The Dangers of Chemical Sunscreens
When I was 17, I was at the beach for five straight hours with friends in the blazing sun. No sunscreen was necessary because I was a teenager and invincible and didn't have to listen to my stupid parents.
The next four days were spent in searing pain, unable to move out of this one specific position on my couch. Even putting Aloe Vera on my body was agonizing. I had first degree burns on every inch of my body from the waist up. To this day, the top half of my body is slightly darker than the bottom half.
So began my habit of slathering sunscreen all over myself anytime I knew I was going to be out in the sun for an extended period of time (especially at the beach). I could probably go through a half gallon of it in a single sitting, and I would have no problem with it because I remember vividly how painful the consequences of not protecting yourself are.
Actual picture taken of me by my mom. You can see how bad the sunburn is on my shoulders.
However, because naturally everything that exists on this planet is dangerous and out to kill you in some way, simply diving into a pool of chemical sunscreens is not the way to go. Chemical sunscreens seep through the skin into the bloodstream, and they can interfere with the testerone, estrogen, progesterone, and thryoid hormones, which can cause abnormal development for children. For you adults out there, the National Toxicology Study did a 2009 study, and the results suggested that some of the ingredients used in chemical sunscreens makes skin lesions and tumors grow faster. Sunscreen also blocks the sun's rays (obviously, that's the whole point), which means you won't be getting enough Vitamin D, as the sun is the best source of it. Plus, the fragrances added to sunscreens can lead to organ toxicity and immunotoxicity.
So pretty much, you need sunscreen to protect you from the sun, but you need the sun for a healthy life, and the chemicals in sunscreen are dangerous and can do more damage than being out in the sun for too long. Man, we just can't win, can we? Great design there, God.
"I sense sarcasm in your voice."
So, what can we do to protect ourselves from the greatest giver of life out there without being burned to a crisp?
"You can stop sassin' God, boy!"
Edible Sunscreen Alternatives
Well, eating right can be a start. Tomatoes can protect against sunburn, believe it or not. No, you don't have to rub yourself in spaghetti sauce before leaving the house, but eating tomato products can act as a natural sunscreen. Lycopene is an antioxidant found in tomatoes that fights against the effects of UV radiation over the long term. The suns rays are UV radiation, in case you didn't know. No, that doesn't make you radioactive.
Another great type of food that can serve as an alternative to chemical sunscreens is the almond. Almonds (and certain other seeds) contain Vitamin E, which protects your skin. Ever notice that a lot of beauty products seem to contain Vitamin E? It's not a coincidence. Vitamin E is essential for proper skin care, including protection from overexposure to the sun, so you would do well not to neglect it in your diet.
Two cups of green tea a day also protects against sunburn. Green tea is filled with catechin compounds which can protect against the sun's radiation. Presumably, building a shrink ray to shrink yourself down to the size of a pea and living the rest of your life inside a green teabag might also protect you against exposure to the sun's harmful radiation, but it just seems like too much work. In case you also ignored my previous advice and didn't gorge yourself on pizza and almond-filled chocolate bars, thus leading to a sunburn, soaking a green teabag in cold water and applying it to the burnt area of your skin can soothe the pain. The tannic acid inside green tea alleviates the pain of a burn (ironic considering that it's supposedly acid).
Guavas also help fight sunburn. One guava fruit has five times the Vitamin C content of an orange, and one of the properties of Vitamin C is that it's a skin-healing antioxidant. You'd rather have Vitamin C in you than the many chemicals that sunscreens contain.
Not a single burn or blemish on her!
Other Sunscreen Alternatives
First, wear clothing. Wait, do I actually have to tell people to wear clothing? Isn't it illegal not to—oh right, everyone's probably at the beach. Right. Pretty much, the single best protection you can have against sunburn that isn't a chemical sunscreen is to wear clothing. White clothing or other light colors reflects light and heat. Wearing those colors rather than black will keep you cooler and help protect you from getting burnt to a crisp. Even if you are at the beach, at least try to keep your shirt on until you are done setting up your towel, and put your clothes back on before gathering your belongings. In the same vein, a hat and sunglasses can also help protect you.
"But not you, ladies. Keeping your clothes on only causes more sunburn."
Another natural alternative to sunscreen is shade. If the sun is beating down on you full force, then of course you will get burned. But spending some time in the shade will protect you from the sun's rays. This doesn't mean avoiding sunlight altogether, but it does mean alternating your time between being out in the strong sunlight and being in the shade. If you are at the beach, bring a large umbrella that you can put over the area you've set up when you're not tanning.
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So you've just found yourself in a bit of a conundrum. You haven't followed any of the advice outlined above, and yet you're about to set off for a long day at the beach. You can't just go out into the sun without protection, but after reading this, you are now too afraid of using sunscreen. Sorry about that. I tend to freak people out like that. Anyways, you haven't been following my long term sunscreen alternatives tips but you need something immediately, right? A quick alternative to the chemical sunscreens. You're in luck, as natural sunscreens exist.
The Raw Elements Eco Formula Sunscreen is a great natural sunscreen. It contains a ton of vitamins and minerals without any of the chemicals that traditional sunscreens have. It blocks 95% of harmful UV rays and is water resistant beyond 80 minutes. So go ahead and spend the next hour underwater. You will be safe from harmful UV rays (though if you can't hold your breath for an hour and twenty minutes like most people, you might have other problems).
Badger is a small company based out in New Hampshire that markets natural, organic sunscreens along with other products, such as lip balm, soaps, and other personal care products. They are a B Corporation, which means that they have actually been certified as a socially responsible and environmentally friendly corporation (damn hippies!). The ingredients in their sunscreens have received USDA Organic Certification, meaning that they are safe enough to eat (though, like most sunscreens, you get the maximum effect by rubbing it on your skin). Definitely give their organic, natural sunscreens a try.
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By eating right, wearing light colored clothing, and spending part of your time outdoors in the shade, you will reduce the risk of severe sunburn without the need of harmful chemical sunscreens to “protect” you. And with natural sunscreens available as well, you should not only have no problem protecting yourself from harmful UV rays, but also be able to spend enough time in the sun in order for your body to soak up the necessary nutrients it needs. So go take a trip to the beach. You've earned it!