The summer sun: to avoid or embrace?

Too much sun can lead to premature aging, painful burns, and, with repeated overexposure, the potential development of cancer. But the sun is also essential for Vitamin D. Like many things in life, striking a balance is the key.

Surprisingly, this is easier said than done.  There are two primary contradicting beliefs about the sun–one is that it is “bad” and the other, that it is “good.”  This type of black and white thinking is exactly why the complexity of our relationship with the sun is dysfunctional at best. With skin cancer so rampant, major corporations have capitalized on the fear-based motivation that leads consumers to spend millions per year on lotion with a promise to protect from sun damage.

On the other hand, you have the sun worshippers that are merely looking for a tan—all the time. The middle ground, the nature-types, choose to avoid the chemicals in 90% of popular sunscreens and also understand the benefits of Vitamin D. All of these types of consumers (and “non-consumers”) are running a risk. Let me elaborate.

The Sun-phobes

I’ve delved in my fair share of sun-phobia, perhaps purely as an excuse to buy more hats—but you know the type I’m talking about.  The SPF 50+ fanatics that tend to rock the “white nose look” anytime between April and September from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., usually accompanied by long sleeves in 80-degree weather and an oversized umbrella.  This type of behavior is fear-based, although completely logical, as it’s primarily driven by the increase in skin cancer cases and million dollar campaigns designed to market the vital importance of sunscreen. But did you know that the majority of commercially produced sunscreens may in fact do more harm to our health than good?

There are, however, two primary issues that may lead to long-term health concerns with this type of consumer.

The first is in the sunscreen itself. Fortunately, more articles have been emerging that illustrate the dangers of popular sunscreens. Ingredients like oxybenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate, for example, have been shown to have negative effects on the endocrine system, disrupt normal development, and interfere with our body’s natural functions. Since our skin absorbs all that we put on it, daily use of these chemicals can cause some serious harm.

The other issue is a lack of Vitamin D, with the sun as our primary source of this essential nutrient: it acts as a precursor to many hormones, and also assists in the absorption of calcium. Prolonged Vitamin D deficiency not only leads to depression, but increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurological function. Those who avoid the sun completely should absolutely be supplementing with Vitamin D.  If you think you may have a deficiency, first have your blood checked by a physician who will inform you whether or not supplementation is necessary.

The Sun-lovers

Then we have the other side of the scale, those who don’t avoid the sun—the sun worshippers.

The issue here is quite obvious: overexposure.  Not only does it cause some serious skin damage, leading to wrinkles, enlarged pores, and uneven skin tone, but repeated overexposure poses the threat of the “Big C.”  Cancer.

The perfect balance?

So we’ve established that it’s a bit of a Goldilocks situation when it comes to the sun.  Too little can be dangerous, just as too much can be.  Frustrating as it may be when analyzed, I’ve found that there is in fact a perfect balance. Non-toxic sunscreen, such as those that use zinc oxide as the primary active ingredient, not only acts as a powerful sun-blocking agent, but also has not been shown to negatively affect the human body when used regularly. Using non-toxic sunscreen in combination with mild to moderate sun exposure and monitoring Vitamin D levels (supplementing if necessary) is the safest way to avoid overexposure while preventing sun damage or deficiencies.

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