The Truth About Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer

I grew up in the hot Texas sun and spent a large amount of time outdoors. When I was in my 20’s, I had a basal cell skin cancer removed from the top of my head. The dermatologist recommended that I wear sunscreen 24/7, stay protected and keep out of the sun as much as possible. He explained that based on my skin tone and blue eyes, I was prone to the dangers of skin cancer. Back then, sunscreen was something new and was just beginning to be used. He also explained that I would need to use sunscreen every day, whether it’s rainy, cloudy, indoors or outdoors. I followed his directions religiously, applying sunscreen every day as soon as I woke up and was careful to avoid the sun as much as possible. Ten years later I found myself with a devastating diagnosis of Stage 4 Melanoma cancer that I didn’t see coming. And now that I look back, it’s frightening knowing that I used sunscreen at such an early age and for almost thirty years – mostly on my face.

Melanoma is a whole body, systemic cancer that is expressed through the skin. I’m an active guy, and spend a lot of time out in nature and in the sun. I believe this practice has been an important part of my healing – and pleased to say that I’m celebrating my 37th anniversary of being an survivor of Stage 4 melanoma.

Can you live without sunscreen? I think it’s possible. After all my research and study, I have come to believe that sun exposure was maybe not the root of my cancer. I believe there was a lot more to it. I was exposed to a lot of petrochemicals and PVC chemicals by way of the work I was doing at that time. But the chemical soup in all that sunscreen and a lack of UVB rays also played a part.

Toxic Sunscreen

As I mentioned earlier, after my initial basal skin cancer removal, I was spooked — so I took my dermatologist’s recommendations to heart. Sun up to sun down, I faithfully made sure all of my sun-exposed areas were carefully covered with sunscreen. At that time, I didn’t know that the chemicals those sunscreens contained – chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate — are actually dangerous hormone disruptors and break down into toxic byproducts once absorbed by the skin. I’ve since learned that the CDC has found oxybenzone present in 96% of Americans, including children. The Environmental Working Group recommends avoiding oxybenzone all together because it’s so toxic, and I couldn’t agree more.

Elizabeth Plourde, PhD, scientist and author of Sunscreens – Biohazard: Treat as Hazardous Waste, has extensively documented the serious and potentially life-threatening dangers of our modern sunscreens. In her book, she backs up her theory that skin cancer — including malignant melanoma – has increased substantially over a 30-year period despite pervasive sunscreen use. She elaborates on the many chemicals found in sunscreens that are known carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

It makes me wonder. Could these toxic chemicals actually cause skin cancer?

What Can We Do To Decrease Our Risk?

Check out the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) list of dangerous chemicals typically found in synthetic sunscreens: The trouble with ingredients in sunscreens. You’ll want to read your sunscreen label carefully — a marketing trick is to label a sunscreen mineral-based, but it will contain only a small amount of the mineral along with unwanted toxic ingredients.

It’s important to remember that the sun is not our enemy and synthetic sunscreens are not the solution to avoid melanoma. But if you feel you must use sunscreen or at least wean yourself from it, the best out there are the mineral-based, non-nano zinc oxide formulas, like 3rd Rock Sunblock. They form a sun-blocking barrier on the skin as soon as they are applied. I try not to use sunscreens, but when I do, it’s when I’m outside for long periods of time and I always use a safe sunscreen such as 3rd Rock’s.

In addition, there are other things you can do to beef up your body’s ability to withstand toxic assaults…

The Vitamin D Deficiency – Melanoma Connection

Have you ever had a skin exam at the doctor’s office? They look for melanoma behind your ears, in your hair, and other areas that get little to no sun exposure. I find it curious that a cancer assumed to be caused by sun exposure is often found in the least exposed areas of the body. The truth is there’s very little data linking melanoma to sun exposure. Since the 1940s, studies show melanoma has been increasing in indoor workers who have minimal exposure to the sun. A study done in 2008 came to the reasoning that the windows block the UVB rays that our bodies use to convert sunlight to Vitamin D. Researchers believe exposure to high levels of the UVA oxidizing radiation combined with Vitamin D deficiency are the reason for increasing melanoma rates.

Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic. The most effective way to increase Vitamin D levels is to get as close to full-body skin exposure as you can – without sunscreen – during the hours of 10am to 3pm when the sun is strongest. You’ll know you’re done when your skin turns a light pink. For fair-skinned folks this may only take 10 minutes, but most of us need to spend a longer time in the sun to get the optimum benefits.

Other Natural Skin Protection Strategies

Along with Vitamin D, there are some other things you can do to improve your chances of avoiding skin cancer.

Astaxanthin. One thing I use to get the maximum benefits from sun exposure is astaxanthin. And now, I find that I can be out in the sun for longer periods of time without getting burned. Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant that has been shown to help protect against sunburn and reduce the risk of skin damage caused by free radicals. Studies have demonstrated that it can provide protection against both UVA and UVB radiation, making it an excellent choice for those who spend a lot of time outdoors. Hawaiian islanders have been using astaxanthin to protect their skin and eyes from the damaging effects of the sun’s UVA radiation and UVB rays for centuries. Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant that has been shown to help protect against sunburn and reduce the risk of skin damage caused by free radicals. Studies have demonstrated that it can provide protection against both UVA and UVB radiation, making it an excellent choice for those who spend a lot of time outdoors. I personally take 12mg of astaxanthin once daily with meals.

Iodine. Iodine is another protector against skin cancer. As iodine is excreted through sweat, it mixes with the oil on the skin and increases its natural protective barrier. People with iodine deficiency don’t sweat easily, and dry skin is more prone to injury and sunburn than skin naturally lubricated with sweat and oil. Some researchers have proposed that iodine, an essential nutrient required by the body for proper thyroid function, may also have anti-cancer properties and could help prevent the development and progression of melanoma.

Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from damage caused by UV radiation, which may lead to skin cancer and melanoma. It also helps with collagen synthesis, which is important for healthy skin. Good dietary sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, kiwi, and bell peppers. I believe that Vitamin C is so important in the battle against cancer that I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book, I Used To Have Cancer.

Vitamin E. Vitamin E is another important antioxidant that helps protect the skin from UV damage and reduce inflammation. It is also important for maintaining healthy skin. You’ll find Vitamin E in foods like sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, avocadoes, red sweet peppers, mangoes, turnip greens, kiwis, and Atlantic salmon, Rainbow trout, and lobster. You’ll find a list of 20 foods that are high in Vitamin E at this link.

Selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that has been found to have antioxidant properties, which means it helps to protect cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Selenium may also play a role in DNA repair, which is important for preventing cancer. Some studies have suggested that selenium may help reduce the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. For example, a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that higher levels of selenium in the blood were associated with a lower risk of developing melanoma. Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementation with selenium reduced the risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Good dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats.

Polyphenols. Polyphenols are a group of natural plant compounds that are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds are found in a variety of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Polyphenols have been studied for their potential role in preventing or reducing the risk of various diseases, including skin cancer. One way that polyphenols may protect against melanoma and other skin cancers is by reducing the harmful effects of UV radiation on the skin. UV radiation can cause damage to DNA in skin cells, leading to mutations that can contribute to the development of skin cancer. Polyphenols have been shown to help protect skin cells from this damage by scavenging free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that can damage cells and contribute to the development of cancer. In addition, polyphenols have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation in the skin that may contribute to the development of cancer. Chronic inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of many types of cancer, including skin cancer. Polyphenols may also help enhance the immune system’s response to cancer cells, helping to identify and eliminate them before they can develop into cancer.

Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that can be found in certain types of food like fatty fish and flaxseeds. These healthy fats are helpful in reducing inflammation and protecting the skin from damage caused by UV radiation. Because inflammation in the skin can lead to damage and increase the risk of skin cancer, consuming omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. Incorporating these healthy fats into your diet is a good way to support overall skin health and reduce your risk of skin cancer. These healthy fats, found in fatty fish and flaxseeds, may help reduce inflammation and protect the skin from UV damage.

I believe it’s important to get out in the sun every day, and that it’s better not to use sunscreen. But if you’re outdoors for long periods of time and feel you must use a sunscreen, use a quality product such as 3rd Rock Essentials. Their products contain NO toxins and instead are composed of only natural, food-grade ingredients to provide the most effective results.

In regard to supplements and vitamins, it is always recommended to talk to your health care provider before taking anything new.


The Truth About Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer


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Environmental Working Group (EWG) 16th Annual Guide to Sunscreen.


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