There's something to know about your sunscreen


Liu Wen in A place in the Sun, Vogue China June 2011 (photography: Hans Feurer, styling: Anne Christensen)
The sun is out and so are the numerous voluptuous bottles of sunscreens that, as we are told, are designed to protect our skin from the harmful rays, cancer and wrinkles. In theory, this is true. The reality is, however, rather different and may shock quite a few, but you are diligently frosting yourself with layers of SPF creams thinking that it does you good, read on. Not because you have to, but because you need to. 

As a nutritionist I have spent years studying the subject and educating my clients in order to improve their health and lives (as well as help them achieve beautiful skin), so all the findings below aren't just some random thoughts, but the result of experience and scientifically-proven research.

Lets begin with a quick anatomy and physiology lesson and see what really happens when our skin gets that desired golden glow...

First of all, the sunlight activates the precursor molecule required for the production of vitamin D. The molecule is then modified by the enzymes in the liver and kidneys, and the calcitriol, the hormone and most active form of vitamin D, is born.

The tan is a side-effect of sun exposure and simply means that melanocytes, the melanin-producing cells, increased production of melanin, the skin pigment, thus, giving our skin a darker hue. We all have the same amount of melanocytes, however, it is the amount of pigment that those cells produce and bring to the surface that differs from person to person. This is why some people have lighter skin and others develop adorable freckles. 

There are two types of UV rays. The 95% of what we get consist of the UVA kind and the rest is left for the UVB. The UVA are the ones that stimulate melanocytes and are responsible for the sun tanning. The UVB rays cause sunburn, tissue damage and cataracts.

Our bodies are incredibly intelligent and able to take care of themselves unless we disturb this delicate process

One of the most important function of melanin is to protect the body from the UV rays, absorb the radiation, prevent the DNA damage and neutralise free radicals. This is a natural process because our bodies are incredibly intelligent and able to take care of themselves unless we disturb this delicate process. 

How do we do it?

We take antibiotics (Tetracycline), Ibuprofen, Naproxen (and other NSAIDs), herbals containing St Johns' Wort, pop in the pill, blood pressure medications or antihistamines. We wear synthetic perfumes and use non-organic and medicated skincare and make-up. We use artificial sweeteners (and eat foods that contain them). As a result the skin becomes photosensitive to the sunlight and our body's ability to protect itself weakens because we make every single effort to stop the immune system from functioning properly.

The frequent use of most common sunscreens may lead to several forms of cancer as well as cause hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, worsen symptoms of fibromyalgia and lead to depression, weight gain, fragile bones and weakened immune system

In addition we ignore the simple rule of staying in a shade after a while and refuse to cover our skin with clothing should we have to remain outside (even though there are very few things more elegant and chic than a linen summer suit). Somehow the idea of tanned skin is so tempting that any sensibility evaporates and we rush out there, pilling away the layers of fabric and frying ourselves until our skin resembles an old shoe... 

And then we turned to the sunscreens as if it was a panacea. What many people don'tt realise is that while those lotions and creams may prevent the sunburn, they are very unlikely to reduce the risk of cancer. In fact, the numerous studies have showed that the frequent use of most common sunscreens may lead to several forms of cancer as well as cause hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, worsen symptoms of fibromyalgia and lead to depression, weight gain, fragile bones and weakened immune system. 

How is it possible?

If you look at a bottle of an average sunscreen or sunblock you will likely find that the lotion contains either benzophenon (or derivatives such as oxybenzone), retinyl palmitate, or zinc oxide. Whilst these ingredients may reduce the risk of sunburn, the zinc oxide, once exposed to sunlight, may generate free radicals and cause DNA damage, retinal palmitate - increase photosensitivity and cause skin lesions, and the benzophenon, once it is absorbed through the skin, can mimic the effect of oestrogen and lead to endometriosis and hormone-related cancers. 

The only ingredient here that may be used with caution is the zinc oxide because the substance is still undergoing extensive research to support the earlier findings. Just make sure that the minerals are coated with inert chemicals to reduce photoactivity, and apply your suncream in a thin layer. The other substances are best to be avoided completely and especially, when it comes to children, pregnant women and breastfeeding new mothers.

If the sunscreens did their jobs, the risk of skin and other forms of cancer would not be on the rise

The depression, weight gain, poor immune response and increased risk of fractures are the result of vitamin D deficiency - after all, if you constantly (sun)screen your skin from the rays, you will prevent the synthesis of calcitriol molecule! Simple.

In addition, it is worth bearing in mind that the skin cancer was often found in areas that were either never or hardly ever exposed to the sun AND 3/4 of people who had cancer (different types including prostate, breast and thyroid, to name the most common) were severely deficient in vitamin D.

The skin cancer was often found in areas that were either never or hardly ever exposed to the sun

Are there any other ways to protect yourself?

* Start by clearing your diet from junk and replacing everything with organic and fresh produce to support your body's natural ability to heal, rejuvenate and detoxify. 
* Eat plenty of bright coloured vegetables and fruit (fresh, not tinned or sugar coated, of course!) to add those amazing antioxidants to the system and prevent any damage that might have been caused by free radicals. Your best bets are the bright coloured vegetables, orange fruits, prunes, dried apricots, dark coloured berries, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, whole grains, herbs and spices (turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, cloves, garlic, parsley and ginger). Add some super foods to the mix if you like. 
* Include cooked tomatoes or tomato juice in your daily diet for that boost of skin protecting and cancer preventing lycopene.
* Drink green tea and at least one raw vegetable juice
* Live in a shadow once in a while - it really is ok to cross to the dark side at times especially between 10AM and 4PM. Follow the shadow rule - if your shadow is shorter than you, it's time to leave the sunny spot
* Cocoon in stylish linens, cottons and silks, wear a hat and sunglasses
* Take a good multivitamin supplement (but remember to consult a nutritionist on that)
* Stop smoking
* Avoid sunbeds
* Use natural organic oils that work as a natural sunscreen including carrot seed oil, wheatgerm oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, almond oil, jojoba oil, seabuckthorn oil and buriti oil
* Mix a few drops of RMS Beauty oil in your day cream for added SPF and use on its own at night to restore the skin
* Read the labels when picking your sunscreens. Ideally, choose organic and always - free from parabens and synthetic fragrances. The ones to consider are Green People Sun Lotion, Juice Beauty Green Apple Moisturiser (contains zinc oxide), Organic Pharmacy Cellular Protection Sun Cream (contains zinc oxide), Audrey Organics Green Tea Sunscreen and John Masters Organic Mineral Sunscreen
* Stop using make-up and cosmetics containing SPF if they contain the above mentioned ingredients

Do enjoy the sun, just like you would enjoy all the good things - in moderation, sensibly - and remember...
...your body is amazing - take care of it

Photo source: A place in the Sun, Vogue China June 2011 (photography: Hans Feurer, styling: Anne Christensen)


  1. Thanks for these useful tips, skin cancer prevention is very important!
    Don't Call Me Fashion Blogger

  2. So many good tips here! I really try to live in the shadow during the middle of the day definitely. I think it´s nice with a hint of a tan, me being too pale, but not too much either. xo Caroline

  3. yes, I try to stay out of the sun. If I do soak up some rays I try to keep it short. I don't like to use too much screen mainly because it causes breakouts on my sensitive skin. Shade is always the best bet. This is a great write up as always, my friend.
    XO, Gina

  4. i wish i could have more tomatoes in my diet, as i have a citric acid reaction anytime i consume it. my body breaks out in blisters and red bumps. it's crazy! and obviously, it's not just tomatoes that do it.

  5. A very important topic to discuss. Actually this kinf od cancer is the biggest killer in teens and young people... It is very sad.

    Great sun screen tips!

  6. I read thoroughly this interesting (at some points scary) article. I've never been a fan of sunbathes, and I've recently started to use natural sun screens instead of chemical ones. Well done Natalia, truly helpful!
    Coco et La vie en rose / Bloglovin / Facebook

  7. Wauw great post, if I lived any closer I would come to you for more advice about anything health related! I had no idea sugar and junkfood are related to weakening our system to sunlight! I don't eat junkfood (maybe twice a year) but it's good to know! Also I knew that perfumes can give you a rash when you wear it in the sun, but I had no idea about this... I use a dermatologically tested sunscreen by Louis Widmer, and I just checked but there are no 'ingredients' on the bottle so I don't know wether it contains these toxic stuff :( When I was a teenager I often tanned without protection and got a sunburn (SO STUPID!!!) but luckily I got smarter. The sun is so dangerous! I would never go to a tanning bed! I like to tan a little in summer (with good protection) but I am always very pale in winter so I give my skin a break from UV :-) Would love for you to make more of these kinds of post, I found it really interesting! xx

  8. Thanks a lot dear Natalila, this is a really important post and I hope really many people read it! Personally I'm now relieved because I do most of the things you recommend :)

    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

  9. Наташенька-Вы супер героиня! Потомучто делитесь такими важными познаниями здесь:)))
    Отличный,важный и самый нужный пост на сегодня для всех любителей солнышка!!!
    Прекрасных летних дней Вам:)))

  10. What a fascinating post, Natalia! Thank-you for sharing this.

  11. This is great information and such an important topic!

  12. My mom and I were just talking about this today. Thanks for the tips and the suggestions for sunscreens. When my dad was younger he didn't take care of his skin when he was in the sun so he's dealt with some basil cell carcinoma. Since I saw that growing up I cover up when I'm in the sun and avoid being out in it for long periods of time when it's at its peak. A tan is not worth the damage, and I don't tan anyway. Thank you for this post! It's so important.

  13. A great post Natalia! I always try and do most of the things on your list but I do have sunscreen in my foundation--I will check it in the morning, luckily I don't wear it often anyway.
    xo Mary Jo

  14. I need to make a lot of changes Natalia! HaHaHa I'm a little concerned about my tolerance to the sun. If I don't wear sunscreen on my face, my face around my eyes will swell! This started happening several years ago. I now have to wear a hat, sunscreen and sunnies or I will swell up and look like I've been in a boxing match.

  15. I am acutely aware of the perils of common sunscreens --- actually, we always opt for mineral sun screens (zinc oxide) when using anything. I typically do not use sunscreen unless I know I am going to be exposed for a long period and only then if I haven't been in the sun for awhile or have recently been on medication that has made my skin more sensitive.