A friend called me last night, after reading my recent blogs, inquiring about safe alternatives to sunscreen and ways to protect his very sensitive skin from burning while out in the sun. I realize that this is a pretty serious issue for many people, especially for those who are fair, who haven’t seen the sun in 6 months (us northerners. Why do we live here again??) Particularly those who have been using commercial sunscreen for years, whose skin melanin protection is weak and virgin from not feeling any natural sun rays for so long. I think I can safely say that most of us are pretty certain we do not want skin cancer (and so avoiding synthetic sunscreen is an absolute must!!) but we do not want to abuse the sun and fry our skin either, stumbling around in agony, trying desperately not to feel our t-shirts rubbing on our burning shoulders and tired of being called 2013’s most authentic Rudolph (Back-off, it is sooo not that red!!). So what I am about to present to you is a simple, complete and effective way to proper sun skincare and how to get the best from your summer weather without any of the suffering, or poisoning that you may have experienced in the past. I will suggest wonderful alternatives to commercial creams/sprays, effective after-sun moisturizing tips to reduce peeling and increase rate of skin repair. I will explain how to build your sun-tolerance by listening to your body and will uncover some common myths about the sun and explain scientifically why most of our notions about the dangers of sun exposure are not only unfounded but absolutely ludicrous! Happy tanning everyone!
So to start, there are steps that need to be taken at the beginning when you have discarded your excessive sunscreen lathering habit and are ready to take on the sun bare-skinned. First you need to build up your skin sun tolerance SLOWLY. This is very important. We all have very different skin and each person needs to listen to their own individual body and respect their own skin’s limitations. We are not all perfectly golden J-Lo’s (damn genetics!) and some caution is in order! A great way to ensure that you do not burn is to pay close attention to how you feel INSIDE when you are out in the sun. Nature supplied each of us with a natural reward center. We have it for food (mmm tastes good..), sleep ( so relaxing..), sex and the sun etc. The pleasure derived from each of these activities, guarantees that we will seek to do them, ensuring our most successful survival, reproduction and potential. The penetrative heat from those first few sun rays produce a strong feeling of relaxation and euphoria. It is the perfect antidote to depression (hence the popularity of light therapy!) and offers many unparalleled health benefits. This is Nature’s way of telling you the sun is good. ‘Modern science’, or manipulated fancy lab tests cannot outsmart the human body or nature. You all know what I’m talking about unless you’ve never been out there without sunscreen), the happiness that comes when you first get outside in the sun, before the hot, sweaty, grumpy-inducing fatigue sets in that makes you want to seek shade. Do not ignore that feeling. The early and instant well-being you feel is your body telling you that you are doing GOOD to your body, that vitamin D creation in your skin’s oil is being activated and that you should lie there UNTIL you don’t feel good anymore. For some of us, this pleasure lasts a mere 5 minutes and for others, up to 45. The more of your naked natural skin is exposed, the stronger the euphoria (don’t believe me? Go out there and try it!). Anything over that time tends to have the opposite effect. We get hot, grumpy, thirsty or tired, and this is our body telling us we have had ENOUGH sun and should get inside (if this isn’t possible, this is the time to apply an all organic natural sunscreen product to ensure you do not burn, I will describe more in following paragraph). Most of us do not listen to these signals and either remain in the beating sun too long (beach days and long tanning sessions) which is what results in us getting ‘burned’ or feeling crappy. The great thing about ‘listening inside’ is that over time, as your vitamin D stores increase and your skin’s melanin (natural defense system against the sun and what makes you tan) becomes more efficient, so will your ability to take increasing amounts of sun without burning. This is why even those ‘pasty’ farmers back in the day (before toxic sunscreen ever existed), were able to work long farm days without burning (and no, not all farmers since the beginning of time were natural Halle Berry’s). Not a single professional can ever tell you better than your body can, exactly how long your particular skin should be in the sun for, but for the sake of convenience, here is a rough estimate of how you can build up your natural tolerance based on your skin type. Every two weeks or so a couple of minutes can be added safely to each session until you’ve reached a good and safe base.
For very fair/ fair: (red heads, platinum hair, pale skin): start with 5-10 minutes of all-over exposure, naked is best. or bikini, short swim trunks/speedo at most). You can do half the time on your front and the other on your back for even coloring and strength building. No one burns after 3 minutes each side so do not fear!
Medium skin (olive, caramel coloring): Start with 10-25 minutes of all-over exposure, half on the front side, half on the back.
Dark, tanned, black skin: 15 to 40 minutes depending on skin sensitivity, half front, half back and with full skin exposure.
Once you start building your tolerance, you will likely not need much product assistance, but for the beginning and for those who still want to enjoy a full day on the beach, who work in landscaping or who are off to a week in Jamaica, you can always purchase an all organic, natural and safe sunscreen from your local health food store. The one I suggest to my family and friends (which I learned about at Hippocrates), is from the brand OBVITA ORGANICS and it’s called Parasole with spf 25+ in a 4.5 oz. container. I have seen it work on my very fair friends and used it personally. The only questionable ingredient in it is zinc oxide, but I did my research and it is in a large non-toxic, molecular form that is much too large to even enter the skin cell, and sits on the skin as a protective barrier, not being absorbed. It is long-lasting and does not wash off easily with swimming, so a little goes a long way and frequent re-application is not necessary. The only downside to this cream is it is thick and white and does not absorb into the skin, so you will look like a white faced mime, but hey, it’s a small temporary price to pay, while your skin builds up tolerance, in exchange for no skin cancer right?! Remember, you should only apply it AFTER your suggested natural skin exposure time and not before leaving the house so you can maximize you Vit. D! I am sure there are other great brands out there but make sure you buy an all organic, plant based screen that is completely free of heavy metals (titanium and other metal oxides, except zinc), parabens, propyene glycol, sulfates and petroleum based ingredients. READ the ingredient list, if you would not eat it, do not put it on your skin!!
Now that you are building your way to a healthy sun resistance and using natural products for protection, how do you properly and naturally moisturize your budding glow? The best natural skin moisturizers that are both nourishing and healing to the drying effects of the sun are unprocessed, unheated (cold or ice-pressed), virgin or extra virgin organic oils. You can pick from a wide range of glorious liquids, from avocado, apricot, grape seed, olive, coconut, untoasted sesame (unless you want to smell like a Japanese restaurant…mmm brown rice sushi!), coconut, borage, argan, jojoba and more. Personally, I love coconut, (argan for my face) and sesame oils. They are relatively inexpensive, smell amazing and just make your skin glow in a way that only an oiled up beach bod can! Coconut and raw argan oil have the added benefit of being anti-viral, fungal and bacterial so I will not cause pimples in sensitive skin and will help with other skin conditions too such as eczema, psoriasis and any rashes your children might have picked up from playing in the woods or ditches (the good old days…)! Remember to apply these oils only after you are back inside and out of the sun, because many of them oxidise on the skin during sun exposure, producing unhealthy compounds that we absorb and alter proper vitamin D production. Most oils also increase the rate at which we tan, putting stress on our skin cells, increasing likelihood of burning, which is not what we want remember?!
This is getting pretty long-winded, so I will just cover one important myth that is often associated with prolonged sun exposure and unfortunately keeps many people out of the very health-inducing sun: The wrinkles! Part of what sold sunscreen so wholly to the public was not only the skin cancer scare, but the potential for deep, witch-like leathery skin caked with wrinkles. None of us want to be wrinkled old apricots from sitting in the sun all day right?! Well, there is great news, the sun is not what causes all those creepy wrinkles we see on that scary ‘tanner’ mom’ or that trucker man, who’s arm and half his face were wrinkled from sun exposure through his driver window. The sun does not cause wrinkles. Sun abuse and insufficient skin exposure during tanning does. Abusing anything is bad. One glass of wine is touted to be beneficial, whereas a bottle a day isn’t. One piece of dark chocolate can be healthful, when a whole bar makes you fat. Moderation is key. No one was meant to lie in the sun for hours and hours a day, simply ‘taking sun’. Our lives are busier than that (or should be at least) and taming any excessive sun tendencies is necessary for ultimate skin health. The reason that Trucker man had such deep wrinkles on that side of his face (other than digital enhancement so sunscreen sales could go up and likely the use of sunscreen too during driving hours) was because: basically the skins oils have the job of enabling the production of vitamin D for the whole body when in contact with the ultraviolet rays from the sun. This is a big job for one organ to have and that is one of the reasons we have such a large skin surface (that and because our organs/ muscle would fall out of course!). There is no issue when our whole naked skin is exposed, because there is more than enough surface area and oil/ skin cells etc.. to produce sufficient vitamin D levels. The problem arises when we only allow a small part of our skin to get direct sunlight such as our face, hands or one single arm. This small piece of skin now has the HUGE job of producing enough vitamin D for the whole body, putting unnecessary strain on those particular skin cells and causing damage, especially for us northerners who are dangerously deficient to begin with. Any system that is ‘overused’ will wear down. If one of your two speaker’s breaks and you keep the same level of volume coming out of only one, the remaining speaker might blow. The same is true for our body. We have two kidney’s for a reason, because one would not be enough to filter all of our toxins effectively and our skin is the size it is for a reason (remember, we were not designed by nature to be wearing jeans, Nikes and T-shirts with only our pale, squinty faces peeking out at the sun). This does not mean we can’t survive with one working kidney, or that just our facial skin alone can’t supply vitamin D to our bodies, but this puts added stress on those organs, risking damage and weakness and is not ideal! Moral of the story? Ditch the name brand bikinis, baseball caps and creepy old man speedo’s…the best outfit for the sun is your good, old fashioned and free birthday suit! Halleluiah!
I hope this helped clear out some of the confusion about sunscreen and safe alternatives! There is no need to panic. Fear mongering and panic-induction is the pharmaceutical’s patented approach to ensuring the meeting of successful sales quotas, but there is truly no need for this sun-anxiety. The sun will not kill you, or hurt you if you just listen to your natural human instinct, logic and body signals! Enjoy your summer!