Vitamin D, Natural Sunscreen and the Sun

Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is a necessary bioactive hormone, yes hormone, though it is referred to as a vitamin, known for prevention of bone loss associated with aging. It regulates levels of calcium, phosphorus, and the mineralization of bone. Vitamin D3 also supports brain, heart and immune health - and has shown to prevent cancer including melanoma. 

UVB rays are responsible for triggering the production of vitamin D in the skin. In sunnier climates, and in summer months, vitamin D levels are satisfied through sun exposure. Less sun exposure is responsible for the 42%-  or so - of the population low in Vitamin D levels. Supplementing is recommended for those who may not get enough sun. Foods, such as eggs, fatty fish and some plants, contain vitamin D, with wild caught salmon being noted to have up to 988 IU of vitamin D per 3.5 ounce serving. There is a broad range for the daily recommended intake of Vitamin D, between 400 to 4000 IU, and is dependent upon the amount of daily UVB exposure and other factors that would determine the optimal needs of the individual. This is a fat soluble vitamin so does have some build-up or storage in the body. 

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Sunscreen and Vitamin D

Sunscreen is necessary to prevent skin damage, such as premature aging and skin cancers, due to Ultra Violet Radiation (UVR) exposure from the sun. It’s common to recommend using a minimum of 15 SPF broad spectrum daily. There is potential that commercial sunscreen may, or may not, block vitamin D production, though more studies suggest sunscreen does interfere with production of D. According to many reports there are few people who put on enough sunscreen to block all UVB light, or they use it irregularly, so sunscreen's effects on vitamin D may not be an issue. This would also explain why sunburn and skin damage are still possible when using sunscreen. Research by Kao Corp determined 90% of the people they surveyed still sunburned using sunscreen.

Natural sunscreen

Sunscreens work by blocking, absorbing or reflecting the sun’s UV rays. This is why proper and repeated application is necessary for it to work completely and effectively. Two active ingredients in commercial sunscreens, oxybenzone and octinoxate were banned in Hawaii for suspected harmful effects to coral reefs. There are reports that titanium dioxide, a commonly accepted reflective sunscreen ingredient in natural, or oxybenzone free, formulas is not biodegradable and forms hydrogen peroxide in warm oceans causing harm to marine life. These results are forcing the issue to find alternatives.

Micronized, or nano-, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the active ingredients used in natural sunscreen. These compounds seem to be safe enough in topical creams, though there are differing opinions about damage to ocean life and reefs. A throwback to classic sunscreen has been re-introduced using powdered, not micronized, zinc oxide as reflective protection. This leaves the filmy or white coating to the skin. 

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What’s the damage, what’s the protection?

The sun’s UVR stimulate reactive oxygen species (ROS), or free radicals, that cause dry and wrinkled skin, dark spots, and skin cancers, such as melanoma. Sunburn is the response to UVR, causing an acute cutaneous inflammatory reaction, DNA damage and cell apoptosis. The skin releases melanin, a dark protective pigment, that may also lead to hyperpigmentation or dark spots later in life.  ROS is believed to lead to skin cancer due to DNA damage and lipid oxidation. 

The solution to ROS, often related to many human diseases and systemic damage, is high amounts of antioxidants that assist in prevention of free radical damage. Topical saturation of antioxidants may be the next natural sunscreen, though it hasn’t quite reached a point of FDA approval or consistent proof of effectiveness. For now it’s a complimentary solution, along with sunscreen, to protect from UV triggered ROS damage. This would include an oral dose, the best study concluding 16 mg of lycopene taken orally after a 10 week period was effective in preventing erythema (sunburn). Key point is the saturation comes after a 10 week period. This build-up and saturation suggests the constant application, missing areas of the body and an SPF rating, while in the sun may not apply to the use of antioxidants orally and topically.

Topical protection would reflect the requirement of saturation, suggesting a ten week period of full body daily application of oils that include sunflower seed, coconut, raspberry, blackberry and rosehip seed. Additional protection comes from the most well-researched botanical to prevent UVR damage, astaxanthin, a red algae supercritical extract. This can be taken orally and applied topically in specialized skin formulations.

Conclusion, the real natural sunscreen

It is recommended to have a diet high in antioxidants along with a daily supplementation of antioxidants; green tea extract, turmeric, ginger, rosemary, resveratrol, CoQ10 and others. This year round recommendation would include a daily regimen of antioxidant botanical oils and extracts topically applied using high antioxidant body lotions and facial serums. This natural form of skin protection will allow for proper and functional vitamin D production in the skin. As an added benefit, this protocol would also protect from damage due to mobile device blue light and environmental pollutants.