By Kelly Taylor-Faye | Riverstone Studios
With cancer on the rise as one of the top 3 killers of our decade, there has been great speculation about the dangers of sun exposure. Gone are the days of bronzing oils with SPF of 2 or 4. They’ve been replaced with products touting SPF ratings of 15 and higher – in most cases 30 – 45 as a “sunblock”. Sunburns are on the rise and fear of skin cancer seems to be in the headlines with every summer season. Add on to that our culture’s infatuation with looking 20 forever and the fear of age spots and leathery looking skin when we get older. All this points to very good reasons for sun protection, but have we disconnected ourselves from the natural world so much that we live day to day in fear of what is outside of our air-conditioned homes and offices? Can we actually be causing ourselves harm while trying to protect our health? Or are we really trying to protect our youthful appearance at the cost of our health?
Dangers of Sunshine
UVA (95-97%) and UVB account for almost all of the ultraviolet radiation that affects our health here on earth. UVA can contribute to skin cancer as it penetrates deeply into the skin and can generate DNA-damaging molecules such as hydroxyl and oxygen radicals. Sunburn is caused by too much UVB radiation; this form also leads to direct DNA damage and promotes various skin cancers. Both forms can damage collagen fibres (which is what makes our skin elastic), destroy vitamin A in skin, accelerate ageing of the skin, and increase the risk of skin cancers. Although this might back up the claims that we should protect skin, even more, excessive ultraviolet radiation exposure only accounts for 0.1% of the total global burden of disease in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), according to the World Health Organization(1)
Benefits of Sunshine
Get Happy: Have you ever noticed people are happiest when it’s sunny and more “moody” on overcast days? This is by no accident. Not only is there a psychological connection to sunshine, but UV radiation from the sun actually increases blood levels of natural opiates called endorphins. Melanocytes in human skin are equipped with an endorphin receptor system which helps elevate your mood with sun exposure.
Well Balanced, Well Rested: In addition to being happier, people who get regular exposure to the sun tend to sleep better as well. Our bodies are created to be diurnal which means we are programmed to be awake during the day and sleeping during the night. Our body produces a hormone called serotonin during daylight hours. Serotonin is used by the body to regulate everything from appetite, digestion, mood, social behaviour and even sexual desire. Sun exposure (which can be 1000s times brighter than indoor lighting) to the optic nerve helps regulate this natural production. As sun exposure dissipates at the end of the day, our nocturnal regulatory system kicks in and our body begins converting Serotonin into Melatonin – the hormone responsible for a good nights sleep.
Stay Healthy: In a day where the top 10 leading causes of death include cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s, you would think that we would do everything in our power to promote good health. We live in a world where answers can be found at our fingertips anywhere, anytime, but unfortunately, we also live in a world where commercialism tends to set trends sometimes. Sun protection may be a prime example. Sun blockers such as SPF 30 or higher have become popularized in the 1980’s and 90’s as a result of fearful consequences of years of overexposure and “baking” in the sun. The fear of overexposure (0.1% over a lifetime) is dwarfed in comparison to the risks of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes which account for 4.6% of mortality in North America each year. According to Forbes Magazine(2), studies have linked Vitamin D deficiency to a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, several types of cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and some autoimmune disorders. By the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control) numbers, that means four of the top ten causes of death can be linked back to this deficiency. (3) In response, sales of Vitamin D have increased 1400% over the past 5 years. Just to summarize: Society as a whole has conditioned themselves to put on chemical laden sunblock to protect against a 0.1% risk of overexposure over an entire lifetime, then purchase and worry about getting enough Vitamin D through artificial means to reduce the risk of other diseases.
What about Sunburn?
Have you ever noticed the first few times your tender pasty white skin gets exposed to the sun in early spring after being cocooned all winter tends to burn quickly? UVB radiation is responsible for damaging the skin cells which gives us that nice golden tan or the same unbearable red burn. A golden tan is actually your body’s way of providing a natural SPF of 4. That means that if you normally burn within 15 minutes of sun exposure, with a tan, the same damage will take 1 hour to occur – without slathering on sunscreen! In addition, there are several natural ways of providing protection. We make a product that we use called Silk which is made up of Organic Coconut Oil and Beeswax. We also have a Lotion Bar that we use for both sun protection and body moisturizing. Both of these are made and sold by us and have an SPF of between 8 and 15, but you can easily make your own or simply use straight Organic Coconut Oil.
Not to downplay melanoma or basal cell carcinomas. They are very real and yes, caused by exposure – but somewhere along the way, our ideas about the sun became skewed to the point of being fearful. The Preliminary research of the 1980’s that showed the risks of sunburn have had far greater study now in the 2000’s. The science is clear that lack of sun exposure is detrimental to our health and that the benefits far outweigh the risks of the occasional sunburn.(4) So slide off those clothes, leave the sun blockers on the store shelf and let’s go natural baby! We’ve lived thousands of years on this planet without sun protection – only 30 years with synthetic sunscreens greater than SPF8 – and Vitamin D deficient health concerns are at their highest in history – you do the math!
We always encourage you to do your own research. Here are some of the articles we reference: