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Natural Sun Protection for Your Skin

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All living creatures have some sort of mechanism to protect them from the sun, either a coat of fur, a shell, feathers or scales

All living creatures have some sort of mechanism to protect them from the sun, either a coat of fur, a shell, feathers or scales. Humans, when exposed to sun, actually develop a thicker skin. The outer skin layer, the callus, thickens within four weeks to the equivalent of a sun protection factor of four (SPF 4).

Tanning is the skin's main way of protecting itself. Ultraviolet (UV) rays stimulate the skin to produce more melanin pigment, which darkens the skin, resulting in that much-wanted glorious tan. The more sun exposure, the more pigment is produced. The best way to achieve a tan is daily 15-minute to one-hour sessions in the sun for several days. For us northerners, it is especially important that sunlight exposure be gradual to activate the skin's defence mechanism. Too much sun will burn the skin, which then generates new cells, causing you to peel.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are different skin types. Those with fairer, lighter skin have less melanin than darker-skinned people and are more prone to sunburn. This is important when it comes to choosing a sunscreen. Sunscreens are designed to either block sunlight or absorb it in varying degrees. For instance, an SPF 30 product, often recommended for fair-skinned people, will protect you 30 times longer in the sun than if you weren't wearing sunscreen. Someone with darker skin may feel comfortable with SPF 8 or 12.

Do Chemical Sunscreens Cause Cancer?

Profit-oriented cosmetic manufacturers and misinformed dermatologists have routinely promoted heavy application of chemical sunscreens for skin cancer prevention. Recently, however, some scientists have suggested that it is not the sun that causes cancer, but instead, chemical sunscreens themselves by virtue of their ability to create cell-damaging free radicals. Countries with greatest chemical sunscreen use have seen correspondingly high rates of skin cancer melanoma. Garland, Cedric et al. point out in volume 82 of the American Journal of Public Health that Queensland, Australia has the highest rate of melanoma per capita in the world. Is it a coincidence, they ask, that Queensland has also been a site of intense chemical sunscreen promotion? Most experts agree that more research is needed on this subject.

Further tests conducted by the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, have found that several commonly used sunscreen chemicals are endocrine disruptors. The five chemicals tested benzophenone-3, homosalate, 4-methyl-benzylidene, camphor octyl-methoxycinnamate, octyl-dimethyl-PABA can cause hormonal changes and birth defects, affect sexual development and function, increase cancer risks and more.

Safer Sun Product Selection

In light of this evidence, it is gratifying to see that concerned health product manufacturers have developed natural, oil-based sunscreens. Throughout history, people have used avocado, olive, nut and seed oils for massage and skin protection. Natural oils, the same we would use for food, are the best choices for cosmetics and provide the safest protection against sudden exposure to intense sunlight. They nourish the skin and combat the sun's drying, aging effects. These oils also contain essential fatty acids that absorb through the skin and circulate via the bloodstream. (Remember: the skin can absorb almost anything yet another reason you don't want to put harmful chemicals on your skin.)

A quick look around my local health food and nutrition store reveals a great variety of high quality sun protection products. Well-known brands include Aubrey Organics, Aura Cacia, Biokosma, Kiss My Face, Mill Creek, Nature's Gate, Rachel Perry, Lavera, Dr. Hauschka and others. These frequently contain one or more natural oils as well as other beneficial ingredients such as tea tree oil, cocoa butter, vitamin E, green tea and aloe vera. To block UVA and UVB rays, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are used rather than estrogenic chemicals such as those mentioned above.

PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), often found in both chemical and natural sunscreens, can cause allergic reactions in some people. If you're unsure, do a patch test before use. PABA-free products are also readily available.

Some people, including myself, like to experiment and want to make everything themselves. My daughter Petra swears by the suntan oil I have concocted for our Cancun vacations. Not only is she proud of her dark tan whenever she uses the oil, but she also avoids
any burn.

Here is my recipe. First, in October, collect a handful of green walnut husks. In a glass jar, cover them with one-half cup of olive oil and let stand in the window exposed to sunlight for about three months. After maturing, siphon off the olive oil. Measure out one-half cup each of coconut butter, flax oil and almond oil. In a small pan, heat up the coconut butter, add two teabags of chamomile and two tablespoons of finely chopped aloe vera. Let simmer on low heat for fifteen minutes, remove from heat and siphon off the coconut oil. Once cooled, add the walnut-olive oil, flax and almond oils, and finally add three capsules of 400 IU vitamin E. This oil has a nice, earthen smell and protects your skin wonderfully. One application lasts all day without a greasy residue.

Throughout the ages, exposure to sunlight has been part of a healthy lifestyle and there is no reason to avoid sunshine. Common sense tells us that too much of anything is unhealthy, so use your judgment when outdoors and choose a natural sunscreen for healthy protection.

Sunshine Is Healthy

Studies at the Northern California Cancer Center have shown that regular intense sun exposure will increase the body's production of vitamin D and thereby reduce the risk of breast cancer. The study involved 5,000 white women of all ages. Those who were born and had lived for 20 years in the southern sunny part of the US showed a significantly lower rate of breast cancer, compared to women living in the north where there's much less sun exposure. Several scientific studies have also confirmed that regular exposure to UV rays actually protects against skin and other types of cancer.

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