Liz Talks Podcast, Episode 27: THE SUN (AND SUNSCREEN) EPISODE!

Liz talks myths in the holistic AND conventional space about the sun and sunscreen, clarifies confusion about what sunscreen CAN and CAN’T do, and gives her updated approach to the sun and sun protection.

Liz Talks Episode 27
● Baby Making and Beyond update [1:21]
● The sun and sunscreen episode [4:01]
● Sunglasses lead to sunburn? [9:51]
● Zinc based sunscreen in the blood stream? [13:03]
● Sunscreen safety: What does the science say [16:46]
● Spectral homeostasis [19:42]
● Excerpts from Eat the Yolks [27:15]
● Babies, kids, and sunscreen [38:40]

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to Liz Talks. I’m Liz, and I’m a nutritional therapy practitioner and best-selling author; but here, I’m 0% professional and 100% mom, spouse, friend, and over-analyzer. We’re going to talk food, beauty, family, fitness, mental health, friendship, marriage, and everything in between in this season of Liz Talks, and I’m so glad you’re along for the ride.

Remember; this is a podcast about thoughts, feelings, and opinions. And I definitely do not give individual, personal, or medical advice.

This is episode 27, topic: the sun and sunscreen episode.

In case you missed it, last weeks’ episode 26 was an interview with Danny Roddy about Ray Peat, metabolism and energy, nutrition myths, sugar, vitamin D, and more.

Arrowhead Mills is my podcast sponsor! Their products from gluten free pancake and waffle mix to coconut and other gluten free flours are organic and non-GMO; and Arrowhead Mills, as a company, is focused on sustainable agriculture, since their founding, more than 60 years ago. We make Arrowhead Mills buttermilk pancake mix every weekend, so I’m thrilled to have them as sponsors of this podcast. the next time you go to the store, please look for Arrowhead Mills products or find them on Vitacost.com.

  • Baby Making and Beyond update [1:21]

Alright, a quick update. This question came in from Dana. “Hi Liz! I’m hoping you can give an update about Baby Making and Beyond. From Balanced Bites, I remember it being in progress, and now it seems launched, but I missed the in-between, I think. I’m not sure if the course is right for me now that I’m getting closer to starting a family. Thanks!”

Ok. So some of you might not have been with me years ago when we launched Baby Making and Beyond. It is basically an online learning experience centered around fertility and pregnancy and the foundations for optimizing that as best you can.

So Baby Making and Beyond is live, available, it’s open to all; BabyMakingandBeyond.com. We’re making some edits to the sales page and the process there, but that shouldn’t affect your ability to opt in.

So I highly recommend the Foundations course, which goes over; we used to call it our core four course. But we changed it to Foundations as we started to add pillars to the core foundations of the program. But the Foundations course goes over food, supplementation, lifestyle elements for pregnancy, fertility; for that whole journey. With a little guest appearance from the Athletic Mom team, as well, which was a recent update. We have movement and exercise recommendations in there, in addition to everything else. So it’s really a well-rounded foundational approach.

You could probably piece all this stuff together from different sources just across the health spectrum. But with all the conflicting information out there, and all of the different people talking about different things differently, I feel like we really did do the work of putting all of the best information we could find together for you. And it wasn’t just me as a nutritional therapy practitioner; it was also my researcher, Amanda Torres, who is also going to inform this podcast episode.

And of course, Meg the Midwife, who is amazing. Meg Reburn; she’s a midwife in Canada, and what that means is she has worked in both the home and hospital environments as a midwife. because in Canada, their healthcare system works a little bit differently. So she brings so much wisdom, having seen the entire spectrum of birth from home all the way to C-sections. So, she’s amazing.

I will say parts of Baby Making and Beyond are probably always going to be under construction, because just because it’s finished doesn’t mean it’s done. But the information is there for you. So when you purchase the foundations, you can also choose access after that to the Fertility course, and I believe Pregnancy. But we set it up so that you sort of have to have the Foundations. Because that’s where everything else springs from. So, BabyMakingandBeyond.com. If you have questions, reach out to me on Instagram or through my contact me page on my website.

  • The sun and sunscreen episode [4:01]

OK, let’s move on to what I am calling, in all caps, THE SUN AND SUNSCREEN EPISODE. I had a question come through www.RealFoodLiz.com/askLiz. Anybody that has a question, feel free to go there. That’s the easiest way for me to aggregate questions. Direct messages can kind of get lost; although you’re welcome to reach out to me on Instagram that way. But I might actually be like; hey, can you actually pop that into www.RealFoodLiz.com/AskLiz so I can keep track of it.

So the question that came in was very simple. It was, “Babies, kids, and sunscreen. Do they need it, and which kind is safe?”

Ok, so I’m going to answer way more than was actually asked in this question. Because over the last few weeks, I’ve seen and been asked about a few claims that are circulating online about sun protection. And I thought; maybe it’s time to do some fact checking. And while I’m at it, maybe it’s time for a nice, detailed review of these claims that are floating around, and my past recommendations around sunscreen and sun protection.

So, I reviewed my past talk about it. Including what I said in my book Eat the Yolks. If you haven’t read it, it’s actually quite good. And I packed up my research questions and sent them over to Amanda. Again, my scientist. She’s not MY scientist. But she’s my scientist. And we came up with some really interesting stuff that’s pertinent to both adults and children.

So what she found is that a few of these claims circulating in the holistic community are just scientifically unsupported. One of them looks to be not even partially true; it looks to be completely untrue. And the other, partially true, maybe, depending on your lens. And this is based on a review of the scientific literature. And also, just seeking out where one of the claims came from in the first place. The roots of the claim, I think, are important. Because it’s really difficult to explain sometimes why something is false without also highlighting the road that got us there. And I actually do a lot of that in Eat the Yolks. Like; how did we get to this point where we believe things that are scientifically very questionable? And I feel like that also helps me, as a lay person, understand why a claim is worth deconstructing.

So with that in mind, I do want to acknowledge that if my approach ever seems to be inconsistent; as in, “you’ll entertain this discussion, even though the literature seems to contradict it, but you dismiss this one for the same reason?” I want to say; I get it. There’s definitely a complex calculus; a multi-tiered system of reasoning in place; ha-ha. This is something I talk about in my book; that we’re looking for the intersection of science, little s. Like anatomy and physiology. And big S, what has been studied and peer reviewed. And, ancestral wisdom. And common sense.

I believe that there are times when we need to suspend our disbelief and try on new ideas. And there are also times when we need to say; huh. Is that true? And critically evaluate claims being made with the best tools we have. And then, of course, ask ourselves; does this make sense?

Some of the way I make these calculations is based on instinct as to where to start. If there isn’t ample, current scientific literature available; and thank goodness, I feel like the best thing I ever did was to contract with a scientist about some of this stuff. But sometimes we can still go on physiology. Or older high quality studies that maybe no longer fit the narrative. Maybe old studies or turning over stones that people have long since abandoned that are actually really worthy. They’re just not the in-vogue of scientific exploration right now.

And I also think, often times, physiology can trump the results from studies that maybe are not structured to get to the core of a matter. But both our lens into human physiology and the lens that peer reviewed science gives us is just that; it’s a lens. the more you learn, the more you realize that the same thing could be considered good or bad depending on the lens through which you’re viewing it. For example; the body’s ability to mobilize fat as fuel, as we talked about in last weeks’ podcast.

There’s also that ever important element of context. So for example; yes, the sun is the source of all life. I am very pro-sun. But, we must also take into account that our lifespans are so much longer today. Which means so much more cumulative exposure, that even though sun exposure and exposure to photoproducts; all these diverse photoproducts from the sun. Even though that’s important, it’s also true that the sheer longevity of modern humans could set the stage for the development of skin damage and cancer simply based on exposure over a lifetime. Which maybe wouldn’t have come into play in the context of shorter lifespans, all the way up to the last 100 years or so.

We don’t necessarily live geographically in places that are aligned with our ancestry. Which is a determinant of our capacity for melanin production. Which protects us from the sun. And there’s also the matter of how easy or difficult it is for us to produce adequate vitamin D. Everything has to be looked at in context. There can be no solid conclusion without context.

So, I’m getting a little far afield here, I know. Here are a few of the claims being made, and the questions that I asked that I wanted to address in today’s podcast. I’ll start with these, and then I’ll move on to the larger discussion.

  • Sunglasses lead to sunburn? [9:51]

First, a claim that was sent to me that wearing sunglasses can lead to sunburns because they cause the pituitary to signal for less melanin production. Melanin being our body’s endogenous sunburn protector. So I wanted to know if this was true.

Amanda actually traced this claim, and it seems to originate from a hypothesis from an MD/PhD who she said has done some really great work in genetics. But this was a hypothesis from a pop science book that this doctor wrote. And there is still no evidence to support it. In essence, it looks like he maybe conflated a few pieces of evidence; one, that some studies on mice have shown that exposing their eyeballs to UV radiation can stimulate a hormone called melanocyte stimulating hormone, from the pituitary. But this actually has nothing to do with tanning, or burning, in response to UV rays.

Your body’s melanin response all happens within your skin. It is not routed through your eyes. And this makes complete sense. Why would your skin outsource such a vital response to immediate stimuli to the eyes? When your eyes could be, for example, shaded by your hands, or shaded by bushy eyebrows, or shaded by a piece of petrified mammoth dung, if you’re a caveman. It just wouldn’t make biologic sense, if your skin wasn’t able to sense and control these things.

And for the record, it has also been shown that ear tissue in mice can trigger melanocyte stimulating hormone from the pituitary. So our eyes are not our only line of defense there. So this hypothesis, it simply did not bear fruit. And that’s ok. This is what happens to hypotheses. The issue is, when people mistake a hypothesis for a scientific fact, and override bodily wisdom. Like; oh, man. It’s really bright out here. Can you go ahead and shade your eyes with something? And refusing to do that?

Now, it is true that UV rays are filtered disproportionately by things like glass. For example, UVA rays penetrate through your car windshield, but UVB rays do not. So here’s an argument for driving gloves. Right? Which I’m going to bring back, I decided.

But there are sunglasses that provide 100% protection against both UVB and UVA rays. So maybe look for that on the label to protect against the same issue that I’ll talk about with sunscreen momentarily, which is the disproportionate exposure to UVA compared to UVB. Disproportionate UVA and UVB protection. But, in short, the claim about sunglasses being dangerous is completely unsupported, and we see no reason why we will actually find any evidence to support it. So please, protect your eyes from the glaring sun. Whether that’s with a good pair of sunglasses, or your hand, or a hat, or shade, or whatever it is. Don’t feel like you’re working against your body by doing that.

  • Zinc based sunscreen in the blood stream? [13:03]

Ok, another claim that was sent my way was that both nano and non-nano zinc based sunscreens can get into the blood stream and cause health problems. I wanted to know what the evidence was for this claim; especially since I’ve been recommending zinc based sunscreens as a safe alternative to more conventional sunscreens for years.

Now, this one is interesting. And it has a little bit to do with the lens through which you’re viewing the research. As well as just whether you know the ins and outs of the study. So, the study that was used to support this claim, at least in the source I was given, did show that both nano and non-nano zinc could penetrate the skin and end up in the blood stream actually in increasing levels over time. So what that might suggest is that, perhaps, the zinc is being absorbed into the tissue and then slowly released into the blood stream over the course of days. I think, in the study, it was 6 days.

The amounts that were absorbed, even in the nano-zinc group, were between 8 and 30 micrograms, where about 12 milligrams circulating in the blood is considered normal. So, yes, that’s above the threshold of normal. So something to take into account is definitely frequency. Are you putting zinc oxide on your skin every day, all over, year round? Or are you using it in a more intermittent way?

So the health problems themselves that are being proposed as a consequence of this are not entirely concerning to me. In general, what I saw was skin irritation, for one. And that’s not compelling to me. And to me, should not be referred to as health issues. It should be referred to as skin irritation. Because health issues suggest something far worse.

Another important note is that in this study, the sunscreen formulation may have assisted with the absorption of zinc into the body. Because it contained isopropyl myristate, which is known to enhance skin penetration, as well as EDTA. Which is a zinc chelator. Which also would have enhanced penetration. And this was even listed in the study itself. So I’m not sure if that was not taken into account. Or maybe whomever it was that wrote this thing maybe didn’t have access to the full text of the study. I don’t know.

But just this alone might call into question the claims from the get-go. So what appears to be the case is that yes; nano-penetration can be much higher than non-nano. So nano zinc is just much, much smaller particle size than the standard zinc formulations in a sunscreen. But, the literature also seems to show that as long as your skin barrier is intact, and healthy, and as long as the product doesn’t contain ingredients that could accelerate absorption, even nano-zinc will not absorb to any concerning degree. That’s what it looks like now.

At the same time, I think if you’re using the precautionary principle, non-nano zinc is best. Because nano zinc does have that much dramatically higher penetration. But, it still doesn’t seem to be concerning. Unfortunately, especially for more melanated skin, non-nano zinc can give the skin a gray cast. So that’s a bummer. So there are definitely compromises there.

Ok, so those are those claims. And I think we can safely say that the sunglasses claim is false, and the zinc absorption claim lacks context. And I sound like Facebook right now, and that’s really annoying to me {laughs}. But there’s also more to this conversation around sun and sunscreen that I’d like to discuss.

  • Sunscreen safety: What does the science say [16:46]

The last few years have been interesting. If you’re watching this growing conversation around sunscreen safety. So while there have been concerns around whether conventional sunscreens were actually helping rather than harming for a long time, I think it was brought to the broader consciousness more recently since oxybenzone, which was a staple in many sunscreens for a long time, was revealed over the last few years to actually damage coral reefs, even at low concentrations.

And, I noted that pretty much every conventional sunscreen brand I could find now is oxybenzone free. And oftentimes that’s actually listed. So you know people are actually looking for that and asking for that. And, most sunscreen brands offer zinc options.

So, the market has really shifted over the last decade. Even more so over the last few years. And here’s something that’s very interesting. The FDA no longer states that chemical sunscreens are safe. And this has to do not just with coral reefs, but absorption and bioaccumulation, and endocrine disruptions. So I’m not talking about zinc or nano-zinc, I’m talking about other forms, other substances used to diffuse or block UV rays. So this might be why, or at least part of why there’s such an industry rush to transition to zinc and titanium dioxide based sunscreens. And, it’s compounded by the fact that the approval process for UV filters is so laborious, so long, that it’s actually almost impossible to bring new solutions to market.

So here’s a quote. “With the European animal testing ban in cosmetics, UV filter innovation is likely to further slowdown and possibly come to a halt, essentially restricting formulation to existing UV filters. The United States is in a dire situation. None of the modern UV filters launched globally in the last two decades can be used. And all existing organic UV filters are under scrutiny for safety reasons.” And I even read part of a scientific paper around this that equated sunscreen safety to the process of ensuring vaccine safety. And that they should be comparable as far as the manufacturers duty to keep people safe.

So, we are left, then, with zinc and titanium dioxide. Physical, mineral sunscreens that are the few that are generally recognized as safe. Which is GRAS, or GRASE by the FDA. And of course, the ongoing development of nano-particle options. Which is also, again, controversial. But maybe it’s sort of a result of the lag time and virtual impossibility of approving new sun protection agents in the US right now. Maybe it’s like; well, zinc is what we have to work with, so let’s figure out other ways to work with it.

  • Spectral homeostasis [19:42]

So, ok, on this sunscreen topic. Amanda showed me a 2021, so a very recent paper, about a very interesting concept called spectral homeostasis. Spectral homeostasis is very simply uniform UVA and UVB protection. It means, and this is another quote, “Leaving the natural solar spectrum unchanged; even though attenuated by sunscreen, clothing, or shading structures.”

So it’s basically allowing natural proportions of UV light exposure, but watering down the dose. So presumably you can extend your time in the sun. I’ll talk more about proportions of UVA and UVB and why that’s important in a bit. But this sounds obvious, right? And many of us probably think that our sunscreens provide uniform protection. Otherwise, how would they be allowed to be sold? And unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Some of the zinc-based sunscreens can approach spectral homeostasis, although that requires not just perfect product formulation, but also perfect use and application. Because as the paper says, “The current sun protection factor, SPF, is not indicative of real life performance outdoors.” What?!

And, according to the paper, nothing that provides perfectly uniform UVA/UVB protection other than clothing is available in the United States. And as I’ll talk about later, proportions of exposure actually seem to make all the difference in the development of cancer. So the science makes that pretty darn clear. So that’s why we should care.

So what it would take to reach spectral homeostasis in a topical sunscreen that approaches the protecting given by clothing would be, according to one paper, a stable dispersion of 25% zinc oxide alone, or another, more complex formulation, that has a bunch of other chemicals I don’t think we know enough about.

So I’m going to read a few quotes from the papers we reviewed, just to drive home that point of why spectral homeostasis is important. And by the way, if you’re not interested in any of these details, you can fast-forward to the last five minutes of the podcast, where I will actually give practical recommendations. But I do think when you have a foundation of facts and a background around things like this, you can really make confident decisions. And at the very least, if you’re helping somebody else make a decision and they’re not quite in line with what you’re saying, you can always point them in this direction.

So first, this quote should outline the difference between not getting burned and not sustaining skin damage. It’s not the same thing. So, “The benefits of sunscreen are verified in preventing sunburn. But appear to be largely presumptive in skin cancer  prevention. Contemporary science establishes UVA as a primary driver of melanoma and photoaging. Consequentially, the traditional UVB skewed,” Which means uneven ratios of UVB to UVA,

“UVB skewed protection of sunscreens provides an intellectual and logical explanation for rising skin cancer rates. And in particular, their failure to protect against melanoma. Better protection could be achieved with more balanced UVB/UVA sunscreens towards spectral homeostasis protection. Greater balanced protection has another advantage of attenuating fewer UVB rays, which aid synthesis of vitamin D.”

So yes, the territory we’re getting into is that many conventional sunscreens are actually blocking the rays we need to generate vitamin D. And I’m going to talk a little bit more about how actual sun exposure for vitamin D is now sort of getting slid into the scientific literature. People are getting more comfortable talking about it. It’s not as taboo. And I think that’s really, really important.

So let me just toot my own horn real quick, and say; I actually said some very similar things in my book, which was published in 2014, about the difference between UVA and UVB. UVB is the ray that stimulates vitamin D production. But it’s also the ray that burns you. And sunscreen was originally developed to prevent burns. But without considering that a large proportion of UVA still makes it through to your skin. And UVA is the ray associated with melanoma and photoaging.

OK, so here’s another quote. “The use of sunscreens with asymmetric UV or UVB-skewed protection.” Let’s just say imbalanced protection. “Over the past six to seven decades parallels the global rise in skin cancer with a steady annual increase in global keratinocyte cancer; squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. The cumulative evidence before the 1980s shows a significant positive association between melanoma and sunscreen use.”

And here’s a quick note from me; this is likely because they did not protect against UVA rays. “The association was no longer statistically significant from the early 1990s. And there’s no current evidence suggesting an increased risk of skin cancer from sunscreen use.” And another note from me; this is because sunscreens around then began to formulate for more cross or broad spectrum protection.

But, this is the important part. “This systematic review also does not confirm the expected protective benefit of sunscreens against skin cancer in the general population.” So maybe that curve leveled off, or that line leveled off, but we still do not have evidence that sunscreen has a protective benefit against skin cancer in the general population.

So this is a really big statement. And here’s another one. “UVA radiation generates more oxidative stress than UVB, and is more cytotoxic than UVB.” That means toxic to your cells. “As it damages DNA, and inhibits DNA repair and promotes the invasive and biological aggressiveness of skin cancer. UVB initiates and modulates the damage cycle, but UVA completes the process.”

Finally, “Melanoma may be initiated or promoted by UVA radiation, as people are exposed to this indoors through windows and outdoors through car glass.” So note this; the car glass and windows point is important. “And sunscreen formulations with little UVA protection, this phenomenon of UVB-skewed protection.”

Ok, so again; melanoma may be initiated or promoted by UVA radiation, as people are exposed to this indoors through windows and outdoors through car glass; and sunscreen formulations with little UVA protection.

So, again. When they’re talking about skewed protection, they’re talking about sunscreens that protect you from burning; UVB rays. And do not provide proportionate protection against UVA. Which, by most accounts, could be considered the worst rays. And for that matter, perhaps the quickest sound bite I can give here is that high SPF does not equate to high protection against sun damage and cancer. SPF only refers to the measure of protection against UVB. It has nothing to do with UVA. And that’s really the crux of the problem.

  • Excerpts from Eat the Yolks [27:15]

So now what I want to do is actually read a little bit from my book, Eat the Yolks. Because I really am pleased with how well the information holds up 8 years later. {laughs} This is for those who need some steeping in how we even got here, and why this is important. So this is a small excerpt from the vitamin D section of my book, which is really good, if I may say so. So if you don’t own my book, please pop over to Amazon, or wherever, to order it. I’d be super grateful for the support. And remember, you can also get the audiobook version of Eat the Yolks, and I read it. So it’s me reading my own book in my podcast voice to you.

So here’s the portion from my book. “The sun’s rays, skin cancer, and sunscreen. We blame the sun for skin cancer, but it’s not that simple. If it were, our years of slathering sunscreen and avoiding the sun would have resulted in a decrease in skin cancer diagnoses. But since sun protection factor, SPF, sunscreens received FDA approval in the 1970s, the incidence of melanoma in children has risen nearly 3% per year. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the incidence of melanoma in the United States increased faster than that of any other cancer. Since the 1960s, rates of skin cancer in lighter skinned populations; those at highest risk for skin cancer diagnoses.”

I’m going to pop that in here; so I’m not reading right now. Those at the highest risk for skin cancer diagnoses are those in lighter skin populations. but I do want to say that those with more melanated skin have a much higher risk of dying, and that has to do with disparities in diagnostics and things like that. So I think that’s very much worth pointing out.

Back to the text. “Those at highest risk of skin cancer have continued to increase by between 5 and 8% every year. First time melanoma diagnoses overall have tripled over the past 35 years, and just between 2000 and 2013, there was a nearly 2% increase each year. But despite all that, rather than questioning what we think we know about the sun and skin cancer, we retreat further into our beliefs. We slather on more sunscreen. We wonder why the dermatologist had to remove that mole when we “did everything right.” It’s because we haven’t been doing anything right.”

“The recent rise in skin cancer, despite the sunscreen industries selling enough protection to yield billion dollar profits, is made more puzzling by the typical modern lifestyle. We’re hardly ever in the sun. Indoor screen time has replaced many outdoor activities. Instead of playing football in the yard, we play virtual football on the PlayStation. Instead of going out to the ballgame, we watch it on TV. Instead of going for a walk with friends, we text and tweet. We gather our vegetables from fluorescent lit supermarkets rather than sun-drenched outdoor gardens, for crying out loud. We’re inside, away from the sun, far more than in the past. Heck, most of us have jobs that keep us inside when the sun is out.”

“Oddly enough, working indoors has actually been shown to accompany an increased risk of melanoma in several studies. One study of indoor workers observed a steadily increasing rate of malignant melanoma, even though the workers were exposed to as much as 9 times less sunlight than outdoor workers, whose rates of malignant melanoma have not increased.” At least, not at the time of that study.

“These studies concluded that sun exposure actually helps protect against skin cancer, thanks to the vitamin D generated in the body as a result of sun exposure. Understanding the sun’s ultraviolet UV rays will help us understand all of this. To this point, I’ve talked a bit about UVB rays, which stimulate vitamin D production in our bodies. It’s important to understand UVB, but there’s another ray that’s equally important to know about. UVA.”

“UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays, and only UVB rays stimulate the production of melanin. Melanin, which also causes us to tan, protects our bodies from UV induced damage by scattering solar radiation and acting as an antioxidant. Once UV exposure has exceeded melanin’s ability to protect us, our skin begins to redden and develop inflammation. Otherwise known as sunburn. The cascade from tanning to burning is prompted by UVB rays. And this is why they’re known as burning rays. Habitual overexposure to UVB rays, resulting in chronic sunburns, can, over time, contribute to melanoma risk. However, UVB rays are more generally associated with non-melanoma skin cancer.”

“We can think of a sunburn as a blessing in disguise. It’s a signal that we need to get out of the sun or risk skin damage. And hopefully it leads us to reduce further sun exposure so that it doesn’t happen again. That’s called living and learning. Perhaps UVB rays should be called signal rays instead of burning rays. UVB signal rays help warn us when we’re in danger of overexposure and the skin damage that comes with it, usually starting with that hint of pink on fair skin. UVA rays offer no such warning.”

“UVA rays penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin and can cause more damage to skin cells than UVB rays. UVA rays cause oxidative damage, which can lead to photoaging, including wrinkles and collagen loss. Worse yet, UVA rays can damage our DNA. UVA does not cause us to tan or burn as UVB does; in fact, it actually causes damage to our melanin producing cells. Which is why it’s associated with malignant melanoma; the deadliest form of skin cancer. Since UVA rays don’t give us that sunburn signal, they can wreak havoc and leave no immediate trace.”

And an aside; this is Liz, not reading anymore. This is podcast Liz. We see that in all of this literature that I quoted here today that’s very current, from 2021 and beyond.

“Here’s the most important distinction between UVB and UVA rays; sunscreen easily blocks UVB rays and their effects, including sunburn, cancer fighting vitamin D and the antioxidant melanin. UVB rays are also blocked by windows.” Like I said before, in the podcast. “UVA rays are not blocked by either windows or sunscreen.”

Ok. Now, a little aside from podcast Liz; this paragraph lacks context 8 years later. I say, “Sunscreen easily blocks UVB rays and their effects.” We know more about that now, the zinc-based sunscreen and the concentration of zinc that is required to get equal protection between UVB and UVA. But the fact remains that sunscreen that is made of zinc will block UVB rays at higher proportion than those without.

OK, so back to the book. “This means that we are exposed to damaging UVA rays without the benefit of sunburn to tell us when we’ve had enough. Whether we’re sitting indoors, near a window, in a car with the sun streaming through the windshield, or on a beach slathered in SPF 35. We’re soaking up excessive amounts of UVA.”

“So, is sunscreen protecting us at all? Not really, although there’s a time and a place for certain types of sun protection, as we’ll discuss. Sunscreen is rated according to its SPF, which stands for sun protection factor. The concept was first approved by the FDA in the 1970s for use in the marketing of sunscreen. SPF rates only the sunscreen’s ability to block UVB; not UVA. The measure was developed as a means of avoiding UVB induced sunburn, before we knew just how damaging UVA rays could be. Thanks to sunscreen, we thought we were free to spend hours upon hours in the sun, and we believed that because we weren’t burning, we were A-OK. So what sunscreen has done is not so much protect us as lull us into a false sense of security, while opening the door to damage that would never occur if we were able to heed our bodies natural warning signals.”

And you know what? This is podcast Liz. If you want to do a day at the beach or a day on the boat, it’s going to be hard to actually heed the body’s warning signals. I get it. Back to the book.

“When we block UVB rays while keeping the door open to UVA rays, thinking we’re protected because we aren’t getting burned, we allow the most damaging rays to penetrate our skin and do their insidious work even as we block our burn signal and stop the production of melanin and cancer preventing immune boosting vitamin D. This may leave us more vulnerable to cancer than ever before.”

And I can’t help but wonder; this is podcast Liz. If this is why that uptick in pediatric melanoma is being seen. Because the sunscreens that perhaps we’re using on our kids are allowing them to spend way more time in the sun without burning than they would have otherwise.

“So so-called broad-spectrum sunscreens, which claim to protect against both UVB and UVA rays attempt to combine SPF based UVB protection with chemicals meant to absorb or disperse UVA rays. However,” at least at the time my book was published, “The environmental working group cautions that broad spectrum sunscreens sold in the United States are produced according to FDA criteria that are the weakest in the modern world. In Europe, broad spectrum sunscreens must provide UVA protection at least one-third as potent as it’s UVB protection. In the United States, not a single broad spectrum sunscreen meets even this minimally effective criteria. Most of us think when we choose a broad spectrum sunscreen, our UVA protection matches the SPF. And this is absolutely not the case.”

Now, I don’t know what the status is now, but based on what I was reading from these more current studies, we still have the same problem in the really just incredibly slow, almost nonexistent, approval process for sun protection products. So my instinct tells me that we still have the same problem. However, the studies that I read, and that Amanda brought to my attention, do suggest that this is something the industry is finally grappling with.

“Sunscreen lotions were a good idea in theory, but to put it nicely, they just never panned out.” This is Liz from the book again. “Because we were concerned about the dangers of the sun’s rays, yet ill informed about which rays helped and which ones harmed, we created sunscreen technology that actually interferes with our own biology instead of helping us protect ourselves. We’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole of SPFs and broad-spectrum protection and FDA approval that we’ve gotten that just 50 years ago, we had lower rates of skin cancer and exceedingly simple ways of protecting ourselves.”

Dermatologist and vitamin D researcher, Michael Holick writes, “There is evidence to link sun exposure and vitamin D to every facet of medicine and health. Vitamin D and all the incredible coproducts that our bodies generate from sunshine are critical. They keep our bones healthy, and combat chronic disease. They boost our immune systems and our mood. They even stimulate the economy; who takes a vacation to get out of the sun?”

“Skin cancer can develop as a result of excessive sun exposure; and it can happen with or without sunscreen. But the type of sun exposure that makes us vulnerable to cancer is vastly different from the type of sun exposure that boosts our vitamin D levels and helps prevent cancer and other maladies. Most of us are getting too little sunlight, not too much. What we need is responsible sun exposure.”

  • Babies, kids, and sunscreen [38:40]

Ok. Back to the podcast. All this taken into account; number one, what is the answer to the original question? And number two, am I modifying my approach for sun exposure and sun protection?

So number one; babies and kids and sunscreen; do they need it, and which kind is safe? First of all, if they’re going to be out for long enough to burn, they need something. Vitamin D from the sun is so important. But the sun can damage the skin if you’re over exposed. And there’s no age threshold on that. Kids might heal faster, but they can also sustain damage.

So preferably, you go for clothing and a hat to cover up. So a rash guard and a beach hat. But if not; then yes, sunscreen. And the kind that is safest is probably a thick zinc paste like badger balm; anything that approaches that 25% for spectral homeostasis. Not a spray sheer sunscreen; even one that contains zinc. Not a spray, aerosolized sunscreen. And please stop with the spray application of those sunscreens anyway. You don’t need to cover the whole beach or pool with that cloud of aerosolized chemicals. That’s an aside, but please. Pretty please.

And number two; yes. My approach is shifting just slightly. And it’s as much about what I know about sunscreen and another consideration that I didn’t give full due previously, and that’s environmental concerns. So as we learned with oxybenzone, we use products that contaminate the environment without even knowing it. And a study did show that it’s possible that nano-zinc formulations might also cause environmental harm.

So even though it appears that the size of nano particles most often used in sunscreen are a lot larger than the size of the particles in the studies that suggest harm to the ocean, I still feel like we just don’t know. And in general, we put so many things on our skin that eventually end up in the water, whether directly or indirectly, that it seems prudent just to minimize that as much as we can.

So based on physical and environmental factors, and unknowns, I’d say to mitigate risks of negative effects from both the sun and from sunscreen, it’s all about intentional, smart sun exposure. During the times when you can actually get vitamin D from the sun. And I’ve talked about this elsewhere. But there is a vitamin D winter, where you cannot get vitamin D from the sun. It’s a latitude thing. And it depends on where you live. I have an Instagram highlight on it, and you can check that out. But during the seasons where you can get vitamin D from the sun, maybe a short window each day where you get some unprotected sun exposure.

I’ll quote from a recent paper quickly. This paper from 2022 said, “Daily short sun exposure, at mid-day, without the use of sunscreens might be optimal from health.” So that’s from the paper Sun Exposure, Hazards and Benefits by P. G. Lindqvist et al. And again, that’s 2022. So it seems like there’s this movement in the scientific community to acknowledge how important sun exposure and vitamin D from the sun is; they’re being very cautious about it. “It MIGHT be optimal for health.”

And I also feel like I need to remind folks; another study that I cited in my book was one that basically stated that scientific information can take 17 years to trickle into clinical practice. So, this paper might say “Daily short sun exposure without the use of sunscreens might be optimal for health” but your dermatologist might not be saying that for 17 years. So bear that in mind. Now, I think that’s about as good of an approval as we’re going to get for unprotected sun exposure right now. But it’s worth pointing out.

There’s another 2021 paper that also confirmed this concept of safe sun exposure even further. And here’s a quote from that. “Ultraviolet radiation in addition to it’s role in the synthesis of vitamin D, stimulates anti-inflammatory pathways, alters the composition of dendritic cells, T-cells, and T regulatory cells, and induces nitric oxide synthase and heme oxygenase metabolic pathways, which may directly or indirectly mitigate disease progression and susceptibility.”

“Recent work has also explored how the immune modulating functions of ultraviolet radiation affect type 2 diabetes, cancer, and the current global pandemic caused by SARS CoV-2. These diseases are particularly important admits global changes in lifestyle that result in unhealthy eating, increased sedentary habits, and alcohol and tobacco consumption. Compelling epidemiological data shows increased ultraviolet radiation associated with reduced rates of certain cancers, such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and ultraviolet radiation exposure correlated with susceptibility and mortality rates of COVID-19.” So, that’s from Vitamin D Independent benefits of Safe Sunlight Exposure by Erem and Razzaque.

These are all recent papers that actually talk about sun exposure, and not just vitamin D levels or vitamin D intake as a proxy for whatever benefits we could get from the sun. They’re actually talking about sun exposure. So it’s pretty phenomenal.

So you can monitor vitamin D levels to ensure you’re in a good place, and then, in my opinion, for protection clothing is number one. And I think that’s the biggest shift I would be making in my approach, is to emphasize protective clothing a lot more. And like I said; driving gloves, maybe parasols. I don’t know; we brought back fanny packs, so maybe we can bring back parasols too. {laughs}

But also, clothing, rash guards, etc., have none of the potential personal or environmental downsides or question marks of sunscreen, and it works perfectly. So this is what I would recommend for kids. A little sun; then cover up. And if you can’t do clothing or shade, then non-nano zinc sunscreen, like Badger Balm applied and reapplied properly. That’s the key; applied and reapplied properly. But again, if kids are getting into the water, I don’t think there should be any concern of a rash guard making them too hot. Just get in the water. You know?

And also, just don’t delude yourself into thinking you can outsmart the sun. You just can’t. And maybe year-round protecting your hands in the car physically rather than with zinc to mitigate the possible absorption and the release of these chemicals into the environment. If you don’t want to wear driving gloves, maybe just those athletic shirts that you can pull over the backs of your hands with the hole for the thumb. I don’t know.

I’m already not great about daily sunscreen, but I will be doing my best to seek sunscreen alternatives in the form of clothing, hats, shade, stuff like that, to mitigate the use of these products that do seem safe, that should be used if alternatives can’t be found, but that also might absorb. Especially with frequent use. And whose consequences on the environment just aren’t fully understood yet. And this is just my interpretation of the research. So you might take it a different direction, and that’s fine.

So, something else. I’ve also; I don’t want to say recommended. But maybe loosely suggested for some people UVB tanning beds in the past. Not on a broad basis, again. But in certain situations. And I’m not sure I’d say so anymore, unless it was in a really dire situation and you needed vitamin D, and you don’t respond to supplements. And in the last podcast, we actually talked about applying vitamin D supplements to your skin, which is worth trying if you feel like you can’t tolerate supplements.

It’s more the concentrated dose of radiation that now stands out to me as unnatural and maybe concerning. But I do want to point out that one of these papers actually said, and this is a quote, “Sunscreens with an extreme UVB protection factor imbalance can transmit up to 10 times more UVA than UVB to the skin. Which is an asymmetric UVA exposure similar to a tanning bed.” So, less acute and less intense, but likely posing similar risks and even potentially greater exposure to UVA. And that would be like a conventional tanning bed as most places market as filtering out the burning rays. And there are tanning beds, and they’re usually the cheaper ones, that just do the UVB. So you would only go in there for like 2 minutes, right? Ok, so that to me is a little bit mind boggling.

But those are the adjustments that I intend to make. I think I’ll focus a lot more on protective clothing and shade. Because even in all of these papers that discuss the balanced spectral effect, they’re also saying that we’re actually trying to replicate the protection provided by clothing and shade. So that to me just suggests that that is the absolute optimal thing. And that goes back to common sense and ancestral wisdom. We didn’t used to have sunscreen, so what did people do? They got shade. They found shelter from the sun at the hottest part of the day. They protected themselves in ways other than slathering something on their skin.

So all of that seems to make sense to me. So while I still believe, whole-heartedly, that the claims around any dangers from zinc, and even nano-zinc, are probably overblown, and if that’s a big concern of yours then definitely clothing is the way to go.

And I should mention that I believe this post that accounted for what I talk about at the beginning of this podcast with reference to the sunglasses, and the absorption of zinc oxide. I’m pretty sure the conclusion of that post was actually to wear protective clothing. So we all kind of ended up at the same place regardless of the route we took. Right? So in general, clothing being the most important approach. Especially for kids. And then using a really thick, non-nano zinc oxide if you can’t seek out shade or use clothing.

And of course, ditching most of the conventional products, with all the other chemicals in them. Because really it just seems like the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. So I hope that helps.

No overshare today, folks. That was long enough. So that will be it for episode 27. A big thank you to Arrowhead Mills for making this episode possible. Remember you can ask me anything by sending me a direct message @RealFoodLiz on Instagram. But the best way to ask is to go to www.RealFoodLiz.com/AskLiz. That way, your messages don’t get lost in my inbox. And please, can you remember to subscribe? Hit that button right now if you can. It helps me so much.

I appreciate you! I’ll see you next week.

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