These days, pouring on the sunscreen lotion has become a national summertime obsession. But more than that, the idea is to somehow hide from the sun whenever we go outside. The catch-phrase recommendation of the American Cancer Society is to, “Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap!” That is: Slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on a pair of sunglasses to avoid the ultraviolet (UV) light that is believed to cause skin cancer.
But there are two problems with this advice: 1) most sunscreen products contain a chemical that may be toxic, and 2) the best protection for your skin comes, not from the outside, but from the inside – provided that your body is getting the right nutrients.
Writing in his Nutrition & Healing newsletter last year (June 2002), Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., took a long look at sun exposure and skin damage, noting that for many millennia before sunscreen was developed, humans spent plenty of time in the sun. And, not coincidentally, for most of those millennia, humans ate whole foods that weren’t stripped of nutrition by chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides.
Dr. Wright makes the excellent point that many of today’s most common dietary deficiencies involve the very nutrients we most need to protect our skin from the sun damage that can lead to skin cancer.
He begins by singling out folic acid in particular, which he says rivals essential fatty acids for the number one spot on the vitamin deficiency list. Dr. Wright calls folic acid deficiency “a major contributor to skin cancer risk,” and he adds, “Folic acid is destroyed rapidly by heat, cold, and exposure to light, including sunlight. So it’s sunlight’s destructive effect on folic acid in the skin, not the actual sun exposure itself, that accounts for a significant part of the skin cancer problem. Folic acid (along with vitamin B12 and zinc) is absolutely key to DNA reproduction and repair.”
The best dietary sources of folic acid include spinach and other dark green vegetables, brewers yeast, lima beans, cantaloupe, watermelon, wheat germ, and liver from organically raised animals. In addition, Dr. Wright suggests supplementing with 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day, and more if you spend a good amount of time in the sun or have a family history of skin cancer. (Just a quick note: in an effort to further protect us from ourselves, the FDA has made it illegal to sell folic acid in a daily supply of more than 800 mcg, so don’t waste your time trying to find a 1,000 mcg dose when looking for a supplement.)
Dr. Wright adds that to further relieve stress to the skin, extra doses of vitamin C and antioxidants such as vitamin E round out the nutrients in the DNA Repair Group that will do far more for skin health than any number of applications of the highest SPF sunscreen.
A 2000 study conducted by the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, showed that low doses of octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC – the UV ray absorbing ingredient included in almost all sunscreen products) killed mouse skin cells. According to researchers, their results suggest that OMC may be toxic to human skin tissue as well. I’ve tried to find further research on OMC, but as far as I can determine no studies have yet examined the effects of OMC on human skin. So until we know more about OMC, the Norwegian research suggests that the safe choice would be to look for effective sunscreen alternatives that don’t contain this chemical.
In a Members Alert we sent you last summer (July 2002), HSI Panelist Robert A. Sinnott, Ph.D., wrote about a shrub that grows in the Arizona desert called Larrea tridentata, or creosote bush, that protects itself by producing natural chemicals that function as both a sunscreen and an antioxidant. Dr. Sinnott has developed a creosote bush extract, which he calls Larreastat, that contains antiviral and anti-inflammatory agents.
Larreastat is rich in flavonoid compounds, which are especially helpful in absorbing the light from the regions of the solar spectrum that are most likely to cause skin damage (the UV-A and UV-B regions). In addition, the flavonoids and the lignans in Larreastat function as powerful antioxidants. If some ultraviolet energy does make it through the sunscreen layers, the antioxidants in Larreastat quench the free radicals before they cause damage.
You can find more information about Larreastat and its use as a sunscreen at larreacorp.com.
Dr. Wright has dedicated the majority of his medical career to determining how nutritional deficiencies leave us vulnerable to – or even cause – specific diseases. To learn more about Dr. Wright’s research or his newsletter, visit www.wrightnewsletter.com.
To Your Good Health,
Health Sciences Institute
“Sun-Care Chemical Proves Toxic in Lab Tests” Mark Henderson, The Sunday Times, 10/15/00, mercola.com