Skin Cancer Myths: Stop Fearing the Sun: The sun has been demonized by most doctors, dermatologists, and the media. Most people believe it is indeed bad for your health. But is it true? New science is showing that not only is it false, but that a lack of sunlight could, in fact, be the bigger health concern. We’re always trying to take it back to our ancestral health, and there is no doubt that our ancestors had a thriving relationship with nature and the sun, without sunscreen. Today we’re exploring the real impact that the sun has on our health and on cancer rates, as well as the sunscreen lie, and our solutions for safe sun exposure.
Skin Cancer Myths: The Sun is Actually Good For Your Health
This is going to be hard for some people to grasp. It’s been so ingrained into us that the sun itself causes cancer. Indeed- it can, but the truth behind the subject isn’t black and white, because safe sun exposure actually reduces the instances of cancer. A study found that “occupational” sun exposure (outdoor workers who spend lots of time in the sun on a regular, consistent basis) is actually associated with lower rates of melanoma than people who work indoors. Despite the skin cancer myths, safe sun exposure has a dramatic impact on so many aspects of our health. It’s a travesty that fear is preventing people from getting these benefits.
Creation of Cholesterol Sulphate
One big benefit of sun exposure is the creation of cholesterol sulfate on the skin, a reaction that happens when sunlight hits our bare skin. This cholesterol sulfate is essential for the health of all cells; it’s needed for healthy hormone function, to down-regulate inflammation in the brain, and to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Health Benefits of the Sun: Circadian Rhythm
An ever-increasing problem of modern times is our exposure to artificial (indoor) lights. The impact of artificial light is taking a toll on our hormones, our sleep, our moods, and our energy levels… and (despite the skin cancer myths) getting exposure to sunlight is one way to combat the ill effects of artificial light.
Our circadian rhythm needs the signals of real daylight (the sun) to function. It is the sunlight into our eyes that triggers a flood of hormones that program our body to function the way it is meant to, from hunger levels to energy production. This requires adequate daily exposure to daylight, without the use of sunglasses (which like sunscreen, prevent the dialogue between the sun and our cells).
Health Benefits of the Sun: We Need Vitamin D
This one is a commonly known benefit of the sun, but many people are reaching for a vitamin D supplement instead of getting proper sun exposure, which is not the same thing. Supplementing with vitamin D is actually causing something called a functional deficiency. Consuming vitamin D as a supplement by itself blocks the receptors for other fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamin K, and A). Taking a simple vitamin D supplement has actually been linked to weaker bones. Isolated Vitamin D supplements have even been linked to cancer. A vitamin D supplement competes with other vitamins, which opens the floodgates of imbalances, and disease. For example, you need vitamin K to absorb calcium. So, if your vitamin D supplement is preventing the absorption of vitamin K (and thus the absorption of calcium), your bones become weaker as a result.
Vitamin D is only generated by UVB rays, which come from the sky most powerfully at solar noon (during periods of the year when the sun is strong enough). Exposing your bare skin to the sun at this time of day (for a short amount of time) is the optimal way to get your daily quota of vitamin D. Someone who is fair-skinned needs less time in the sun to generate vitamin D. You can use an app like D Minder to track how much vitamin D you are generating based on your location, how much skin is exposed, and the time of year.
But the benefits of the sun go far beyond simply upping your vitamin D.
Benefits of Safe Sun Exposure:
- Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Boost immunity
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves your mood
- Improves sleep
- Promotes weight loss
- Ameliorates symptoms of Alzheimer’s
- Supports bone health
- Heals skin disorders
- Promotes eye health
- Reduces instances of depression
- Improves brain function
- Prevents Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Reduces cancer risk
… yes, you read that right: reduces cancer risk.
Sunscreen and Skin Cancer Myths: Health Benefits of the Sun
Health authorities and the media have propagated fear of sun exposure. But, as we have explored, the sun (in responsible exposure) is actually a critical part of maintaining a healthy body and mind. Conventional sunscreen is problematic for three main reasons. Firstly, it prevents the creation of Vitamin D, so despite being out in the sun, many of the benefits are nulled because the cream blocks the UVB rays necessary for creating Vitamin D.
The second reason is connected to the first, in that these conventional sunscreens only block UVB and not UVA rays. UV rays are complicated, but to put it simply: UVB rays are the rays typically associated with skin damage, sunburns, and skin cancer. The main ingredients in sunscreens block said UVB rays, but let UVA rays through. Although UVA rays are seemingly harmless in the short run, long-term chronic exposure to UVA rays create an imbalance (UVA to UVB) and also cause cancer. So in allowing us to stay out longer in the sun, these regular sunscreens are actually generating a whole new mechanism by which humans are getting sun-related cancers.
The third reason is connected to cancer as well, in that conventional sunscreens are made from highly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals. Our skin’s pores are like little gateways directly into the bloodstream. So, lathering on chemicals like Oxybenzone (one of the most common ingredients in sunscreen, and a highly carcinogenic ingredient) is a surefire way to promote cancer. This problem is amplified when you go out in the sun because pores open up in the heat (so that you can sweat), which means the absorption of said chemicals is even greater.
The most notoriously toxic sunscreen ingredients are:
- Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate)
Skin cancer myths: here is a truth. Applying conventional sunscreen on your skin means these toxins are entering directly into your bloodstream. An added layer of toxicity occurs with spray-can sunscreens. These release these toxic compounds into the air, which then enter the lungs. When I’m at the beach and I hear that spraying sound, I run.
A great tool is the Environmental Working Group website:EWG.org, you can type in your product or an individual ingredient, and they will clearly map out the potential health risks.
There are a few tools you can use to support your body and stay out in the sun longer.
Solution: Zinc Oxide
Unlike conventional sunscreens, zinc oxide blocks out both spectrums of UV rays. so you’re not developing a UV imbalance and promoting cancer, despite the sunscreen use. Zinc oxide is essentially like wearing clothing, it really blocks out almost everything. Note that many sunscreens that advertise zinc oxide as an ingredient are also full of other nasty chemicals. Read the ingredients list in its entirety. Also, plugin the name of the sunscreen or its ingredients into EWG.org if you have any doubts.
Make sure you still give your skin enough time in the sun without any barriers, to reap the health benefits.
Solution: Shea Butter and Coconut Oil
Organic Shea butter and coconut oils offer mild UV protection, but still, allow some of the rays to penetrate. Using them in conjunction with a good diet and moderate exposure is a good way to prevent burning. My family and I rely on these oils when we go outside.
The real MVP here when it comes to natural sun protection is diet. Believe it or not, a diet full of healthy fats and unprocessed foods is the ultimate way to boost your skin’s resilience to burning. A healthy diet also promotes a better tan. The key here is a diet full of healthy fats, and free from highly processed sugars and grains. Also avoid processed oils like vegetable oils and canola oil, which are highly inflammatory. These unhealthy refined sugars and oils cause our cells to oxidize more quickly. This translates to rapid sunburns. Make friends with saturated fats (coconut, avocados, grass-fed butter). These are great for both your diet and on your skin!
We hope today’s exploration into the health benefits of the sun will help shift some of the long-held skin cancer myths and misconceptions. Remember: burning is never in your best interest, but avoiding the sun completely is even worse.
Learn more here: Sun and Skin Cancer Myths