1 – UVA is more problematic than we thought
We used to think cancer was caused by un-repaired DNA damage that only UVB radiation was powerful enough to create. Recently, we’ve begun to realize the bigger culprit is UVA rays triggering free radicals that excite the melanin in our skin causing it to damage our DNA in the EXACT SAME WAY as UVB rays and at a similar rate. UVA is a bigger problem than UVB for several reasons – read on!
2 – We’re like fireflies!
Researchers have uncovered a previously unknown way UV rays can act on melanin (the pigment in our skin that has the reputation for shielding us from sun damage), spurring cancer-causing mutations hours after sun exposure. Both UVA and UVB light activate enzymes that produce specific types of free radicals. These unique free radicals can excite melanin to a much higher energy form. This melanin fragment, containing the intense and damaging energy of a UV photon, can transfer that energy to DNA, causing harmful cancer-causing mutations, without the need for direct exposure to UV light.
While this sucks big time, it’s also kind of cool. This biochemical reaction that creates the high energy melanin fragment has until this point not been observed in mammals, and is the same mechanism that produces bioluminescence in lower organisms like fireflies.
3 – SPF is a meaningless number
This means SPF is not exactly meaningless, but very misleading – it only measures UVB protection. But we now know that UVA rays are responsible for most of the aging and pre-cancerous DNA damage – yet we have NO IDEA how much or little UVA protection we are getting from our sunscreen. Plus, you know that even if your SPF doubles, the ACTUAL sun protection only increases by about 1% right?
4 – Antioxidants – next-gen sunscreen?
Enter antioxidants – we’ve know for a while that antioxidants can play a big role in helping to curb aging damage in the skin. This new research shows that they can also play a significant role in decreasing DNA damage and cancer risk, by quenching the free radicals generated by UVA before they can excite melanin. Melanin inhibitors have also been proven to reduce the DNA damage. This means definitely add an antioxidant rich oil to your suncare routine both before AND after being in the sun. Why after?
5 – Sunburn can happen in the dark
These findings show that melanin excitation is UV independent and DNA damage continues even after you have sought shelter and are no longer exposed to the sun’s rays for 3 hours or longer! In fact, this is when the most damage occurs, caused by free radical reactions that keep going long after there’s no more UV exposure. So – it’s especially important to wear sunblock with UVA protection (something with Zinc Oxide is the best bet), but also to know that even if you’ve been in the sun too long – there’s a lot you can do to mitigate the damage after you’ve come inside! Taking post-sun skincare measures like applying antioxidant rich oils, especially those high in Vitamin E will help stop, or at least reduce, the free radical damage that is responsible for both cancer and aging.
6 – Antioxidants – what DON’T they do?
Not only do antioxidants prevent DNA damage – some antioxidants can actually help speed the repair of damaged DNA. Since DNA damage that is propagated before it can be repaired is what causes cancer, this reduces your cancer risk. Free radical scavenging is just the tip of the iceberg of what antioxidants can do!
7 – Algae – the next UV filter?
One antioxidant, a super carotenoid called astaxanthin can actually help increase your sun tolerance. Studied by researchers originally as a potential sunscreen, it was soon discovered that astaxanthin taken internally also helped increase sun tolerance and benefited the body in numerous other ways as well, including increased endurance and energy. Natural astaxanthin is produced only by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis when its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation. It’s the algae’s survival mechanism—astaxanthin serves as a “force field” to protect the algae from lack of nutrition and/or intense sunlight. It is unique in that when taken internally, it preferentially deposits in the skin, so you can be sure that is where it’s beneficial antioxidant powers are being put to good use. 6mg daily for 8 weeks (taken with omega 3 fats to increase absorption) is enough to see results in terms of reduced sunspots and increased skin elasticity. (PS We’re not a doctor)
8 – Summer and Berries and the Sun = Not a Coincidence
There’s a theory that says the reason so many fruits and berries are in season in the summer is because there is a synergy between locally sourced foods and the nutrients we need in that specific season and environment. Fruits provide a bounty of antioxidants which can help mitigate free radical damage caused by UV radiation. Might be why we’re gifted with so many calorically dense root veggies in cooler climes as well.
9 – Can your sunscreen HEAL acne?
Zinc, from the zinc oxide in sunscreen, is actually a very beneficial ingredient for healing acne. Zinc reduces the immune system’s release of inflammatory chemicals at the earliest stages of acne and it is also useful for preventing whiteheads and blackheads. Some acne experts even recommend applying sunscreen at night for this reason!
10 – Chemical UV filters aren’t the only UV filters that are ecotoxic
You may have heard that chemical sunscreens are toxic to coral reefs but did you know mineral sunscreens are ALSO toxic to marine life? Sad, but true. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide can cause fatal damage to marine life embryos. Luckily, the levels at which tests showed this toxicity are much higher than what we’ve tested in the oceans – so far.
11 – UVA is everywhere – even inside
One important reason to put on sunscreen EVERY SINGLE DAMN morning no matter what – UVA rays cause the majority of aging damage and cancer causing DNA damage and they are equally as strong in all seasons, winter as well as summer, clouds or not. They can also get through plastic and glass.
12 – UVA destroys Vitamin D
In fact, researchers think that modern vitamin D levels are so low not only because we’re not outside in the sun, but ALSO because UVA radiation destroys vitamin D. Windows used to be expensive and rare, but are ubiquitous in modern life. So the fact that we’re inside BUT WE HAVE WINDOWS means we’re getting NONE of the UVB that creates vitamin D and ALL of the UVA that destroys it. Double bummer for those in corner offices.
13 – Vitamin D and sunscreen do not get along
Vitamin D cannot be synthesized if you are wearing sunscreen and it can ONLY be synthesized by UVB radiation so tanning beds are NOT a good source – has to be the sun. It takes sun exposure on unprotected skin – and large areas of it – not just face and hands. Experts say the best time to get your vit. D is at 12 noon, and to stay in the sun until just the slightest tinge of pink shows – any more than that and you’ve overdone it, especially since the skin can only manufacture a set amount of vit. D per day. For light skinned people about 20 minutes in a swimsuit in the sun is advised, although vitamin D absorption varies depending on all kinds of variables including skin tone and environmental conditions.
14 – Vitamin D is a tricky recipe
It’s possible to wash off vitamin D – it takes many hours for it to synthesize on your skin using a cholesterol derivative found in your skin’s sebum. In fact, vitamin D takes about 48 hours to be completely absorbed into your bloodstream, and you can easily wash it off with soap and/or water. Yet another reason why showering too much and too often is actually bad for you. So wait to rinse for a few hours or more after heading inside and avoid soap as much as possible for the next 48 hours.
15 – Suntanning in the winter is better
Do your sunbathing in the winter? In many parts of the world it is even possible—and probably advisable—to sunbathe at noon in the winter with as little clothing as the weather permits. This is the time of year when you need to be most concerned about the amount of vitamin D you are receiving, as your vitamin D levels can drop by up to 50 percent during winter months.
16 – Another reason to forgo lotions for oils
One more argument against putting too many preservatives and antibacterial soaps on your skin – did you know anti-microbials can increase your sun sensitivity with long term and ample usage?
17 – Green tea bath? I’m in!
A fun and decadent post-sun antioxidant treatment to try is a cooling green tea bath. Just avoid soap! Two heaping teaspoons of matcha powder and three heaping teaspoons of fine oat flour make a skin soothing and free radical quenching spa treatment in the comfort of your own bathroom. Ahhhhh…