Q & A with Dr. Kathleen & Dr. Angelina
Exposure to the sun is such an important topic. There are many health benefits to sun exposure including vitamin D synthesis, immune function, mood and many other physiological functions. There are also many drawbacks if we are not careful of our sun exposure. Our skin (which happens to be our largest organ) is remarkably adept at absorbing substances; thus many of the chemicals in skin care products penetrate into the skin, and end up in the bloodstream where they circulate throughout the body.

Below, Dr. Kathleen and Dr. Angelina reveal the do’s and don’ts of sun exposure and sun screen use.

Should everyone be wearing sunscreen?

We should use the sun’s healing energy but be aware of the risks. Exposing yourself to sun for at least 15-20 minutes per day depending on the color of your skin helps with the synthesis of vitamin D, immune function, bone density, mood and many other physiological functions. However, after a short exposure, we should cover up to prevent sun damage.

What are the main harmful chemicals found in sunscreens?

At Innate Wellness, we use The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens. It is the best around! In general the most toxic ingredients include oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palminate (a form of vitamin A) and homosalate. These ingredients are hormonally disrupting and/or cause skin allergies. Retinyl palminate has been linked to skin tumors in over sun-exposed skin. Octisalate (hormone disruptor) and octocrylene (skin allergy) have moderate toxicity. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have a mild degree of toxicity only if inhaled, which is of little concern in cream-based sunscreens. This is why you will see these ingredients still included in ‘Clean Sunscreens’.

In addition to active ingredients, there are many inactive ingredients, which are toxic or allergic. One example is methylisothiazolinone, or MI, a preservative. This year, EWG has found MI listed on the labels of 91 sunscreens, 13 marketed for children and 54 SPF-rated daily moisturizers – this includes a number of ‘hypoallergenic’ marketed products.

What is barrier sunscreen and why should we be using it?

Sunscreens provide either chemical or physical barriers. Oxybenzone is an example of a chemical barrier, which neutralizes UV rays while zinc oxide, as a mineral, provides a physical barrier as it blocks UV rays. In addition to being more toxic for the body, chemical sunscreens trap heat under the skin, which can be irritating for dry & red, inflamed skin.

What ingredients are we looking for in a clean sunscreen?

When choosing a sunscreen, consider the following criteria outlined by David Suzuki

  1. Well rated by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)
  2. Avoid dangerous ingredients (listed above) and the ‘Dirty Dozen’ including parabens, phthalates, PEG’s (polyethylene glycols), propylene glycol, phenoxyethanol and sodium laurel sulphates.
  3. Go for a cream (not spray or powder): Mineral-based sunscreens probably contain nanoparticles. Research shows that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide do not migrate through skin, but inhaled nanoparticles enter the blood stream through the lungs.
  4. Offers SPF no less than 15 and no more than 50 SPF.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher do an excellent job protecting against UVB when applied properly while an SPF higher than 50 is mostly marketing a false sense of security.

When is the best time of day to enjoy being out in the sun?

Short (15-20min) of sun exposure around noon, when wavelengths are shorter and strike at a more indirect angle, should be recommended rather than longer solar exposures in the morning or afternoon.

According to a modern researcher on sun exposure, the solar wavelengths that promote malignant melanoma are probably longer (typically morning and afternoon wavelengths) than the wavelengths that generate vitamin D in the body (typically at noon).