Every summer for my entire life, my family has made the trip to Carpinteria, California for a week at our family beach house. There is nothing quite like it, running out of the car we just spent way too many hours in, throwing off our shoes, and running into the warm, soft sand for the first time since last year. We always make a point to dip our toes in the ocean to see what kind of water temperatures we will be braving this year before trudging back to the car to unload. Although family and years of memories certainly add to it, my love for the beach is deep. There is so much to do and something for everyone, from people-watching (always intriguing at the beach), sand castles, surfing the waves, catching sand crabs, or just reading a book while catching a tan. The fun is endless, but…so is the sun.
Our Good Sun
A central aspect of every good beach day is the warm sun shining down clear (for me at least, a rainy day at the beach doesn’t sound too great). So what else will you find in every beach bag, slathered on every kid’s face, that distinct chemical smell wafting across the shoreline? Sunscreen! Heaven forbid, you ever head to the beach without a bottle (or spray can ?!?) of sunscreen. We have been so bombarded with the message that the sun is bad and any direct exposure will give you skin cancer, that people have almost become afraid of the sun. Hold up! The sun is natural! The sun gives life. We would DIE without the sun. We need the sun, not just to keep us warm and to grow our plants, but also to hit our skin (yes, those UV-B rays must directly hit un-sunscreened skin!) to allow our cells to manufacture vitamin D. This is no minor vitamin as vitamin D is necessary for life. Deficiency can lead to depression, weak bones, and seizures and increases the risk for several cancers and heart disease. (Yes, you read that right, not getting enough sun actually increases your risk for some cancers). This is important and we mustn’t be afraid of God’s natural source of vitamin D, something we don’t even have to eat, the sun!
What's Wrong with My Sunscreen?
Now just ten minutes, or a little longer for darker skin, of direct midday sunlight on most of your skin (time to wear that swimsuit!) will give you plenty of vitamin D for the day. So don’t think I am advocating you should spend a whole day in the sun unprotected. No, no, no. UV rays from the sun are real, they can do damage, and skin cancer does exist, but there are many great options out there to keep your skin safe that don’t involve applying thick layers of harmful chemicals all over your body’s largest and most important protective organ. But I do not recommend using conventional sunscreen off the shelf of your local drug store. These rely on chemical “sun filters” such as avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, octinoxate and most notably, oxybenzone. The problem is these chemicals can absorb right through your skin and into your body and there cause harm. You wouldn’t want to eat any of those sunscreen chemicals, and yet putting them on your skin is essentially leading to the same result. They are commonly allergenic as well as endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with your body’s hormones (think, estrogen, testosterone, thyroid hormones, etc.) and this is definitely not something fun to mess with. Even more interesting is that some of the common conventional sunscreen ingredients like retinal palmitate actually increase the risk for skin cancer.
A Better Alternative
So what to do? You don’t have to limit your time at the beach to ten minutes, then go hide under the umbrella the rest of the day (although covering up is the "surest" way to prevent sunburns). Thankfully, people are smart and for those of us who care about what goes in and on our bodies, they have created products like the all-natural sunscreens made by Raw Elements that will keep you protected for all the sand and sea you can handle. These sunscreens use mineral (not chemical) barriers such as zinc oxide to protect the skin and aren't absorbed into the body. They still offer excellent UV protection and come in many forms so you can easily find one that suits your preferences. Raw Elements is used by extreme athletes, but is safe and gentle enough to be used on your baby. It’s one of our favorites because it is made in the USA, uses only natural and organic ingredients, won’t harm the ocean reefs or marine life, and doesn’t wear off in the water. They are even working towards minimal plastic use and are really giving their best effort to making the best sunscreen out there. Next time you’re headed to the beach, drop that tube of Banana Boat in the garbage, grab a tin of Raw Elements SPF 30, and just enjoy the life-giving sunshine.
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For further information, including sources to back up the information in this article:
Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences
Am J Clin Nutr April 2008 vol. 87 no. 4 1080S-1086S
-American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreens - Environmental Working Group
Why (Most) Sunscreen is Harmful