorgeous sunny day. But as a skin cancer survivor, take it from me – being aware of sun safety is critical.  Here are some key facts and tips you and your family should be aware of before you head outdoors this season for fun in the sun.

Ultraviolet light from the sun comes in two main wavelengths -- UVA and UVB. It is vital for you to understand the difference between them, and the risk factors associated with each. Both UVA and UVB can cause tanning and burning, although UVB does so far more rapidly.  UVA rays, however, penetrate deeper into the dermis, the thickest layer of the skin and causes more free radical damage leading to signs of premature aging of the skin such as wrinkling and age spots. Not only that, but UVA rays are quite constant during ALL hours of daylight throughout the entire year.

By comparison, UVB waves are low in morning and evening and high at midday. The UVB rays are the sun’s burning rays and are the primary cause of sunburn. That being said, it is UVB that helps your skin produce vitamin D, a vitamin that plays a crucial role in your overall health and wellbeing (see note below).

Fortunately, there are all-natural ways to protect yourself from sunburn that you can use instead of resorting to commercial sunscreens that contain toxins and other harsh synthetic chemicals. The most obvious and safest option is to put on a long sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat once you have reached your limit of safe sun exposure. Another option is to apply a sunscreen that contains natural active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  These natural ingredients provide both UVA and UVB protection by reflecting and scattering away both UVA and UVB rays from your body. Quite simply, they do it by forming a physical barrier, without irritating or clogging your pores, like other sunscreens do.

Here are a few more smart-sunning tips:

1.    Consume a diet full of antioxidants, this both contributes to a healthy diet and provides your body with the resources to counter damage from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Fresh, raw, unprocessed foods deliver nutrients that your body needs to maintain a healthy balance of omega 6 and omega 3 oils in your skin, which is your first line of defense against sunburn. 

2.    If you are regularly consuming processed foods and your cells are loaded up mostly with damaged, oxidized fats, you are not giving your skin the proper fat protection and this can lead to burns and cancer.

3.    Also, make sure to wear a cap with a visor to protect your face and eyes from direct sunlight, along with enough clothing to protect your skin from direct sun contact. Most cotton clothing will provide you with about SPF 15.

Choosing the right sunscreen for you:

All sunscreens are not created equal. A study in the April 2004 Journal of Chromatography found that there was significant penetration into the skin of all sunscreen agents they studied. And slathering these chemicals onto your skin may in fact be worse for your health than if you were to ingest them, as they go straight into your blood stream from your skin.

Many sunscreens use harmful chemicals. Here are three red-flag products to avoid:

 1. Contains oxybenzone- 65% of sunscreens contains oxybenzone. This chemical penetrates your skin in large amounts and is known to be an endocrine-disruptor (causing hormone disruption and cellular damage).  Researchers writing in the journal The Lancet have advised against using this chemical on children and say it is “prudent not to apply oxybenzone to large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time unless no alternative protection is available”.

2. Contains retinyl palmitate- the sunscreen industry uses vitamin A in its formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that is thought to slow skin aging. However, a FDA study found that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when used in sunscreen and therefore exposed to sunlight, may actually speed the development of skin lesions and tumours.

3. Inadequate UVA protection- Until very recently all sunscreens did not filter out the UVA radiation. They filtered out UVB, while letting the UVA through causing aging and wrinkles. According to the Environmental Working Group, 1 in 8 sunscreens sold on the market today still offer NO protection against UVA rays! Since UVA’s are inherently more damaging that UVB’s AND persistently high during all daylight hours, wearing a sunscreen that does not protect you from UVA is going to give you virtually no benefit and be detrimental to your overall health. So, it is important that when using a sunscreen that you are actually getting UVA protection.

Should you get a sunburn there are safe, natural and effective homeopathic remedies and natural health products to help sooth your sunburn, while rapidly healing the damage done to your skin.  For more information about sun safety and after-sun care contact Andrea at SAGE for a free 15-minute complimentary consultation.  Be a good role model this summer – practice sun safety every day!


A NOTE about vitamin D: This fantastic vitamin is known to: support cardiovascular health, promote optimal cholesterol levels, enhance your muscle strength, and help maintain a healthy immune system, among other things.  And although you can supplement vitamin D (choose D3, the most active form), natural sunlight is the best way to get your vitamin D. One thing to note: the use of sunscreens reduces vitamin D production by as much as 97.5 to 99.9%, so it is important to have some unprotected exposure to the sun each day.

The key is to find a balance between getting enough natural sunlight to maximize your vitamin D production and maintain your optimal health, while at the same time protecting yourself from damage that occurs from overexposure to the sun. The point to remember is that once your skin turns the lightest shade of pink, it is time to get out of the sun. Past this point of exposure your body will not produce any more vitamin D and you will begin to have sun damage. And sunburn anywhere on your body is never good for your health.


Andrea Hauser is a Homeopathic Practitioner at SAGE Naturopathic Clinic in Kitchener.