Throw away the sunscreen! | Chris Kresser
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Throw away the sunscreen!


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  1. Andrew,

    I’d agree that it’s wise to avoid burn. However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to use commercial sunblock to do that, since many commercial sunblocks contain ingredients which cause… you guessed it… skin cancer.

    I’d suggest a sunblock with only titanium or zinc oxide as the active ingredient, and all natural ingredients otherwise. Coconut and sesame oil can be used as well, but they are only about SPF 2 from what I gather.

  2. It seems like this is another case of the old adage, “Everything in moderation.” I think slathering on sunscreen every time you go outside is a poor health decision due to the resultant limitation of vitamin D production. If I’m outside for an hour or less, or in the morning or evening, I don’t wear sunscreen.

    On the other hand, I love being out on the water during the afternoon, and may be out for several hours. In these cases, it makes perfect sense to put on some SPF-30. That way I can enjoy the weather and not burn horribly.

  3. I grew up on the beaches of California. I spent nearly every day in the sun, and when I was much younger, most of those days did not involve the use of sunscreens. I’ve never had any issues with my skin. My skin is extremely healthy, and I honestly believe that my exposure to the sun at an early age is what, in part, has kept it healthy.

    I always try my best to get sun exposure now (I’m 44). I like the tan, and it feels good. I’m very aware of the benefits of Vit. D as well, and that is another reason why I make sure to get a reasonable amount of exposure.

    I think it’s important for everyone to get sun exposure. Fair skinned people seem to think they need to cover up and try their best to not get any sun. I think what is more important is to get sun exposure and know your limits at the same time. If you are fair skinned, then 10-20 min. might be all that you can handle before you start to burn. Keep up that kind of thinking. Avoid getting burned. But don’t eliminate exposure. Just know your limits. If you start to reach threshold, then try and get out of the sun. Then do it a couple of days later, or a week, or whatever you know you can handle.

    I find it odd how over the years, we’ve become obsessed with sunscreens. Sure, they have their place, but ultimately I believe the reason for the ocean of sunscreens is corporate profits. These big pharma companies want to turn everything into a condition or disease so they can sell us another product.

    The sun is an integral part of our existence. Humanity has lived in the sun for thousands of years, and it’s only been within the past 50 years or so that the sun has all of a sudden become bad. It’s marketing. it’s business. It’s desire for profits.

    As for the ozone? Perhaps it is reduced. However, I think the messages sent out about ozone depletion and its effects, are simply a method of instilling fear in people so we buy sunscreen products to protect us.

    I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy. I think people who believe they are really smart, really aren’t as smart as they think they are. They’re simply making educated guesses, formulating hypotheses and theories.

    Humanity often thinks it finds the answer, solution, or fact about a given phenomenon, only to be proven wrong many years later. I believe many of our scientists are wrong about the dangers of sun exposure, and many people are lemmings running off the cliff’s edge.

  4. Bruce,

    I joined the forum you linked to and tried posting a comment, but it was rejected by the moderator. I have absolutely no idea why, as it was simply a question about what reliable current sources of data on PUFA content in animal fats are available.


  5. Bruce,

    Your experience and the anecdotal reports you mention are definitely interesting. I doubt there is any data either way, since there’s not much money to be made there by pharmaceutical companies. PUFA is a major part of the American diet and unfortunately that’s not going to change anytime soon.

    I’ll check out the group – thanks for the link. I’m curious about what the mechanism might be for the protective effect of a low PUFA diet against skin cancer.

  6. I haven’t seen any data, but I haven’t looked. I’ve seen anecdotal reports from many people that a low-PUFA diet makes them resistant to sun burns, and even regular burns (like at the stove). You might find references on the Scientific Debate Forum, which espouses an extremely low-PUFA diet as the solution to many chronic modern diseases. The author does eat some junk food, but only things made with coconut oil, palm kernel oil, or butterfat, or fully hydrogenated oils (100% saturated). He claims to have reversed many health problems, like rosacea, osteoporosis, and leaky gut.

    Recently during a blackout I accidentally poured hot candle wax all over my hand and didn’t have any burn mark from it afterwards. I don’t burn in the sun. I don’t tan easily. In fact, I saw old tan lines disappear when I started eating the extremely low PUFAs. Tanning is DNA damage and I am virtually immune to it now. Once, my skin flaked a little, but it didn’t burn or turn red. No pain, no inflammation, no sunburn apparent from it.

  7. Bruce,

    Thanks again for your very helpful comment.

    I’m curious as to whether you’ve seen any studies correlating low PUFA with protection from sunburn or skin cancer? While I completely agree with you (as you know) on the dietary suggestions you’ve made, I haven’t yet seen any data establishing a connection specifically between PUFA and skin cancer. I’d love to see it if such data exists.

  8. facadefemme,

    I suggest you protect your skin from sun by eating a high saturated fat, low PUFA diet. I routinely go out in the sun walking with no sunscreen and have never burned. I don’t tan, either. Having low levels of PUFAs in your skin is a form of natural sun screen, making you very resistant to burning. The fats I’d suggest are coconut oil (naturally refined or virgin), macadamia oil, butter or ghee, beef suet, beef fat, and maybe cocoa butter. Eat them and apply them to your skin if you find you are still sensitive to the sun. I have prety fair skin and have burned in the past when I was not avoiding PUFAs scrupulously.

    To reduce PUFA intake, avoid most nuts and seeds. Hazelnuts, macadamia, and coconut are fairly low in PUFAs (1-10%). Most nuts are a lot higher. I’d also avoid any commercial salad dressing, mayonnaise, restaurant cooking oil, fried food, oil roasted nuts, chicken fat, and turkey fat. Duck and goose are much better if you can find them. Pork is similar to duck and goose fat. The best fats are red meat, dairy, and tropical oils IMO. Fatty liver is eaten traditionally in the Gascony region of Southern France, they also have the lowest rate of heart disease and the best longevity. Fatty liver is similar to macadamia oil, with less than 2% PUFAs, but more saturated. They also eat lots of duck and goose fat, raw cheeses, butter, etc.

    Avoid PUFA vegetable oils like corn, soy, flax, safflower, cottonseed, canola, rapeseed, sunflower, hemp, walnut, peanut, etc. These are typically rancid, full of PUFAs, solvents, bleaches, and other poisons.

  9. Hi facadefemme,

    Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog.

    Certainly cancer is not desirable under any circumstances. However, when it comes to protecting myself from cancer I am far more concened with malignant cancers like melanoma than I am with generally benign skin cancers.

    As I mentioned in the article, wearing sunscreen consistently actually increases our chances of getting melanoma – both because of the toxic chemicals it contains and because it prevents us from getting adequate amounts of vitamin D, which protects us from cancer.

    Of course you could take high-vitamin cod liver oil or find some other way to ensure proper vitamin D status if you do not want any sun exposure (although sun exposure has other health benefits aside from vitamin D production). And there are a few sunscreens which use only titanium or zinc oxide as their active ingredient and don’t have harmful chemicals (although they are very expensive).

    I disagree completely that there is no reason to ever be in the sun without sunscreen. You have not provided any evidence to support that claim other than your own personal experience with sunburn. Certainly we all need to find our own personal threshold when it comes to sun exposure, but the evidence clearly indicates that moderate amounts of exposure to the sun without sunscreen is health-promoting. I do agree that it is wise to avoid frequent sunburn, and I mentioned that in my article.

    I also mentioned that people living in climates such as yours will need to take cod liver oil to ensure adequate vitamin D status during the winter.

  10. Wouldn’t you say that any kind of skin cancer, regardless of being malignant or benign, is bad? Coming from a family where multiple people develop multiple types of cancer a year, I have been raised to do anything in your power to avoid all cancers. Yes, there are people who spend hour upon hour in the sun without sunscreen and have no signs of getting cancer, but if you have a family history of cancer, you should be doing anything you can to avoid it, because you are clearly not one of those people genetically.

    Also, as a very fair skinned person, it is more than just a cancer issue. I was hospitalized this past spring for second degree burns on my feet from missing a few spots while at the beach. This happened within 2 hours. I am very fair skinned and need sunscreen everyday to prevent injuries like this. As the ozone layer continues to deplete, the sun’s rays are getting stronger. Everybody’s skin is not used to this kind of extreme exposure, and they should want to protect their skin. Clearly, I am an extreme case and need more than other people, but that doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t need it.

    We have all seen the leathery skin of people who have spent their whole lives in the sun. I think it is less than desirable, and I thought most people were wearing sunscreen to prevent that, rather than cancer. With so many supplements and faux tanning solutions, there really is no reason to ever be in the sun without sunscreen. You can get a healthy fake glow, and if you do it right, it looks just as good, if not better, as it is typically more even. You’ll have youthful skin and can avoid excessive dermal peels and other sun damage remedies.

    Furthermore, I live in Buffalo, NY. We may get a ton of sun throughout the year, but it snows for 4-6 months of that year. I am not going to venture out in the cold to get that sun exposure you speak of, and wonder who would.

  11. Hi Tabitha,

    Thanks for your comment!

    As I mentioned in my last comment, there are indeed many people around the world who get continuous sun exposure and who do not develop skin cancer. The role of vitamin A & vitamin K cannot be overlooked, and other nutritional factors may be important as well.

  12. EEN,

    Thanks for your comment and welcome to The Healthy Skeptic.

    While there are a small number of deaths from non-melanomic skin cancers each year, I haven’t seen any data that proves a causal link between sun exposure and those cancers.

    It is entirely possible that those people also had a deficiency of vitamins A & K, for example, that may have contributed to vitamin D toxicity. There are many people all around the world who get frequent exposure to the sun without sunblock who do not develop skin cancer. Clearly there are other mechanisms at work as well.

  13. I feel it necessary to point out that there are also about 2,000 fatal cases of non-melanomatic skin cancers each year. That’s not a lot considering the total 600,000 annual cases (only about 0.3%). Although these statistics are less than alarming, I still feel it raises the question of whether sunscreen is more harmful to one’s health than raw (and unnaturally UV rich) sunlight. It may be a topic of debate.

  14. finally i can prove to my mom that im not trying to get cancer by being in and by the pool all the time! lol.

    of course i realize that its all about portions and control, just not staying out there for excessive amounts of time, but, think about people who work outdoors all day. do u ever hear about them getting skin cancer? i sure dont…

  15. I try to go without sunglasses as often as possible for the same reason I avoid prolonged or frequent exposure to unnatural light after the sun goes down – it throws off my body’s natural reactions to light.

    If nothing else, all the chemicals in sunscreen have to be causing SOME sort of damage.

  16. I would add that people should throw away their sunglasses. Those are one more artificial thing that people use unthinkingly. The only time you ought to use sunglasses is while in a car, IMO. There is no reason to wear them while outdoors. The sun won’t damage your eyes if you use common sense. Don’t look at the sun while in the shade. Stand in an open aresa. Blink when you feel the urge to blink. Go inside or put on a hat or if your eyes feel fatigued.

    Our eyes need sunlight just as much as our bodies need sunlight. Take time and enjoy watching the sunrise or the sunset occasionally. Without glasses, or sunglasses. Stand barefoot on the Earth and let the sun in your eyes. No primitive people wore sunglasses or sunscreen. Both are unnatural ploys to make money and most likely extremely unhealthy for you in the long run.

    • Bruce, Inuits had sunglasses. They block out all sunlight except for a small slit. Furthermore, eye color correlates both to sensitivity to light and to light levels where that ethnic group evolved (e.g., dark brown eyes in India where light intensities are greater, light blue eyes in Ireland where the sun is less intense). To ask a person with light blue eyes not to wear sunglasses while in India would be poor judgment. How about just wearing sunglasses whenever you feel yourself squinting? And each person will have their own light threshold.