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Sunscreen – Should You Wear It and Which Should You Choose?

My views on wearing sunscreen may be controversial to some.  Mostly because the mass media has taught us to fear the sun, and we will surely die of skin cancer if we have sun exposure without sunscreen.  Believe me, I’m not making light of skin cancer, but this kind of thinking is a bit extreme given that mankind has lived without sunscreen for thousands of years without any significant rates of skin cancer. Rates of skin cancer have only increased with the advent of sunscreen usage.  Also, consider that melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) is most common on the torso where you would not normally have sun exposure (unless going shirtless or purposely tanning). Melanomas are even found in the vagina and rectum which would suggest that skin cancer isn’t always about sun exposure (there are several factors).

I personally think some sun exposure is healthy, but we should be smart about it, yes.  We need sunlight directly on our skin to make vitamin D within our body, and vitamin D is very important to our health on many levels.  Vitamin D is important in fighting cancer.  We need sunlight for other reasons as well.  We should get sun on our skin daily without sunscreen.  But we do only need limited amounts of direct sun and that is based on our skin type, where we are located, and time of day and time of year.  Otherwise, we should consider wearing long sleeves and pants and hats or being inside when the UV rays are at their most intense.

Why not just wear sunscreen?  Well, the problem with suncreens is that the vast majority are full of toxic chemicals, many of which have actually been linked to cancer (and hormone disruption and other non-healthy things).  So, in all reality, you could be doing yourself more harm than good by slathering chemicals on your skin.  You should also note that for the most part, sunscreens are unregulated, meaning no one is checking them for safety.  Except the EWG – Environmental Working Group (more on this in a moment).

But what if you need to be or want to be in the sun when UV rays are the most intense?

The two kinds of UV rays that you should be considering are UVA and UVB.  UVB rays are the ones that produce vitamin D in the skin and cause sunburn.  Sunscreens are rated with SPFs which is how effective they are for blocking UVB rays which means blocking both vitamin D and sunburn.  Going without the sunscreen is how you make vitamin D in your skin, going with it is how you prevent painful sunburn. UVA rays are actually the ones that penetrate the skin further and lead to longer lasting damage like skin cancer and wrinkles and brown spots and leathery looking skin.  Some sunscreens do not even contain anything to protect against UVA damage.

UVA rays are present all day and all year,  while UVB rays are stronger in the middle of the day (when we are most often told to be out of the sun) and from April to October (in the US).  *Which means to get your vitamin D, you need a little sun around the middle of the day.

The UV index is a measure of the risk of high UV ray exposure.  UV index for each day can be found in your area via some weather forecasts to get an hour by hour UV index score.  While everyone is different, most people will not need sunscreen at all when the UV index is 2 or less.  For people with fairer skin and higher risk of skin cancer, more caution may be needed when the UV index is 3 and over.  For many, when the UV index is 8 and over, it would be a good idea to limit sun exposure, as the risk of sunburn and further damage is going to be much greater.  At 8 and over, the likelihood of burnings start after only about 20 minutes of direct sun.

The UV index needs to be over 3 for your body to make vitamin D.  So, get outside when the UV index is over 3, use caution when it is 8 and over, and for any score in between it becomes much more variable to the individual as to how long to be outside without sunscreen.

Click here to put in your zip code and get the UV Index for your area for today – there is a tab for hourly.  You can also download an hourly UV index app for your smartphone for free.

So, back to the need to be out when you are at risk for skin damage…  Yes, you should use sunscreen when you might get burned.  And if you just feel better about your skin safety wearing sunscreen regularly, then make sure your skin is truly safe by not putting toxic chemicals on it.

You can make your own sunscreen of course, but that isn’t always easy to get the right ingredients.  So, if not making your own, I suggest any of the sunscreens from Badger.  After talking to several people ‘in the know’ and looking at the ingredients, I feel pretty good that Badger sunscreens are among the best out there.

For other good sunscreens, I suggest you check the sunscreen ratings from EWG since they have vetted them for the really bad chemicals.

And if you want to make sure you avoid the most toxic sunscreens, check out this article and list from EWG.

Go get your daily vitamin D dose, just don’t go damage your skin.






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