I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while. Since the warm, amazing weather is coming around in Toronto, I thought it’s the perfect time to talk about the sun and sunscreen!
I’ve noticed in the past few years the obsession with sunscreen. Like OBSESSION. People applying it daily, summer or winter, as an anti-aging measure, preventing hyper-pigmentation (post-acne marks) from darkening, as well as preventing skin cancer.
There’s been so much hype about sunscreen and wearing SPF50+, I feel as if people have forgotten how healing the sun is, and that it is our best source of vitamin D.
Now I’m not saying that SPF doesn’t protect you, or that the sun will not burn you and damage your skin.
I wrote this post to document the updated facts for not only myself, but my family, friends, and you! With this information, I hope you’re able to cater it to your own personal lifestyle (where you live, skin type, etc.).
My Side of the Sun
From all the years of watching beauty videos on YouTube, everyone always, ALWAYS talks about sunscreen and getting the highest SPF possible. I’ve seen only ONE “guru” talk about the benefits of the sun and sun moderation, and she is a holistic practitioner. (Emily Chesher, and here’s her video). There have been a number of sun benefit videos on YouTube since, but hers was the first one I watched.
Because of this common knowledge shining on us like rays from all the major forms of media, I avoided the sun, barely went outside in the summer, and always wore sunscreen, even if I was inside most of the day, all in hopes of having a clear face and prevent the aging process. I was also convinced being out in the sun was a “temporary” relief on my acne; it would be clear for a bit, then I’d break out even more if I didn’t get anymore sun. I did this for so long, that my skin became very weak, sallow, and dull looking. On top of that, my acne and post-acne marks were not getting any better. I became sun-phobic.
The first year I started dating my boyfriend, we went on vacation down south to Varadero. I haven’t been on a vacation like that in years, and I was a bit nervous. My skin was clear from cystic breakouts, but I had a LOT of hyper-pigmentation, and I was weary of having them darkening. At the same time, I was tired of worrying, and wanted to enjoy a vacation where I could let my skin breathe, bask in the sun and enjoy the salt water. At the end of the trip I was expecting to have darker pigmentation, but it was a price I was willing to pay to enjoy some type of colour on my skin again. To my most pleasant surprise, a lot of my hyper pigmentation was… not there. I was shocked. My cheeks were COVERED in marks when starting the trip, and instead of looking darker, they were less visible! I obviously wore sunscreen while down south since the sun is so strong there, but it just astonished me that my skin turned out that way.
There was another occasion when I was out and about with a coworker in a new city, and I only had enough sunscreen for my face (a chemical one at that), and not my body. We were wandering outside for the entire day. I got back to my hotel room to notice that my facial skin did not look healthy at all. My face looked dull and uneven, and my breakouts and hyper-pigmentation weren’t any better. My body however, was smooth, glowing, and healthy.
A few experiences like these is what began my obsession with understanding the sun and sunscreen. What gives?
Look Ma, I’m Learning!
Most of us have heard at one point the sun’s “damaging rays” and see on sunscreen labels “UVA/UVB” protection. Like I previously said, my skin doesn’t really get that bad when I’m out in the sun “unprotected” (but of course a lot of things factor into that). In my examples, I also mentioned how going down south for vacation seemed to help my skin, and sometimes burn it at the same time. I did some “light” reading to see why the sun is so wishy-washy for my skin!
- UVA and UVB rays pass the earth’s atmosphere from the sun. They can work together, but both have major differences.
- UVB rays are short waves that only hit the surface of the skin (epidermis); UVA rays are longer waves that can reach far into the dermis (the thickest layer of skin).
- UVB rays are prominent between 10am-2pm (other sources say 4pm); UVA rays for the times before and after.
- UVA rays can pass through glass, therefore still harming us even when indoors; UVB cannot do this.
- UVB rays help synthesize vitamin D in the skin; however with overexposure, these are the rays which cause us to burn on the surface.
- Because UVA rays can pass to the dermis of the skin, they damage skin cells called keratinocytes (eg. basal and squamous cells). This is where most skin cancers occur.
- UVA rays are also the dominant rays for tanning and photoaging, but UVB rays still contribute to it.
- Overexposure of UVA/UVB rays from the sun will cause DNA damage to the skin, which is what causes skin cancer (BCC, SCC, melanoma).
The Role of Vitamin D
I was pretty fascinated learning the differences between the UVA/UVB rays, and the mention of UVB being the best source of Vitamin D. My obsession became more fueled, and the research continued.
- Once synthesized, Vitamin D is turned into a steroid hormone that controls the expression of over 1000 genes.
- There are Vitamin D receptors in all parts of the human body (organs, tissues, cells, you name it!)
- Mainly known for regulating calcium and phosphorus metabolism, especially in our bones.
- Helps prevent aging on a biological level; Telomeres are tiny caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your DNA. They get shorter and shorter every year until they die or go into a state of arrest, so its length is a biological marker for aging. If your body has a higher level of Vitamin D, the longer the telomeres. Therefore it is reason to believe that Vitamin D is responsible for delaying the attrition of telomere length.
- Living in a northern latitude, like Canada, we are Vitamin D deficient in the winter time, for UVB rays don’t make its way into the atmosphere. However UVA rays can still pass through.
- Some Vitamin D can come from foods, fish and mushrooms being the safer sources; but the highest source is definitely the sun.
- Too much exposure to UVB rays will cause us to burn, but getting enough will help us produce a sufficient amount of vitamin D.
- If we exfoliate within 48 hours of getting sun, we rub off the Vitamin D before it can be properlyy synthesized into our skin and the bloodstream.
(For a great visual, click this: FoundMyFitness Vitamin D Infographic.)
I am convinced year by year that sunscreen is becoming a huge joke. SPF100+? That just sounds like a product catered to the paranoid. Also, it seems no one ever talks about re-application. Sunscreen just doesn’t last the whole day. I am guilty of applying sunscreen once, going out in the sun and thinking I’m okay for the whole day. I used to think that if I wore SPF50, I’d be good as gold to be roaming out for the whole day without re-application. None of us ever think about how much we apply, and how intense the sun is going to be that day. We’re in Canada, not in a country near the equator. I’ve used both SPF15 to 70, and have seen/felt no dramatic change to how it protects me from the sun. I would still have to reapply.
Of course I wanted to figure out as much as any other skin obsessed person if the SPF number would matter. After doing a bit of at home research, knowing what I now know about UVA/UVB rays and Vitamin D, here’s what I’ve deduced about sunscreen and SPF:
- The SPF matters in the % it would protect you from UVA/UVB rays, but it is not a significant shift (eg. SPF37 to SPF100 is only a 1.7% difference in protection).
- SPF never blocks 100% of the sun’s rays.
- No matter how high the SPF, you still need to reapply just as frequently as an SPF15; The higher the number does not mean it will last on your skin longer.
- Chemical SPFs with ingredients such as avobenzone, homosalate and such, absorb the rays; These ingredients may absorb into the skin and are potentially carcinogenic. UPDATE 03/31/18: I discovered chemical SPFs Tinosorb S and M and they are more photostable and less irritating than the one’s I’ve previously mentioned. These active ingredients are more commonly found in Asian and/or European sun protection products.
- Physical SPFs with ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered safer because they offer broad spectrum protection without risk.
- Unfortunately, wearing SPF will prevent your skin from creating Vitamin D.
I Am My Own Experiment: How I Supplement Sunshine
Not knowing what I know now about Vitamin D (D3), I’m convinced my skin reverts to breakouts because my Vitamin D intake goes from super high to absolutely nothing. Eg. in the summer, I now like going out for bike rides, walks, and getting some sun, and always try to find shade after getting a fair amount. I’ve noticed that when I am consistent with this sun supplementing, especially in the warmer months, my skin rarely ever has problems, reducing my use with makeup and skincare products. Once I have a streak of a ton of work, being inside too much, or once the colder weather comes around, my skin is not as healthy looking, I break out more, and the products are packed on again.
From being my own experiment, here is how I supplement sunshine to get my proper Vitamin D intake, heal my skin, and prevent damage.
If I want sun, I’ll try to be outside between 10am-2pm (or 4pm), in direct sunlight, without sunscreen. The key is to get enough sun to heal, not to burn. I’ll do this for 10-20 minutes, maybe longer since my skin does not burn easily.
Throughout the times in between, I don’t mind being in the sun, but I’ll make more of an effort to go to the shade or put on a sunscreen with SPF30 if I’ll be out and about longer.
If I have a tan, I am able to stay out in the sun longer with less use of sunscreen, since my skin has already produced melanin from the UVA/UVB rays.*
During the winter time, I will supplement 3,000-5,000 IU of Vitamin D, with the least amount of synthetic ingredients possible.
*Being of Italian descent, the Mediterranean gene definitely helps my tolerance with the sun, for I’m able to produce melanin well to protect myself from burning. However this could be seen as a downfall, for the more melanin, the less likely you’re able to absorb the vitamin D created on your skin. That being said, the daily requirements for Vitamin D are minute to what your skin might produce over a half hour period of sun exposure on various parts of your body. If your family ancestors are from northern latitudes, you are probably more susceptible to burns and will have to be more cautious when staying out in the sun.
Aaaaaaaaand that’s it! I really hope you enjoyed this post. I had a lot of fun writing it, and actually enjoyed researching all this! This was a topic I’ve been wanting to tackle for a while, and I’m glad I did.
Just remember this: Balance, balance, balance. Humans need to be in the sun, but it’s just as important to know when you should be in the shade. Respect the sun and don’t ignore it.
If you have anything at all to add, please leave a comment! I love talking about these topics.
Sources: (Will organize soon)
Vitamin D The Sunshine Vitamin. Zoltan Rona, MD, MSc. 2010.
The “Vitamin D Sweet Spot” and Its Relationship To Aging by FoundMyFitness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uc815fQn8iY&autoplay=1
Found My Fitness Podcast “Most popular Questions about Vitamin D”
The deceptive nature of UVA-tanning versus the modest protective effects of UVB-tanning on human skin https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3021652/
Vitamin D3 to assist social ANXIETY, WEIGHT LOSS, cancer, acne, flu, asthma, psoriasis by Emily Chesher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcDy0814xc4