Summertime brings increased exposure to the sun. What precautions should we take? Can we avoid the use of chemical-laden creams and lotions? Are there any potential health benefits in sun exposure, or should we do our best to avoid it?
Humans get most of their vitamin D directly from sunlight. For those who live in darker parts of the world such as Norway and Alaska, it's necessary to get vitamin D indirectly by consuming oils from fish and other animals that have been exposed to sunlight. For this reason, we need not avoid the sun—we simply must be wise about it.
Maintaining a healthy dietary balance of omega-6 and omega-3 oils is one of the first natural lines of defense against sunburn. Avoiding sugar and pro-inflammatory industrialized oils can also help. The less inflammation, the stronger the skin's natural protective abilities.
Let's take a look at other safe, natural ways to care for your skin this summer. Armed with a little knowledge and a bit of creativity, you'll be ready to enjoy plenty of fun in the sun!
Many sunscreen products contain potentially harmful ingredients, including oxybenzones and retinyl palmitate. The Environmental Working Group has researched 800 commercially available sunscreens and determined that 75 percent of these products are unsafe due to toxic ingredients. To view the list of recommended sunscreens, consult EWG's latest Sunscreen Guide.
Sunscreens typically block UVB rays but not UVA rays. The UVA rays are responsible for the majority of skin problems due to overexposure. Therefore EWG recommends choosing a sunscreen with a mineral such as zinc oxide, which offers UVA protection.
It's also important to note that a higher SPF (sun protection factor) does not guarantee added protection. Sunscreens with an SPF of 15 blocks up to 93 percent of incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. Keep in mind that SPF does not take into account UVA rays.
Why not try a homemade sunscreen? The following recipe can be adapted to suit a variety of needs:
- 2.5 oz. sesame oil
- 1.5 oz. coconut oil
- .5 oz. beeswax
- 4 oz. filtered water
- 2 tbsp. zinc oxide
Melt the oils and beeswax in a double boiler over medium heat. Remove from heat, add water, and mix with a stick blender until creamy. Add zinc oxide.
To maintain shelf life, add vitamin E oil, vitamin C powder, and/or grapefruit seed extract.
For added benefit, mix in 1-2 capsules of astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is produced by microalgae and provides a natural sunscreen when eaten by fish such as pink salmon and shrimp.
Avoid the use of mineral oils, including baby oils which consist of mineral oils and fragrance. Mineral oils are phototoxic, meaning they make the skin unusually sensitive to light and subject to damage by light. Mineral oils, like other petroleum products, cannot be absorbed properly by the body and stop the skin from using its own natural moisturizing capabilities.
In the event of a burn, try the following natural treatments:
- Aloe. Aloe vera is antibacterial and healing for burns because of its aloectin B, which accelerates healing. You can buy an aloe product such as aloe vera juice or aloe vera gel (see these examples) or keep an aloe plant on hand. Aloe plants are simple to maintain and the gel is easily extracted by breaking apart the leaves.
- Tea. Tea contains tannic acid, which helps relieve pain. Place two to three bags of black tea into a bathtub of lukewarm water and soak in it. Save the tea bags and place the cooled, wet bags directly on sensitive areas.
- Olive oil. Olive oil contains oleuropein, which helps reduce redness, water loss, and blood flow after overexposure. The extra blood flow causes swelling, one of the causes of sunburn pain.