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Sun Exposure - Part I

This purpose of this article is to give you valuable health information regarding sun exposure. Part I (this) will cover the use of sunscreens, and Part II (next week) will talk about the importance of sunlight and Vitamin D.

There has been so much emphasis on sun protection over the last decade, and yet still so many Americans suffer or have suffered from skin cancer. In fact, it has become so common now that my colleagues at work express very casually that they have a doctor's appointment "to remove their cancer" as if it were as normal as going to fill a cavity. Even my kids' schools demand wearing sunscreen for every outing. I see people apply sunscreen lotions with so much caution, not missing an inch of skin, as if they were preparing for war or something.

Ayurvedic texts have long promoted sunlight as healing energy. I grew up turning to the sun for healing, taking a dose of sunlight like medicine when I needed relief from colds, flu, or a bad mood. And it always did wonders. In fact, there is a whole science in Ayurveda focused on the sun's healing energy called Surya Ayurveda.

Many years ago I searched to find answers on how the sun affects us. This is what I want to share with you. Good news is that most darker-colored Indians are not as prone to skin cancer from just being in the sun as fair-skinned people are. BUT, the use of certain chemical-based sunscreens can increase our risk, as it does for everyone.

Popular sunscreen creams, sprays and lotions use certain chemical filters to block UV radiation. Those include octisalate, oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate and octocrylene. Several of these chemicals are hormone disruptors that have been shown to alter reproductive ability, reduce sperm counts, alter thyroid function, and cause a host of other negative side effects. Other chemicals, such as retinyl palmitate, have been linked to an increased risk of skin cancer by increasing the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread.

The more sunscreen you use (and the container will likely state 'reapply every 80 minutes'), the more these toxic chemicals are being absorbed into your bloodstream, accelerated by sunlight. If you want to try and get skin cancer, apply any of the sunscreens at CVS and go sit in the sun for a few hours. You'll be giving it a good shot.

Sunscreens (most) are bad; sunburn is bad. Sun is not. We all need sun exposure. It's an absolute requirement for healthy living. A recent study in Sweden showed the extent of this:

"Nonsmokers who avoided sun exposure had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking. Compared to the highest sun exposure group, life expectancy of avoiders of sun exposure was reduced by 0.6 [to] 2.1 years."

Do not avoid the sun, avoid sunburn. Enjoy the sun and spend time in it every day. But protect yourself: either wear clothing (hats, long sleeves, etc) or move out of the sun if you see your skin has a light shade of pink. For your kids, if you feel safer applying sunscreen, use a non-chemical one that is just as effective, if not more, and will not expose you or your growing children to toxins. I use 'Goddess Garden' brand for our family when needed. There are plenty of natural sunscreens available at your local health food store. Be sure to read the ingredients and put it back on the shelf if it lists anything other than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredients, which are safe sunblocks (always avoid anything with 'nanoparticles').

Now, if you're more concerned about avoiding an unwanted tan, then here are some tips:

  • Apply natural sunscreen on your face and under your usual make-up (do not use make-up that has SPF and contains toxic chemicals)

  • Keep a tube of natural sunscreen with SPF 30 (mininum to avoid tan) in your purse so you can apply to arms or legs if you unexpectedly have to be in the sun

  • Wear these SPF driving gloves (I keep these in my car and in my purse - I use them while driving and even while walking around outdoors. They are a skin-saver!)

  • Keep a sun visor in your car or purse. These are adjustable and won't mess up your hair!

In my next article, I'll talk about the benefits of sunlight and the importance of Vitamin D (from the sun). Stay tuned!

To your good health!

Hari Om!


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