This weekend, Americans are celebrating Memorial Day, which not only honors our fallen heroes, but also kicks off the summer vacation season. Having fun in the sun also increases the risk of skin cancer. The month of May is National Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology, 8500 people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer every single day. Over three million individuals and more than five million skin cancers are diagnosed each year. For most people, skin cancer prevention means *sunscreen protection. But here’s a shocker: *Sunscreen protection and skin cancer prevention are NOT synonymous; in fact, they may be contradictory!
On May 9, Annie Tomlin, expert beauty editor of Self Magazine, announced on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America segment “The Skin You’re In” that she had basal cell carcinoma – the most common kind of skin cancer — on her face. The “Queen of *Sunscreen” and all of her fans were astonished. How did a beauty expert who faithfully used *sunscreen get skin cancer? Genetics? Behavior? Random bad luck?
Although one reporter pointed out that the BRCA gene not only has to do with breast cancer but also can increase the risk of melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer), genetics generally counts for only five to ten percent of cancers. And the “bad luck” theory of cancer has been discredited by most scientists in view of compelling research on controllable lifestyle factors. Annie Tomlin’s skin cancer, like that of many others who faithfully use *sunscreen, may just have to do with the fact that the definition of “perfect sun-screening behavior” needs to be corrected.
For skin cancer protection, dietary factors are probably more important than sunlight factors, and getting sun exposure is probably at least as important as avoiding sun exposure. As I wrote in a previous article on sun and skin cancer, appropriate sun exposure could actually save your life!
Moderate exposure to the right kind of sun rays is the key. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are dangerous because they penetrate the skin more deeply and cause more free radical damage, whereas ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are healthful and help your skin produce cancer-protective vitamin D3 (calciferol). Wearing a *sunscreen blocks your body’s production of vitamin D by as much as 99.9%. And this may have dire health consequences. Vitamin D (really more of a hormone than a vitamin) plays a crucial role in our overall health, supports strong immune function, and prevents up to 16 different types of cancer — including skin cancer. Although you can get vitamin D from food sources and nutritional supplements, natural sunlight is by far the best way to get your vitamin D.
It is true that long-term, excessive exposure to sunlight can increase the risk of certain types of skin cancer. But moderate sun exposure is different from intense sunburn, and several studies have confirmed that appropriate sun exposure without sunburn actually helps prevent skin cancer. In fact, sun exposure significantly decreases the risk of developing melanoma and contributes to improved survival in those already diagnosed. So our bodies need some unprotected sun exposure – 15-20 minutes per day.
Nonetheless, since we know that the risk of getting skin cancer increases in relationship to sunburn frequency and severity, using *sunscreen certainly seems to make sense. But here’s the problem: Commercial *sunscreen products contain toxic chemicals which are absorbed through the skin and can cause serious health problems. The main chemical used in *sunscreen is octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), present in 90 percent of *sunscreen brands. OMC was found to kill mouse cells even at low doses and its toxicity was increased when exposed to sunshine! Other chemicals commonly used in sunscreens include Oxybenzone and Dioxybenzone, two of the most powerful free radical generators known!
So what should you do? Instead of chemical-based sunscreens, there are also many simple diet and lifestyle changes you can make to radically decrease your risk of sunburn and skin cancer. They include:
- Using an all-natural *sunscreen
- Limiting excessive exposure
- Wearing protective clothing
- Increasing raw vegetables loaded with skin-protecting antioxidants
- Avoiding processed foods and sugars
- Drinking plenty of pure water
- Consuming therapeutic grade green tea.
*Sunumbra is a “Trusted Vendor” of BeatCancer.Org