Most of us were taught from a young age that it is important to apply the highest SPF sunscreen available, and to apply it often. Some of my friends weren’t allowed to play outside until they were slathered in a thick coat of sunscreen.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. In 1999 40,000 cases of melanoma were reported and most recently in 2015, the CDC reported over 80,000 annual cases of melanoma (“USCS Data Visualizations”, 2019).
Today, consumers have access to more sunscreen products than they ever before and our society has been educated about the detrimental effects prolonged sun exposure has on our bodies. With all of this progress, why has reports for skin cancer doubled in the last 15 years?
Is Sunlight Important?
Sunlight contains two forms of radiant energy, ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVB provides the energy our skin needs to make vitamin D by reacting to cholesterol on the skin to produce this vital hormone. UVA on the other hand, is responsible for the negative effects of sun exposure which contributes to skin damage and premature aging.
However, not all sun exposure is bad for your health. It is hypothesized that vertebrates (including humans) depend on sun exposure for the maintenance of their calcium metabolism which helps reduce the risk of bone related diseases such as rickets and osteoporosis (Wacker & Holick, 2019).
In the early 1900’s children were becoming ill with an unknown painful bone disease now known as rickets. In 1920 vitamin D was discovered and the importance of this vitamin to maintaining health.
By 1931 the US Department of Labor People even created a campaign to get children out in the sunlight to help them produce vitamin D naturally.
Within a decade, the fortification of food and milk with vitamin D was under way, and rickets became rare in the United States (Wacker & Holick, 2019). At that time, the sun was actually being promoted as a health benefit, but in more recent years, it has been labeled as a dangerous carcinogen.
Is sun exposure the culprit of deadly diseases and cancer? Is sun exposure a necessity to living a healthy life? Or can it be both? In integrative medicine, we consider the sun as a necessary staple to our lifestyle. It has been around long before humans walked the earth and for tens of thousands of year’s humans evolved to live in harmony (or thrive) under the sun.
In order to look at skin cancer from a holistic approach it’s important to compare our stats with other countries around the world. What is interesting about sun exposure is that most third world countries with similar latitudes don’t have access to sunscreen, so how do they rarely get skin cancer? These cultures have evolved to provide additional natural sun protection through darker skin pigmentations.
Our bodies have a natural defense to protect us from harmful UV rays by melanin. Melanin is a pigment which occurs in the skin to give it a darker color. Fair-skinned people usually get burned faster than a darker skinned person because of the amount of melanin in their skin.
Melanocytes in the skin protect against harmful pathogens as well as positively interact with parts of our endocrine system and other hormones in our body (i.e. pituitary gland, hypothalamus and adrenal glands).
Melanocytes also play a role in calcium homeostasis, and even graying of our hair. We still have a lot to learn about melanocytes, as these were once given a bad reputation, but more recently have been shown to be important in our overall health and homeostasis.
If Sunlight isn’t the Independent Cause of Cancer, than what is?
There are other factors that play into this equation, not just sunburns. Sun exposure, pigmentation as well as lifestyle all plays a role in skin disease. In simple terms, it comes down to this, “unhealthy people get cancer, all forms of cancer” including skin cancer. Whether we are aware of it or not, cancer is our body’s way of telling us to look deeper at our ‘terrain’, to see why it is out of balance. It is our job to listen to our body and fix the underlying cause of these abnormalities.
Consider this, when someone has a skin cancer lesion, the dermatologist usually removes the affected area on the body. However, each year people go back to get re-checked and often times more cancerous areas are found, why is that? Because the root cause of why the cancer formed in the first place has not been identified or treated.
Toxic Burden of the Body
When our bodies get sick because of toxin exposures (from chemicals, smoking carcinogens, heavy metals, environmental pollutants, plastics, mold, infections, gut dysbiosis aka leaky gut, etc.), our major detoxing organs become overburdened and eventually become toxic too. When our internal organs become injured and our immune system is weakened, outward signs present themselves, usually on the skin. Skin conditions such as eczema, acne, age spots, wrinkles, warts, psoriasis, vitiligo and skin cancer are often caused by our internal milieu.
How to Decrease Risk of Skin Cancer?
- Eat a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, raw/organic vegetables and clean/unprocessed foods.
- Optimize your skin health with protective supplements:
- Magnesium is an essential cofactor in enzymatic systems involved in DNA processing, which is beneficial when it comes to UV exposure. I recommend Magnesium Glycinate 300mg in the evening/bedtime.
- Zinc promotes wound healing and skin benefits. I recommend taking 25mg with food (or nausea will occur).
- NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine) is a precursor to glutathione, the major antioxidant in our body. This helps decrease free radicals in the body as well. Anytime we can support our cells, we are decreasing the risk for all cancers.
- Wear protective gear when in the direct sun
- Hats with protective brims.
- Swim guards with UV protection.
- Umbrellas to create shade.
- Use safe sunscreens that don’t add additional toxins to your body
- Chemical free (free of avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule & octocrylene).
- Natural sunscreens that utilize zinc as its protective shield against harmful UV rays.
For my patients I recommend Sun & Fun Sunscreen by Select Balance. It protects against protects against UVB + UVA rays and even moisturizes you skin as an added benefit! It has safe ingredients such as: beeswax, aloe vera gel, apricot kernel oil, zinc oxide, shea butter, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, vitamin E oil and essential oils. It rubs in surprisingly well compared to other chemically-free and natural sunscreens on the market that leave a white glow.
Most popular sunscreen contains harmful chemicals that penetrate the skin and get absorbed by the body. They are often easy to apply through aerosol spray, but provide skin protection through chemical additives. These chemicals burden our bloodstream and organs and have negative consequences. Read more on my sunscreen blog post by clicking here.
Juzeniene, A., & Moan, J. (2019). Beneficial effects of UV radiation other than via vitamin D production.
USCS Data Visualizations. (2019). Retrieved from https://gis.cdc.gov/Cancer/USCS/DataViz.html
Wacker, M., & Holick, M. (2019). Sunlight and Vitamin D.