Skin cancer is a growing epidemic
As we are into the summer season, many people are wondering how
they can protect themselves from the sun naturally. This is in light of the fact that the incidence of skin cancer is increasing every year, as well as the growing concern of the safety of sunscreens used to protect against sunburn.
Canadian cancer statistics estimate that there will be 74,100 new diagnoses of nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal and squamous cell) and 5,500 new cases of melanoma in 2011. Ideally, you do want to limit your exposure to the sun, but getting some sunlight is pertinent for good health. Sunshine provides the main source of vitamin D in the
body. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth, proper immune system functioning and cancer prevention, and is involved in the action of many genes in the body. Unfortunately, these days, many people are deficient in this crucial vitamin, likely due to decreased exposure to the sun and overuse of sunscreens.
Natural Protection from the Sun
You want to start out by gradually getting about 10 minutes of sunlight a day. The safe amount of sun exposure differs with each person and how easily they burn. Stay out of the sun during the peak times from
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you are out during this time, try to stay in the shade or wear lightcoloured, long-sleeved shirts and pants and a wide brim hat and sunglasses.
Although there is no ideal sunscreen, if you use sunscreen, the ones that have been found to be the safest so far are the mineral sunscreens (containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) which provide UVA protection, but are also stable in sunlight and do not seem to be absorbed through the skin.
On the other hand, chemical sunscreens contain potentially harmful ingredients which can be absorbed through the skin. These ingredients include: oxybenzone which can cause allergic reactions and disrupt hormones (and are not recommended for use on children) and vitamin A (retinyl palmitate/ retinol) which has been shown to increase the development of skin tumours when applied on the skin and exposed to sunlight.
Other natural ingredients which have been shown to have some sun-protection factors include: green tea extract (contains antioxidant polyphenols that can inhibit ultraviolet (UV) radiationinduced
skin tumours), shea butter, hempseed oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E and vitamin C. These ingredients are often found in natural sunscreen products.
Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables
Ensuring optimal nutrition in your diet can also help to prevent sunburn and skin cancer. In general, try to eat a good variety of colourful fruits and vegetables in your diet as this will ensure higher intake of antioxidants which help to prevent premature aging and disease, caused by harmful UV radiation. Specifically, research has shown that tomatoes cooked in olive oil can have sun protection and anti-cancer properties. This is thought to be due to the high level of lycopenes and carotenoids in tomatoes.
Carotenoids are also found in orange-coloured fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, mangoes and apricots. Broccoli has also been proven to have anti-cancer effects and can protect against the damaging effect of UV light.
Studies have also shown that drinking green tea (two or more cups per day) can decrease the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, as can eating green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and chard.
Also ensure you are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet (through coldwater fish, grassfed beef, nuts or fish oil), as these can help to reduce inflammation in the body and decrease the risk of developing the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma.
It has also been shown that vitamins C, D, and E can also help protect the skin from UV radiation, as well as decrease the risk for skin cancer. Therefore, include foods rich in these vitamins in your diet or take supplements of these vitamins.
In summary, use common sense when protecting yourself against the sun, but also know that we do need sunlight for optimal health. Use a good quality, natural sunscreen when necessary and further protect
yourself by ensuring adequate nutrition in your diet as outlined above.
With these thoughts in mind, have a safe and wonderful summer!
Note: This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.