I haven't put a drop of sunscreen on my skin this summer. No, I haven't been hiding inside all summer; I've actually been cultivating my version of a tan, enjoying the sun and swimming outdoors at our club pool whenever I get the chance. So how's a fair-skinned red-head getting away with this? Won't this guarantee me tissue-paper crinkle skin by age 30, if I don't die of skin cancer first? The answer is no, and I'll explain why.
I avoid sunscreen because most sunscreens are bad for you. I know sunscreen is promoted as the only way to avoid skin cancer, but some of the common unhealthy ingredients, like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate can actually increase your risk for skin cancer by causing hormonal disruptions and cellular damage. Many of these sunscreens don't even protect against UVA rays, which are the truly dangerous rays for your skin. UVB rays are what cause the pink/red skin of a sunburn, but UVA rays are what cause the most skin damage, although the effects aren't immediately apparent. UVB rays are actually good for you in appropriate amounts, because they are what your skin uses to produce vitamin D, which brings me to my next point.
Vitamin D is vital for health, and the absolute best way to get it is from the sun. Vitamin D has a myriad of health benefits, including protection against skin cancer - along with every other kind of cancer. This is because vitamin D is a powerful anti-oxidant and will deactivate the damaging free radicals created by UVA radiation. So if you use a sunscreen with SPF of 15, it likely won't block any UVA rays, but it should block about 93% of the UVB rays that are hitting your skin, which would leave you with all of the damaging UVA rays, and very little UVB rays to use for vitamin D production! That means your sunscreen is blocking the natural cure, leaving you with double damage from the UVA rays and the chemicals in the sunscreen and nutritionally deprived of this extremely important vitamin.
Coconut oil is wonderful for your skin, and works great as a natural tanning oil. Like vitamin D, it protects your skin from free radical damage, and helps to heal any damage that has already been caused. That's what I have been using instead of sunscreen, and I've been slowly building up my tan since May. I aim for turning my skin the slightest shade of pink, that's the point when you've reached your limit of vitamin D production. At the beginning of the summer, my limit is about 15-30 minutes since I'm so fair-skinned naturally, but even I can achieve a decent sun exposure tolerance in just a few weeks. With coconut oil, and my natural source of vitamin D, I'm not worried about skin cancer in the slightest.
(I could rave about coconut oil for hours, and I have done a post previously highlighting a few of its benefits as a lotion here. I encourage you to read more about this amazing and misunderstood oil yourself, The Coconut Oil Miracle is a great book to start with.)
So my recommendations:
- Use coconut oil and time your sunning to build up a healthy tan and optimize your vitamin D production.
- The best time to soak up your vitamin D is the middle of the day. UVA is present whenever the sun is up, but UVB has a shorter wavelength and is strongest at solar noon.
- Use hats and clothing to protect your skin from excessive sun. If you feel you must use sunscreen after your vitamin D dose of sun, find a healthy sunscreen (EWG has some good tips and suggestions) that protects from UVA. Keep in mind that NO sunscreen will completely block the sun's rays.