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August 9, 2013

Skin Cancer Prevention

Sunscreen, sun hats & sun exposure: A conservative approach to life in the sun.

As we bloom into the heat and sunny weather of another glorious Oregon summer, many of us want to make sure that we are taking good care of our skin. It is our time to shine and build up Vitamin D stores. It is a great idea to spend a portion of each day outdoors and soak up some sun. Outdoor exercise, fresh air, and sunlight are healthy for anyone, and are some of the finest ingredients to improve the symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the temporary depression or melancholy that can set in with the lack of adequate sunlight. This is quite common in areas of the world where cloud cover dominates a large portion of the year. Places like London, San Francisco and Portland are known for their cloudy skies. We have learned that clouds do not equal UV damage protection.

Sunlight exposure can be very healing from a holistic perspective and is an important aspect of good skin health. With that being said, we want to take conservative precautions to make sure that we are treating our skin well and not becoming overexposed to the damaging UV rays that can potentially cause DNA changes in the skin and lead to precancerous skin changes such as actinic keratosis or skin cancers. I recommend using a combination of mineral-based sunblock, physical barriers such as hats and clothing, and making wise choices in regard to the time of day to have full sun exposure. Sun rays are most intense between 12 and 2 pm. If you plan to be out in the sun during those hours, be sure to have a hat or a topical block in case you feel the light is too intense.

Please refer to The Skin Cancer Foundation website ( for detailed information and articles about skin cancer prevention and related skin topics. It is an excellent site for reference.

Over the last several years, a great controversy has arisen in regard to the use of sunblock. The drug store or grocery store sunscreen brands have become more chemically based and less mineral-block-based in recent years and some scientists feel that this is contributing to the rising rates of skin cancers. The literature is controversial in itself due to poorly designed studies and unclear results. However, as with all topical medications, cosmetics, hormones, makeup, lotions, and anything else you may choose to put on your skin, I always recommend choosing the companies that have the most chemical-free ingredients. The natural body care industry has been in a constant state of economic growth and ever growing demand. There are wonderful companies that are creating lovely and effective formulas that are chemical free and organic in many cases. Health food stores and quality day spas are a great place to find such products.

Ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone (Parsol 1789), and retinol palmitate are a few of the suspect ingredients. The understanding is that these types of chemicals can create free radical damage in the skin when exposed to UV rays and therefore can potentially lead to skin cancers. I recommend using sunscreens without these chemicals as a general precaution.

Many natural skin care lines are out there, with a variety of SPF sunscreens available. They consist of mineral blocks such as zinc or titanium dioxide in addition to a natural lotion base with botanicals and antioxidants. Some botanicals are naturally UV protective and many of the herbal-based skin care lines incorporate these into their formulas.

It is wise to test the consistency of the sunscreen to make sure that is easy to apply. Some of these products may clump due to the mineral content and formulation. Follow the directions for application, especially if planning to swim. I recommend using a high SPF for optimal effect, especially in children, and lower SPF for darker, less reactive skin types or if there is not a history of excessive sun burning. Aloe vera gel is the best after sun treatment and Calendula lotions or creams and shea butter are excellent moisturizers and help to rejuvenate and rebuild healthy skin after sun tanning.

The skin is the largest organ of the entire body and is responsible for many important functions. It is a highly bioactive tissue that helps to regulate body temperature and hydration, is directly related to liver and gastrointestinal function, and is a primary organ of elimination and detoxification.

As a naturopathic doctor specializing in holistic dermatology, I am continually examining the skin to evaluate the health of the inner body. Any type of skin disorder must be treated from a holistic perspective. At Nature Cures Clinic, we are committed to the principles of naturopathic medicine and are always looking to find the root cause of the imbalance or illness. We treat the whole person, all systems included, which usually involves diet and nutrition, lifestyle, mental/emotional well being, and medicines for specific issues. We are often concerned with what is entering our bodies through our gastrointestinal tract or what we are inhaling into the lungs, but we need to consider our skin to be an integral part of optimal health.

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