Should You Wear Sunscreen?

sun protection skin cancer prevention

Should You Wear Sunscreen?

Should You Wear Sunscreen?

Should you wear sunscreen? This is a hotly debated topic in the wellness world and you may find compelling arguments on each side. Your dermatologist will tell you to lather up with SPF, seek shade and hide from midday sun. Some holistic health practitioners will tell you there is no need to wear sunscreen because hey, our ancestors didn’t wear sunscreen, did they? There is probably wisdom and truth to both of these approaches and with most things health related, a nuanced approach is probably the best approach. As a Melanoma survivor I have major thoughts on this topic. With May being Skin Cancer Awareness Month and as we celebrate the unofficial start to summer this Memorial Day, I thought I would break down the controversy and let you know where I stand. Let’s dive in!

Pro-Sunscreen all the way

Should you wear sunscreen? The pro-sunscreen side, says yes! everyone should wear sunscreen when outdoors at all times. What we do know is that sunburns are linked to an increased risk of skin cancer, like melanoma. and we aren’t living the same healthy, non-toxic lives that our ancestors lived.  Fact: having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk of melanoma. Other factors include: family history, indoor tanning bed use (hello 90s-2000s babes!), having more moles, certain genetics, race or ethnicity, age and compromised immune system. Some of these are what we consider modifiable risk factors – others are not and it is good to keep them all in mind when making a decision for yourself. For more on skin cancer risk and diagnosis, read more HERE!

who needs sunscreen, anyway?

Should you wear sunscreen? The anti-sunscreen side says no! our ancestors didn’t wear sunscreen so why do we need it?! There are many flaws to this argument however. We aren’t living the same non-toxic lifestyles as our ancestors. We are exposed to a wide variety of toxins and unhealthy lifestyle habits that trigger inflammation and DNA damage and a sunburn might be the tipping point in a cancer trajectory. Our ancestors also would often seek shade during the suns highest point of the day as a natural way to reduce sun and heat exposure. There are also many lifestyle factors we can do to decrease the risk of many diseases including: getting adequate sleep, good nutrition with plenty of antioxidants, balancing blood sugar to precent insulin resistance and inflammation and reducing chronic stress.

Can we find a healthy balance?

As with most things, a healthy balanced perspective is probably best! What we should be focusing on is optimizing our lifestyles to be as healthy as possible in all areas: nutrition, sleep, exercise and limiting our exposures to toxins, which can indeed be found in traditional sunscreens. For example, oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in many sunscreens, are known endocrine disruptors. These are not only found in sunscreens but many personal care products. It is wise to choose sunscreens and personal care products that are more thoughtfully designed and avoid toxic ingredients. The Environmental Working Group has a great a comprehensive section on their website on sunscreen and sun protection (ewg.org/sunscreen). It includes a list of non-toxic sunscreens for every activity! We should take cues from our ancestors who did use sun protection techniques like seeking shade during high sun times and covering with sun protective clothing. In fact, this is my preferred option – hats, sunglasses and sun-shirts all the way, especially if I don’t feel like slathering sunscreen on for a quick trip to the park.

What about Vitamin D?

It’s true, we do get Vitamin D from the sun which is important and plays a role in mediating many diseases, so some sun exposure (or supplementation) is necessary. It is vital to follow your Vitamin D levels with laboratory testing. Even in sunny Colorado, I have never seen an optimal Vitamin D level unless a patient is supplementing.

My favorite sun safe products

  • Supergoop: I have a hard time with the mineral based sunscreens that are thick and white. Supergoop is a great option that has been forumlated to meet the EU safety standards which are higher than those in the US. They have several formulations that we love: the unseen sunscreen for daily facial sun protect, the PLAY 50 spray and lotion as well as their baby and kids line! 
  • Beautycounter: Their mineral sunscreen stick is great for kiddos (and adults)! I keep one in the diaper bag and stroller for easy swipe of sunscreen for the kids if we are at the park or pool!
  • Free Fly: Their bamboo UPF protecton sun shirts are to die for. My husband has been wearing them for years and I finally got in on the game a couple of years ago. They have different weights of the bamboo up to UPF 50. I’m super excited because they finally made a women’s shirt in their lightest weight bamboo fabric and I can’t wait to wear it this summer! They also have kids sizes
  • Patagonia: They also have a great sun shirt with UPF 40+ protection for men and women as well as kids and baby/toddlers!
  • Lululemon: I’m really happy bucket and wide brimmed hats are back in style. Lululemon has some great bucket hat options!
  • Brooks: I came across this Brooks running hat while we were on vacation in Arizona and it is the perfect summer running hat! It is lightweight and packable, perfect for summer travel.
  • Sunbum: Their mineral SPF 30 chapstick that is fragrance free is in all of my bags and pockets in the summer! 

 

So, should you wear sunscreen? I think that yes, for mitigating sun burn and skin cancer risk, especially when sun is at its highest points during the summer using sunscreen is a must. Try to find a non- or low-toxic sunscreen that you will wear consistently and remember to seek shade and wear protective clothing.