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Juelle Hunt
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Sunscreens and Vitamin D

© Thinkstock

Are you confused about the benefits of Vitamin D versus the health risks of too much sun exposure?

The risks of Sun Exposure

The sun emits ultraviolet radiation of UVA and UVB.  UVB is linked to sunburn and melanoma, while UVA is linked to skin damage and less serious forms of skin cancer.  Skin cancers are said to be caused from either occasional, severe sunburn or regular, moderate sunburn; especially if the burn has caused peeling or blistering and was experienced before the age of 20.  It is a good idea to check whether your sunblock protects against UVB and/or UVA.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor)

The old theory was that SPF referred to how long you could actually stay out in the sun.  For example, if it took 10 minutes to get burnt, then with an SPF15, one could stay out in the sun for two and half hours.  This not true.  SPF refers to the percentage of UVB rays blocked by that sunscreen  SPF 15 blocks approximately 93%, SPF 30 97% of UVB RAYS.

How do Sunscreens Work?

Sunscreens work in one of two ways – providing physical or chemical protection.  Sunscreens that work chemically use chemicals such as octyl methoxycinnamate to absorb the UV radiation; whereas sunscreens that utilise the physical method use particulates such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect and scatter the rays.  These chemicals or particulates are usally labelled as the ‘active ingredient’ of the sunscreen.

Of more recent concern is the introduction of nano particles (extremely tiny particles) into sunscreens.  The concern is that these particles may be easily absorbed into our system through our skin, this is not clear.

Ingredients that are suggested to avoid:

Ingredients

Risks

Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A)

Used for UVB protection, studies have shown may be harmful to us when exposed to sunlight as it may speed up the growth of cancer cells

Oxybenzone

Protects against both UVA and UVB but is a hormone disruptor and may cause skin allergies and free radical damage

Butyl methoxydibenoylmethan (avobenzone)

Protects against UVA and may have similar risks to Oxybenzone

Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)

Protects against UVB may cause allergic skin reactions, buring and stinging to sensitive skin

Octyl methoxycinnamate

UVB absorber may cause allergic skin reactions and is a hormone disruptor

Parabens

Preservatives that disrupt hormones and increase estrogen levels, some parabens (methylparaben) may react with UVB and cause skin and DNA damage

Perfumes & Fragrances

May cause allergic reactions, some may be hormone disruptors phthalates.

 

What type of sunscreens to use

There are a wide range of ingredients used in sunscreens and some good options that contain organic ingredients and block damaging rays physically, below are some examples and can be purchased in New Zealand – choose wisely.

Wotnot 30+ SPF Natural Sunscreen

Is an Australian product containing 100% organic ingredients and free from titanium dioxide or no artificial preservatives. It is listed in the safest sunscreen category by the Friends of the Earth's Safe Sunscreen Guide 2011-2012. It provides broad spectrum protection against UV-A and UV-B for the whole family.
http://www.wotnot.com.au/wotnot-family-products.htm

Soleo Organic Sun Cream SPF30+

Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen. 30+ SPF and very water resistant. For all skin types including sensitive skin. No chemical UV absorbers, titanium dioxide or synthetic preservatives. Soleo is "The evolution" in suncare. Innovatively formulated lotion with a base of organic and all natural ingredients.
http://www.soleoorganics.com/

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Tips for Sunscreen Protection

  • Test a small area behind the knee to check for allergic response or sensitivity
  • Apply sunscreens 30 minutes before going out into the sun
  • Apply liberally so the sunscreen forms a film when first applied
  • Reapply 30 minutes after being out in the sun and then every 2 hours afterwards
  • Reapply after swimming

Tips for avoiding sunburn

  • Cover up especially well when the sun is at it’s strongest – usually from 10 am till 4 pm.
  • Use a high SPF sunscreen.
  • Wear clothing that is light but will cover you well.
  • Wear a hat that will cover your face and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • If you have a history of skin cancer or are taking photosensitive enhancing drugs, use sun protection all year round.
  • Around reflective surfaces such as water and snow, wear sun protection, no matter what time of the year.

Vitamin D and Sun Exposure

Vitamin D has been described as being similar to a hormone due to it being manufactured by the body as well as being consumed from foods and as supplements.

Vitamin D deficiency has become very prevalent and has been linked to a wide variety of health disorders.  Some of these may include: rickets, osteoporosis, some cancers, diabetes (both types), Alzheimer’s, some autoimmune diseases, metabolic syndrome, lowered immunity, depression and so on.  Deficiency has been caused by the need to avoid too much sun exposure to minimize the risk of developing skin cancers, and dietary intake of vitamin D is quite minimal and does not contribute a great deal to our vitamin D blood levels.

Vitamin D3, also referred to as cholecalciferol, is made via photosynthesis within the skin from UVB radiation.  I then travels to the liver where it is converted and stored for 3-6 weeks as calcifediol.  The kidneys convert calcifediol to the active form of calcitrrol.  It is calcitrrol that studies have proven to have beneficial effects.

How to get your Vitamin D

Calculating an optimal amount of sunlight exposure in order to obtain enough Vitamin D is very difficult.  This is due to may varying contributing factors such as skin colour, age, season, time of day, latitude, genetics and individual health conditions.  Cholesterol lowering prescription lowering drugs can reduce the precursors of vitamin D within the body.

  • In order to obtain a daily minimal amount of 1000IU of vitamin D, 25% of your skin needs to be exposed to noon day sun for approximately 7-15 minutes in summer and 28-60 minutes in winter.  This is dependent on the above factors and is in conflict with public advice to avoid the sun to reduce risk factors of burning.
  • A possible alternative during summer months is to enjoy the sun in the early morning and late afternoon.  The amount of Vitamin D you body will make however will be less than 1000IU.
  • Considering the benefits of Vitamin D and in order to minimise unnecessary risks, it is possibly better to supplement with Vitamin D.

Exposure to the damaging UVA and UVB rays of the sun can increase our risk of skin cancer, however reducing our sun exposure can put us at risk of a number of other health problems due to lowered Vitamin D levels.  One safe option is to supplement with Vitamin D.

By Aroha Durrant

Durrant. A (2013 Summer).  Sunscreens and Vitamin D.  Avena Magazine, (issue 4), pages 32-33