Summer sun
These days it's hard not to want to just sit around with a cold glass of lemonade and pop in a little summertime playlist like the one I'm listening to right now...

Unfortunately, I've still got loads to do in the garden - weeding, mulching, staking tomatoes, not to mention finishing off the last couple of beds so I can get the last few plants in - it never ends. With all of this going on, it's no wonder that winter seems a lot more conducive to blogging!

But I did muster up a good topic for you today. In fact, it's one that's just perfect for summer....

As we've been invited to two outdoor barbecues next weekend, I'm already planning to make sure I bring along plenty of sunscreen. But did you know that wearing the wrong sunscreen can actually be just as bad for your health as wearing none at all?

As a pale-skinned redhead, I have plenty of experience with sunburn! Since there weren't really a lot of sunscreens on the market yet when I was a child, I experienced my share of painful burns. But once sunscreen started showing up on store shelves everywhere, I spent my early adult years covering up, and slathering on the sunblock on a regular basis. When I learned that the very sunscreens I had been using for years to protect myself contained harmful chemicals that could could actually increase my risk of cancer, well, it made me pretty mad! (More on this below.) I also felt betrayed to learn that the sun actually isn't my enemy, as I had been told virtually my whole life....

You may have heard over the past few years that some doctors are reversing their view on sunshine. In fact, as it turns out, our obsession with sunscreen over the past couple of decades may very well have contributed to the increase in cancer in our society.

You see, there is a reason why sunshine feels so good! Our bodies were meant to soak up some sun on a regular basis. Sun exposure is the only easy way to get adequate amounts of Vitamin D, which, as it turns out, happens to be one of the most important nutrients for building a strong immune system and preventing cancer and other diseases. While some foods do contain Vitamin D, none of them come anywhere close to providing the amount we can get from a mere 15 minutes of full sun exposure in the summer.

By blocking the sun's rays from entering our bodies, we are depleting our stores of this vital nutrient. Yes, excessive sun exposure and repeated sunburns can contribute to the development of skin cancer. But avoiding the sun entirely can increase your risk of all types of cancer!

 And, not only is the sun not as bad for you as you may have been told, it turns out that many common ingredients in sunscreens are actually harmful to your health - and some have even been shown to cause cancer!


Yes, you heard right. The very substance that you have been using all these years to protect yourself from cancer may actually be increasing your risk.

Here are 3 common ingredients in sunscreens that you should be careful to avoid:


This is one of the most popular ingredients in many commonly used sunscreens, but it has several potential health risks. Not only can it cause allergic reactions, but it is also easily absorbed through the skin, and may act as a hormone disruptor - potentially interfering with the proper functioning of the reproductive, thyroid, nervous, and immune systems. Eeek! 

These risks are compounded if you are pregnant, or when used on children. And, guess what - they are one of the most common ingredients in sunscreen marketed for babies and children! (Other related but slightly less common chemicals to avoid include octisalate and octinoxate.)

Vitamin A (Retinyl Palmitate):

Vitamin A is a vitamin, so it's good, right? Not when it appears in sunscreen...

While Vitamin A  is definitely important in a healthy diet, recent research has shown that when Vitamin A is applied to the skin, it may contribute to the development of tumors and lesions. Unfortunately, it is still found in about 33% of sunscreens. Check your sunscreen label and be sure to avoid this ingredient.

Nano Particles:

With the discovery of some of the dangers of chemical ingredients in sunscreen, many more mineral-based or natural sunscreens are becoming available. While mineral ingredients such as zinc or titanium can do a good job of blocking the burning UV rays of the sun without causing hormone disruption or breaking down into harmful components when exposed to the sun, they do typically have a white appearance, which some people don't like.

Hence, some manufacturers have started to use a technique called "nanonizing." This process breaks the mineral particles down into much smaller particles, which avoids the white look, but unfortunately makes them able to be absorbed through the skin. Even worse, it makes them very easy to inhale when used in a spray-form sunscreen.

To be safe when using mineral sunscreens, be sure to use non-nano forms, and apply as a cream or lotion - not as a spray.

So, with all that said, how can you stay safe in the sun this summer?

Here are a few tips:

1. Avoid the sun during peak UV hours (typically 12:00pm - 3:00pm in most locations).  Take a break from the beach or the pool, and go inside for lunch, or nap in the shade until the sun is lower in the sky and its rays aren't as strong.

2. Wear protective clothing. Hats and long-sleeved shirts are one of the best ways to protect your skin - no chemicals required! Water t-shirts are readily available and are especially important for babies and small children. Pop on a cute sun hat and they'll be good to go!

3. Choose a safer, natural sunscreen with a mineral base - and avoid sprays. Check out the Safer Sunscreens database from the Environmental Working Group for ratings, recommendations, and warnings for all major sunscreen brands - including natural brands.

4. Don't fear the sun - but respect it! Remember, the sun is not your enemy, but too much is just as bad as not enough. Try to get about 15-20 minutes of bare, unblocked, full body (or at least a good part of it) sun exposure per day during the summer months (10-15 minutes for kids) - outside of peak sun hours. Then cover up, seek shade, or apply a safe, natural sunscreen for the rest of the day. (When applying sunscreen, try to do so about 1/2 hour before sun exposure, and reapply often after swimming or sweating.)

As for me? Yes, I still occasionally slip up and get burned. But I try to get no more than one burn per summer (I already got mine for the year on my birthday last month), and otherwise get about 30-40 minutes in the morning working in the garden before the sun gets too strong (or 1 hour in the evening after work). I spend the hottest part of the day indoors if possible - it's too darn hot out there anyway!

When I do have to be outside during the strong sun hours, I usually will wear a hat, sometimes long sleeves, and a natural sunscreen. For the holiday barbecues next weekend, I'll be spending time under the umbrella, and slathering on my all-natural DeVita SPF 30!  :-)

Enjoy the sun safely this summer!


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