Natural Sun Care Solutions - Dr. Naomi Ha, ND

Now that summer is just around the corner, it’s the perfect time for a suncare refresher. Excessive skin exposure to the sun can result in many damaging effects, and dramatically increases the risk of skin cancer. This is because the UV rays that are emitted from the sun have the ability to cause DNA damage, which then promotes aberrant cell replication, resulting in a cancerous disease that can oftentimes be difficult to treat. Every single year, 80,000 Canadians are diagnosed with skin cancer, so it’s a huge problem. Fortunately, there are many preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of sun damage that are easy to implement.

Mineral Sunscreen
Due to the rise of health consciousness, mineral sunscreen have become ubiquitous. However, keep in mind that they’re not all made the same, nor do they offer the same protection. When purchasing a natural sunscreen, look for Zinc Oxide, the mineral that confers the sun protection benefits by providing broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. It does this by forming a thin shield on top of the skin that is able to prevent deep absorption of the damaging rays by reflecting them off the skin surface. UVA radiation penetrates deeper into the skin and is known to cause premature aging as well as wrinkles. These are the rays that are also promote tanning of the skin, compared to UVB radiation which tends to burn the surface of the skin, resulting in that uncomfortable stinging sensation following sun exposure.

Understanding SPF
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is the measurement of the UVB absorption, which prevents UVB radiation from damaging the skin if applied properly. Interestingly, there is no way to report UVA absorption, so when choosing a sunscreen, make sure that it is labelled broad spectrum, as this shields against both UVA and UVB radiation. The higher the SPF, the greater the amount of UVB radiation the sunscreen absorbs, resulting in greater skin protection. When choosing a sunscreen, make sure that it is at least SPF 30 to provide sufficient protection, however, in general, the higher the SPF, the better.

Proper Sunscreen Application
The most common mistake that people make when using sunscreen is improper application. Sunscreen needs to be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure, because it takes this long for the sunscreen to be absorbed by the skin. Oftentimes, sunscreen is also applied sparingly because sunscreens tend to have an uncomfortable greasy texture. However, at least 1 oz. of sunscreen should be applied so that it forms a thin protective film on the skin’s surface. As well, sunscreen must be reapplied after any sports activity or active perspiration. These guidelines help ensure that the sunscreen is providing its optimal protection, and functioning at its greatest efficacy to prevent skin damage. 

Whole Body Suncare Hygiene
UV rays don’t just damage the skin, but UVB rays can also damage the eyes, which is why it’s also important to invest in a pair of sunglasses that provide UV protection. Wearing a hat with a wide brim that provides shading from the sun, or UV-shielding clothing can confer additional protection. The sun also emits the most direct rays of radiation between the hours of 12pm-4pm so limiting outside time during this period can prevent sun damage by reducing exposure to the most harmful rays.

Optimizing Skin Resilience
As always, it’s incredibly important to maintain skin health every day of the year, and not only just during the summer months. This builds the skin’s resilience, so even when faced with damaging UV rays, it can efficiently repair itself. Antioxidants such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and minerals Selenium and Zinc offer potent protection against oxidative damage which results in uneven skin pigmentation, wrinkles, and premature signs of aging, as they promote skin cell turnover. Curcumin, which is an extract of the active constituent in turmeric root, has been shown to promote the reparation of damaged skin cells, as well as stimulates collagen production to improve the appearance of skin. The biologically active extracts silymarin and silybin, from milk thistle (Silybum marianum), can also confer sun protection from UVA radiation by reducing the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) which promote inflammation, and by upregulating glutathione (one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body).

Many options exist for natural skin protection, so you’re able to mix-and-match according to your preferences. Keep the basic suncare guidelines in mind and stay skinsafe this summer!

Dr. Naomi Ha, is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, and currently practicing in the Leslieville area at Pursuit Integrative Health (1039 Gerard St. E.). Her areas of focus include hormonal health and dermatology.


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