I know I've been remiss.... it happens every spring. I run and run and then don't get the nice slow tasks completed. I have a lot of garden photos, writing, etc. piling up. But here is what I'm thinking about in May.
[Initial disclaimer: sunscreens are controversial. I am not a doctor but neither do I trust doctors in this regard. My dad, Hal, for whom this blog is named, died from a melanoma (which is skin cancer). He had his first skin cancer removed (basal cell carcinoma) at age 30. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT CAUSES SKIN CANCERS. Yes, sun exposure can cause skin cancers in some people (but my dad was exposed to DDT too). Over-exposure to the sun causes age spots, wrinkles, etc. and can definitely cause cancers. But there is ample evidence that blocking all sun from our skin is terribly harmful, as it takes away our only natural reliable source of vitamin D. Also, there is evidence that chemical sunscreens are hormone interrupters and can exacerbate cancerous growth in lymph systems. I am relating what I use, how I approach sunscreens, sun exposure and skin cancer. Please, make informed decisions based on a doctor's advice (if you like), my information and many other sources.]
It's necessary to shield ourselves from the sun to reduce signs of skin aging and also skin cancers. But how do we approach this in a holistic and plant friendly way? And as a secondary question, is it wise to block all sun from our skin when this large organ absorbs sunlight and turns it into vitamin D?
There are two different kinds of sunscreen on the commercial market- Mineral and chemical.
The zinc oxide/ titanium dioxide, mineral type actively forms a barrier on the skin, keeping UVA and UVB rays from hitting the skin. It is the white stuff lifeguards put on their noses in Beach Blanket Bingo. These days, it's particles have been shrunken, nanoized, to blend into skin better.
The chemical sort is what you find everywhere, in make up, moisturizers, etc. They go by the names octinoxate and avobenzone (I'm looking at all Neutrogena, Coppertone,etc. etc.), to name the most common. Wow- they are as dangerous as they sound. And I've got them on my face as we speak. (Didn't say I was perfect here folks.... I'm working on it. BareMinerals makeup will be investigated soon.)
First off, there is data out there that shows that tiny nano-particles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can progress into the healthy dermis and cause (through some process) cancer. Here is info from the Australian government about the background of all of this:
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been used as sunscreens for many years. They are particularly valuable because of their ability to filter UVA as well as UVB radiation, giving broader protection than other sunscreening agents. One disadvantage of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is that they are visible, giving the skin a white colour. This effect can be reduced by decreasing the particle size of the material. When used in 'nanoparticle' form (less than 100 nanometers, with a nanometer being one millionth of a millimeter), they can't be seen on the skin but still retain the sunscreening properties of the coarser material. Nanosized Titanium dioxide particles have been used in sunscreens since at least 1990 and nanosized zinc oxide since 1999. In January 2006 the TGA conducted a review of the scientific literature in relation to the use of nanoparticulate zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens. That review concluded that:
There is evidence from isolated cell experiments that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can
induce free radical formation in the presence of light and that this may damage these cells
(photo-mutagenicity with zinc oxide). However, this would only be of concern in people using
sunscreens if the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide penetrated into viable skin cells. The weight
of current evidence is that they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer dead layer
(stratum corneum) of the skin. ( whole document here. Thank you Helen Harrison for finding this and posting on FB.)
Back and forth it went. But the final word is that in normal, unabraded skin, the nano-particles should not penetrate the skin and cause free radicalization. People speak highly of Badger Sunscreen- it is expensive but non-nano (so it probably turns skin white-ish) and non-chemical. I wold also try the Alba Botanica- careful, it has some chemical but they look less harmful. I think, since we've established that nano-particles are not that bad, the Alba mineral may be the way to go for both vanity and health.
Another, much more controversial option is the au naturel way. I mean, I use both coconut oil and St. John's Wort oil. Basically, coconut oil is a natural, very low tech way of minimizing the free radical reactions that cause cancerous cell overgrowth. St. John's wort oil is the blossom of Hypericum perforatum (not the lovely landscape plants but the medicinal variety) soaked in oil. It is a bright red color and is very oily (duh). I use this on my legs, arms and chest. It is a subtle sunscreen- meaning, you need to aclimate yourself to the sun with this on. We cannot simply go to the beach for three hours with no mineral sun block and some oil on and expect no sunburn. But if you go out to garden for 15-30 minutes and wear this for a week, your skin will become accustomed to it. It works for me. I have olive skin, pale but olive. I have lots of moles and a propensity for skin cancer, thanks to my dad. So, I embrace a bit of sun. I believe that 15 minutes a day of unfiltered sun on the skin is imperative for vitamin D absorption.
Here is the best non-sexy, very reliable way of helping with overexposure to the sun: wear a hat when you are outside. Walking to the park? Wear a hat. Gardening? Wear a hat and a long sleeve linen or loose weave cotton shirt to protect your shoulders and back. You will look like an old lady. But that lady has nice skin, no?
Pictures to come....