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8 Ways to Keep Your Skin Safe in the Sun

June 24, 2016 by Joel Fuhrman, MD

The skin is the largest organ of the body, with a total area of about 20 square feet. The skin protects us from microbes and the elements, helps regulate body temperature, and permits the sensations of touch, heat, and cold. It is important that it be protected from chronic damage.

Sunshine is essential to our health and wellbeing, but it also has a dark side.

Too much sun is a major culprit in causing skin damage, so we must be wise in how we enjoy being outside. Sunscreen is vital protection. Being outdoors without adequate sunscreen protection can have dire effects, ranging from painful sunburn to developing skin cancers. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has been steadily on the rise since the 1970s, and since 2000, melanoma incidence has risen at a rate of 1.6 percent per year.1 And about half of young adults report getting at least one sunburn per year.2 Recurrent sunburns increase skin cancer risk.

One of the main problems is the erroneous belief that sunscreen use is just for summer time, at the shore, or outdoor activities. Actually, sun rays can be harmful all year round without adequate sunscreen protection.

Sun and aging skin goes hand in hand. Women of bygone years who wore hats, gloves and used umbrellas to keep their skin away from the sun knew what they were doing. About 80% of a woman’s visible facial skin aging is due to sun exposure, and a 2013 study concluded that the diligent, everyday application of sunscreen can slow or temporarily prevent the development of wrinkles and sagging skin. The study involved 900 white people in Australia and required some of them to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day for four and a half years. It found that people who did so had no detectable increase in skin aging over that time than those assigned to continue their usual practices.3,4

Minimizing UV damage is especially important for children and fair-skinned individuals and those who have sun sensitivity for medical reasons. Unfortunately, too many people regard tanning as safe, and associate it with outdoor activities and beauty. When outdoors this summer, it’s important to remember to avoid excessive sun exposure to protect yourself from free radical damage and skin cancer.


How to enjoy being outdoors and stay safe from sun’s rays:


1. Seek shade often

2. Wear protective clothing

3. Avoid mid-day (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.) sun or too much time in the sun.

4. Choose a safe and effective sunscreen, based on my guidelines below.
Remember that no sunscreen stops all UV rays. UVB rays cause sunburn; both UVA and UVB rays contribute to skin cancer. Many sunscreens do not protect against UVA rays. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) listed on sunscreens refers only to UVB protection. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires sunscreens to be tested to determine whether a product can be labeled “broad spectrum,” meaning that it protects against UVA and UVB rays. The FDA recommends choosing a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to help prevent skin cancer.5

5. Avoid sunscreens containing Vitamin A.
Vitamin A is often listed on sunscreen labels as an antioxidant that can fight skin aging. Vitamin A is an antioxidant, but in isolation it could be dangerous, both in supplements and for the skin. According to animal studies, sunscreens may actually promote the progression of skin cancer if they contain vitamin A.6, 7

6. Avoid sunscreens containing Oxybenzone and OMC
The chemical sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone and OMC (octyl methoxycinnamate) are the most concerning; they are endocrine disruptors – chemicals that have the ability to mimic, inhibit, or alter the action of the body’s natural hormones.8 Exposure to endocrine disruptors, for example BPA and DDT, have been linked to early puberty in children and hormonal cancers in adults.9,10 Endocrine disrupting effects of chemical sunscreens have been reported in animals, and they are likely to affect human health as well.11,12

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found oxybenzone in the urine samples of 96 percent of the Americans tested; this suggests that oxybenzone is absorbed into the blood when chemical sunscreen is applied to the skin, and could therefore disrupt hormones in the body.13

Other studies have found sunscreen chemicals in breast milk.11,14 In observational studies, urinary oxybenzone has been linked to endometriosis, possibly due to its estrogenic effects.15 In addition, there seem to be significant rates of skin allergy to oxybenzone.16,17

7. Avoid Spray Sunscreens
The FDA is investigating whether sunscreen sprays are adequately effective, and the potential risks they may pose if inhaled.5 They may not coat the skin evenly or thickly enough. Until this is clarified, they are bested.

8. Use Mineral Sunscreen as its Safer than Chemical Sunscreen
Mineral sunscreens most commonly contain either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide or a combination of these two, and these are preferable to the chemical sunscreens currently available in the United States.

These minerals do not penetrate as deeply into the skin as chemical sunscreens. They lie on top of the skin and penetrate only into superficial layers, absorbing UV rays before they can damage the skin beneath.18 Zinc oxide has been found to be superior to titanium dioxide in absorbing UVA rays.19

Certain products use nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to make the sunscreen more easily absorbed by the skin and therefore more transparent; there have been concerns that these small particles could penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream.

The available evidence suggests that zinc nanoparticles do not penetrate the skin, but that nanoparticles do break down while on the skin surface, which could lead to zinc penetrating the skin and entering the circulation.20,21

There are conflicting reports on whether titanium dioxide nanoparticles are able to penetrate the skin,22-27 however, they could damage lung tissue or other organs if inhaled (as in spray sunscreens) or ingested.27-30 Additional studies are needed in order to definitively determine whether nanoparticle-containing sunscreen products are safe.

Mineral Sunscreen without Nanoparticles is the Safest Choice

Mineral sunscreen is safer than chemical sunscreen, and non-micronized zinc oxide sunscreen is the safest and most effective choice for protecting against UVA and UVB rays. Unfortunately, sunscreen labels most often do not disclose whether the product contains nanoparticles.

I recommend and make available a safe and effective sunscreen line that uses nonmicronized zinc oxide. Green Screen® organic broad spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays without the use of nanoparticles or harmful chemicals, and is made from all natural and edible grade organic ingredients. This product uses non-nano zinc oxide, the Environmental Working Group’s preferred sun protection ingredient with the best evidence for safety and effectiveness.

Of all the mineral sunscreen products, Green Screen® is one of the very few that does not contain nano- or micro-sized particles. We have contacted and communicated with the technical departments of many sunscreen companies to find a product that does not contain nanoparticles. Green Screen® does leave a tint on your skin when applied — that’s why it is available in both white and flesh tone. The advantage is that you can easily see whether you are protected and whether it is time to reapply the sunscreen.

Don’t rely on the sun to provide all your need for vitamin D because it needlessly increases the risk of skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. Supplementation with D3 is the safest method of obtaining sufficient vitamin D.

  1. National Cancer Institute. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). Fast Stats. []
  2. Centers for Disease C, Prevention: Sunburn and sun protective behaviors among adults aged 18-29 years--United States, 2000-2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2012;61:317-322.
  3. Flament F, Bazin R, Laquieze S, et al: Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skin. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 2013;6:221-232.
  4. Hughes MC, Williams GM, Baker P, et al: Sunscreen and prevention of skin aging: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2013;158:781-790.
  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Consumer Updates. Stay Safe in the Summer Sun. 2016. Accessed May 24, 2016.
  6. Environmental Working Group. The problem with vitamin A. 2014. Accessed May 21, 2014.
  7. Lunder S: Environmental Working Group. What Scientists Say About Vitamin A in Sunscreen. 2011. Accessed May 21, 2014.
  8. Krause M, Klit A, Blomberg Jensen M, et al: Sunscreens: are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV-filters. Int J Androl 2012;35:424-436.
  9. Roy JR, Chakraborty S, Chakraborty TR: Estrogen-like endocrine disrupting chemicals affecting puberty in humans--a review. Med Sci Monit 2009;15:RA137-145.
  10. De Coster S, van Larebeke N: Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: associated disorders and mechanisms of action. J Environ Public Health 2012;2012:713696.
  11. Schlumpf M, Durrer S, Faass O, et al: Developmental toxicity of UV filters and environmental exposure: a review. Int J Androl 2008;31:144-151.
  12. Schlumpf M, Cotton B, Conscience M, et al: In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environ Health Perspect 2001;109:239-244.
  13. Calafat AM, Wong LY, Ye X, et al: Concentrations of the sunscreen agent benzophenone-3 in residents of the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003--2004. Environ Health Perspect 2008;116:893-897.
  14. Schlumpf M, Kypke K, Wittassek M, et al: Exposure patterns of UV filters, fragrances, parabens, phthalates, organochlor pesticides, PBDEs, and PCBs in human milk: correlation of UV filters with use of cosmetics. Chemosphere 2010;81:1171-1183.
  15. Kunisue T, Chen Z, Buck Louis GM, et al: Urinary concentrations of benzophenone-type UV filters in U.S. women and their association with endometriosis. Environ Sci Technol 2012;46:4624-4632.
  16. Schauder S, Ippen H: Contact and photocontact sensitivity to sunscreens. Review of a 15-year experience and of the literature. Contact Dermatitis 1997;37:221-232.
  17. Szczurko C, Dompmartin A, Michel M, et al: Photocontact allergy to oxybenzone: ten years of experience. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed 1994;10:144-147.
  18. Cole C, Shyr T, Ou-Yang H: Metal oxide sunscreens protect skin by absorption, not by reflection or scattering. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed 2016;32:5-10.
  19. Pinnell SR, Fairhurst D, Gillies R, et al: Microfine zinc oxide is a superior sunscreen ingredient to microfine titanium dioxide. Dermatol Surg 2000;26:309-314.
  20. Leite-Silva VR, Sanchez WY, Studier H, et al: Human skin penetration and local effects of topical nano zinc oxide after occlusion and barrier impairment. Eur J Pharm Biopharm 2016.
  21. Holmes AM, Song Z, Moghimi HR, et al: Relative Penetration of Zinc Oxide and Zinc Ions into Human Skin after Application of Different Zinc Oxide Formulations. ACS Nano 2016;10:1810-1819.
  22. Gulson B, Wong H, Korsch M, et al: Comparison of dermal absorption of zinc from different sunscreen formulations and differing UV exposure based on stable isotope tracing. Sci Total Environ 2012;420:313-318.
  23. Filipe P, Silva JN, Silva R, et al: Stratum corneum is an effective barrier to TiO2 and ZnO nanoparticle percutaneous absorption. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2009;22:266-275.
  24. Sadrieh N, Wokovich AM, Gopee NV, et al: Lack of significant dermal penetration of titanium dioxide from sunscreen formulations containing nano- and submicron-size TiO2 particles. Toxicol Sci 2010;115:156-166.
  25. Xie G, Lu W, Lu D: Penetration of titanium dioxide nanoparticles through slightly damaged skin in vitro and in vivo. J Appl Biomater Funct Mater 2015;13:e356-361.
  26. Miquel-Jeanjean C, Crepel F, Raufast V, et al: Penetration study of formulated nanosized titanium dioxide in models of damaged and sun-irradiated skins. Photochem Photobiol 2012;88:1513-1521.
  27. Shakeel M, Jabeen F, Shabbir S, et al: Toxicity of Nano-Titanium Dioxide (TiO-NP) Through Various Routes of Exposure: a Review. Biol Trace Elem Res 2015.
  28. Environmental Working Group. Nanoparticles in Sunscreens. 2014.
  29. Liu R, Zhang X, Pu Y, et al: Small-sized titanium dioxide nanoparticles mediate immune toxicity in rat pulmonary alveolar macrophages in vivo. J Nanosci Nanotechnol 2010;10:5161-5169.
  30. Tang M, Zhang T, Xue Y, et al: Dose dependent in vivo metabolic characteristics of titanium dioxide nanoparticles. J Nanosci Nanotechnol 2010;10:8575-8583.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 25 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.