It’s summer again. All over the country people are slathering on their sunscreen. And women with fair skin who burn the most are reaching for the highest SPF they can find.
But here’s the sad truth. The higher your SPF the MORE skin damage you’ll get from a day in the sun. Let me explain.
The SPF or sun protection factor on sunscreens tells you how much protection you’re getting from the sun’s ultraviolet B rays. They’re the ones that burn and blister skin and directly damage your skin’s DNA. But UVB rays only make up 3% to 5% of the UV radiation hitting the earth.
The other 95% to 97% are UVA rays. And they’re just as bad — maybe worse. They penetrate deeper into your body. They also cause DNA damage that can lead to skin aging.1
But UVA rays don’t burn your skin. They don’t give you any signs that you’ve had enough.
If your sunscreen says “broad spectrum” it deflects some UVA. But “broad spectrum” doesn’t tell you how well it works against UVA rays. Neither does the SPF factor.2
Broad spectrum sunscreens with a high SPF factor give you a false sense of security. When you cover your skin with an SPF 30 or 50 you can spend much more time in the sun without getting the burn. But you’re still getting invisible damage.
That’s why studies show that people who use high SPF products are exposed to as many or more ultraviolet rays than those who use lower SPF products.3
Commercial sunscreens are also loaded with toxic chemicals that produce free radicals, disrupt hormones, and can even lead to cancer.
Oxybenzone is one of the worst. Sometimes you’ll see it on the label as Benzophenone-3. University of California researchers discovered that this chemical boosts the production of free radicals in your skin after just 20 minutes in the sun!
It is also linked to allergies, hormone disruption, low birth weights, cell damage and premature aging. And it helps other dangerous chemicals penetrate the skin.4
In 2008, the Environmental Working Group found it in nearly 600 sunscreens including Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, and Banana Boat. And now the Centers for Disease Control says 97% of Americans have this chemical in their system.
I don’t advise using these commercial sunscreens. But I also don’t advise avoiding the sun.
In fact, gentle tanning allows your skin to build up melanin. That’s the pigment that darkens your skin. I call it your “built-in sunscreen.” If your skin is light, it just takes about 20 minutes a day without sunblock to stimulate melanin production. It may take about an hour if your skin is darker.
But if you want to spend more time in the sun, there are natural ways to protect yourself. Zinc oxide is a natural sun-block that is safe and effective. I recommend mixing it with a little cupuaçu butter.
A small town doctor in remote Brazil introduced me to cupuaçu (pronounced “koop-oo-ah-soo”).
This fruit is the Amazon rainforest’s secret to radiant, youthful-looking skin. You see, natural compounds in cupuaçu boost your skin’s innate defenses. They act as a sunscreen protecting you from UVA and UVB damage.
|Cupuacu is a popular fruit in Brazil. When I visited my friend Andrea, a doctor in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, her mother made me a cupuacu milkshake. It’s not only extremely healthy, it’s the best milkshake I’ve ever tasted.|
This fruit contains two unique flavonoids — theograndin I and II — that aren’t found in any other plant on earth.Studies show theograndin I is a potent antioxidant. Type II kills cancer cells.5
Cupuaçu is also rich in nine other antioxidants including vitamins A and C.6 Antioxidants help fight off your skin’s number one enemy: free radicals. Two of the most powerful ones you’ll find in cupuaçu butter are quercetin and kaempferol.
Quercetin helps maintain your skin’s elasticity and improve the appearance of scars. In clinical studies it also significantly reduced skin sensitivity to sunlight. And it decreased skin inflammation known as dermatitis.7
Studies have also shown that kaempferol is a potent preventive agent against skin cancer and skin inflammation.8
You can buy “cold-pressed” cupuaçu butter online. Use it straight as a moisturizer or mix it with zinc oxide to make a sunscreen. You can also use it to make your own body cream, hand lotion or lipstick.
Here’s an easy body butter recipe. Gently melt ½ cup cupuaçu butter, ¼ cup coconut oil, and ¼ cup almond oil in a double boiler. You can also add about 10 to 15 drops of essential oils. Vanilla, almond, or lemon extracts work well.
After it’s melted, pour the oil into a mixing bowl to cool in the fridge. When it’s just starting to solidify around the edges, beat it with an electric mixer until it looks like whipped cream. It might take about 10 minutes. Transfer it to a tightly sealed jar. That’s it!
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Cadet et al, “Sensitized formation of oxidatively generated damage to cellular DNA by UVA radiation.” Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2009 Jul;8(7):903-11.
2. “What’s Wrong With High SPF?” The Environmental Working Group 2014 Guide to Sunscreens
3. Autier P et al, “Sunscreen use and intentional exposure to ultraviolet A and B radiation: a double blind randomized trial using personal dosimeters.” Br J Cancer. 2000 Nov;83(9):1243-8.
4. Carrie Gouldin. “CDC: Caving to Industry, FDA Delays Safety Standards for Decades”, Environmental Working Group, 3/25/08 5. Yang, H., Protiva, P., Cui, B., et al, “New bioactive polyphenols from Theobroma grandiflorum.” J Nat Prod. 2003 Nov;66(11):1501-4.
6. Yang H et al, “New bioactive polyphenols from Theobroma grandiflorum (“cupuaçu”). J Nat Prod. 2003;66(11):1501-4.
7. Weng Z1, Zhang B, Asadi S, et al. “Quercetin Is More Effective than Cromolyn in Blocking Human Mast Cell Cytokine Release and Inhibits Contact Dermatitis and Photosensitivity in Humans.” PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33805.
8. Lee KM, Lee KW, Jung SK, et al. Kaempferol inhibits UVB-induced COX-2 expression by suppressing Src kinase activity. Biochemical pharmacology. 2010;80(12):2042-2049.