Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
The sun is shining and the days are warm. Many afternoons and evenings in the last couple weeks of spring have felt more like summer. The UV rays have been intense and I am sure the sales of sunscreen have risen.
Most people are fairly mindful to wear sunscreen and at any beach you could most likely find a child despising every second of a caretaker applying sunscreen to their face, ears and body.
Shockingly with all this sunscreen, our country still ranks in top percentiles of skin cancer. According to www.worldlifeexpectancy.com, of 172 countries, Canada is ranked 17th highest for mortality from skin cancer. While counties where temperatures average up to 40 degrees Celsius such as India, are ranked at 171 out of 172 on this list.
A region’s cultural beliefs affect its burden of UV-related skin cancer too, says Dr. Henry W. Lim, chairman of the Department of Dermatology for the Henry Ford Health System. While many of us still can’t free ourselves of the notion that a tan makes us look healthy (one reason why the country may have topped the list), in many countries tanned skin is avoided and sometimes associated with lower economic status. A friend of mine from Cambodia shared with me that in her birth-country they desire pale skin and that women would often cover up with long sleeves and even gloves when going in the sun. “The use of the parasol for photo-aging protection is very common among women in Asia” Lim says, “while it’s rare in North America.”
Along those lines, many countries with large Muslim populations, such as Maldives, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Somalia, fell toward the bottom of the list, perhaps from a traditional style of dress that’s protective against high ambient UV radiation and an adaptation in behavior over the years. In other words, you probably won’t find many natives of these areas lying out on the beach.
Does skin pigmentation play a factor?
We all know a pale skinned person or a red-head out there and their plight with sunburn. However, commonly thought, people with darker skin are thought to be better equipped to avoid sunburn and up until 25 years ago when my sister married a black man, I thought the same. But just like the rest of us, he burns in the sun too.
Dr. Marina Peredo, Clinical Professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine clarified that skin cancer can affect anyone and we should all protect ourselves. “It is true that the chances of acquiring some type of damage depends on the amount of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color and is also is found in human hair, that exists in the skin. However, people with darker skin sometimes scar worse than their fairer skin counterparts.”
Dr. Francesca Fusco is a dermatologist in NYC reported on www.skincancer.org, that while there has been an increase in the lifetime risk of developing invasive melanoma (in 1935, the risk was 1 in 500; it is now 1 in 55), this can be attributed to a number of factors, including longer lifespans (the sun damage that leads to skin cancers generally accumulates over time); the thinning ozone layer, which allows greater amounts of harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere; the increased popularity of outdoor activities; clothing styles that leave more skin exposed; and the advent and popularity of tanning booths.
Isn’t the sun’s rays required for our Vitamin D levels?
While UV exposure does increase our Vitamin D levels and it feels good to get out in the sun there are other methods to increase D levels.
Dietary sources such as fatty fish (salmon), cod liver oil, and orange juice provide substantial amounts of the vitamin, as do supplements, which are available at relatively low cost.
Can sunscreen cause skin cancer or damage our health?
Sunscreen has been around for almost a century! The lotions started out with pasty zinc oxide that no one would use, so scientists created sunscreens with clear chemicals that absorbed UV light. In 1944, Coppertone® became the first mass marketed sunscreen. Fast forward to now, when about a billion dollars’ worth of sunscreen are sold each year.
Many would be surprised to hear that I don’t wear sunscreen on most days. I might if I am playing at a ball tournament and I don’t want my shoulders to burn because of the long hours of exposure but on most days, even when going to the beach, I do not apply.
Dr. Arthur Perry, a board certified plastic surgeon, Associate Professor at Columbia University and a on the Medical Advisory Board on the popular Dr. Oz show says our sunscreen may be poisoning us.
“To be effective, chemical sunscreens need to be rubbed into their skin 20 minutes before sun exposure. They do a pretty good job at blocking UV light, but they actually get used up as the sun shines on them. In fact, some sunscreens lose as much as 90% of their effectiveness in just an hour, so they need to be reapplied often.
Sunscreen shows up in urine and breast milk?
Dr. Perry continues that there 15 chemicals in a standard chemical sunscreen and 9 of the 15 are endocrine disruptors that cause abnormal function of our hormones and can cause infertility and more. “Chemical sunscreens don’t sit on the surface of the skin – they soak into it and quickly find their way into the bloodstream. They scatter all over the body without being detoxified by the liver and can be detected in blood, urine, and breast milk for up to two days after a single application. That would be just fine if they were uniformly safe – but they’re not,” states Dr. Perry.
And if this isn’t unsettling enough, Perry continues that some of the chemical sunscreens generate DNA-damaging chemicals called “free radicals.” And while not proven to cause cancer yet, we know that free radicals are associated with cancer.
Dr. R. Thomas Zoeller, MS, PhD, is a Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts agrees with Dr. Perry. He’s an author of the Endocrine Society’s scientific statement about endocrine disrupting chemicals and their official representative. He said, “Dr. Perry makes an important point that sunscreens are applied to skin in a formulation that serves as a drug delivery system and that some sunscreens are known to interfere with hormone action. The way in which these chemicals can interact with hormone systems could plausibly increase the risk of various cancers as well as other endocrine disorders.”
Dr. Mercola, Osteopathic Physician reported in 2011 that researchers at the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based nonprofit, released their annual report claiming nearly half of the 500 most popular sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate.
So what are other options?
1. Limit exposure.
2. Cover up.
3. Where a hat.
4. If you are Caucasian, when you get pink, get in the shade.
5. If Vitamin D deficient, look at getting 20 minutes of sun a day without sunscreen and get diet and supplement support.
6. Use a micronized zinc oxide containing SPF 15 - 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen.
7. Look at effective natural lotions such as coconut oil sunscreens. (many recipes online)
The sun is a good mood booster and can be good for our bodies. And for a happy and healthy you, parallel outdoor time with protecting yourself from harmful over-exposure to UV and chemicals. Enjoy the sunshine!
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