The Paleo Diet And Sunscreens

The Sun…..Worship it!!

I remember when I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to venture out of the house in the summer, without making sure that every uncovered inch of my incredibly pale skin was slathered with a thick layer of factor 50 sunscreen. I burned a few times that I can remember, with reasonable severity, but I usually managed to stay out of the sun as much as possible. I didn’t tan very easily at all when I wasn’t protected by sunscreen, but I did tend to burn easily.

Sunscreen is now a pretty hot topic, because we are understanding more and more, how important Vitamin D3 is in our diet, and also understanding that the best way to get Vitamin D3 is from the sun, and not from a pill.

The whole argument that red meat is “bad” for us, is silly because humankind has been eating red meat for millions of years, which means that it’s basically impossible that it would be as detrimental to our health as some people have tried to make it out to be. In the same vein, the idea that sunlight would be dangerous or detrimental to us is just as silly. Superman drew his power from the sun, and in a way, so do we.

The Paleo Diet And Sunscreens

It’s possible that the combination of a poor diet, and sunscreen itself (the very thing that is supposed to protect us from the sun) could actually be a part of the problem, and not part of the cure.

Dr. John Briffa published a brief article on sunscreen on April 30th 2012, entitled “The Dark Side Of Sunscreens”.

“the evidence base for the effectiveness of sunscreens in skin cancer prevention is scant to say the least. Back in 2000, the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, held a meeting to discuss the role of sunscreens in skin cancer prevention.”

“A report of the panel’s findings was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work and Environmental Health []. The panel concluded that sunscreens could prevent sunburn (should hope so too), and that there was evidence that they could help prevent squamous cell carcinoma. There was a caveat though: protection was only evident where individuals had not used sunscreens to extend their time in the sun. Actually, a lot of people use sunscreens in this way. When people coat themselves in sunscreen on the beach or by the pool, one usual intention to allow themselves to stay longer in the sun without burning.”

Another good point is that people typically don’t apply their sunscreen as recommended by the manufacturer, which means that an improperly applied factor 50 sunscreen might equate to only factor 3 in reality….since the amount that the manufacturer instructs us to use, is much more than the amount we actually use.

“Too little sun might be harmful, reducing the body’s vitamin D levels.

Sunshine serves a critical function in the body that sunscreen appears to inhibit: the production of vitamin D. The main source of vitamin D in the body is sunshine, and the compound is enormously important to health–it strengthens bones and the immune system, reduces the

risk of various cancers (including breast, colon, kidney, and ovarian cancers) and regulates at least 1,000 different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body.  Over the last two decades, vitamin D levels in the U.S. population have been decreasing steadily, creating a “growing epidemic of vitamin D insufficiency.”

The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer.

Recently available data from an FDA study indicate that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. This evidence is troubling because the sunscreen industry adds vitamin A to 41 percent of all sunscreens.

The industry puts vitamin A in its formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging. That may be true for lotions and night creams used indoors, but FDA recently conducted a study of vitamin A’s photocarcinogenic properties, the possibility that it results in cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight. Scientists have known for some time that vitamin A can spur excess skin growth (hyperplasia), and that in sunlight it can form free radicals that damage DNA.”

Pick your sunscreen: nanomaterials or potential hormone disruptors.

The ideal sunscreen would completely block the UV rays that cause sunburn, immune suppression and damaging free radicals. It would remain effective on the skin for several hours and not form harmful ingredients when degraded by UV light. It would smell and feel pleasant so that people use it in the right amount and frequency.

Unsurprisingly, there is currently no sunscreen that meets all of these criteria. The major choice in the U.S. is between “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone systems, and “mineral” sunscreens (zinc and titanium), which often contain micronized–or nano-scale particles of those minerals. After reviewing the evidence, EWG determined that mineral sunscreens have the best safety profile of today’s choices.” –

Check out this excerpt from an article by Dr. Barry Groves entitled, “Sunlight Information: Skin Cancers & Vitamin D”:

The dietary connection

In the 1970s, when kidney transplantation was pioneered, doctors first encountered the problem of tissue rejection. To combat it, they gave their transplant patients linoleic acid. This suppressed their immune systems very effectively, preventing their transplanted kidneys being rejected. But it also caused a large increase in cancers and this treatment was stopped.

Since then, linoleic acid and oils that contain it, have been shown time and again to increase the risk

of several types of cancer, including skin cancers.

Linoleic acid is the major fatty acid in all polyunsaturated vegetable margarines and cooking oils:

▪  Polyunsaturated margarines are around 40% linoleic acid

▪  Sunflower, safflower, corn and soya oils are all more than 50% linoleic acid.

Drs B S and L E Mackie, working on Australia’s Sunshine Coast have a great deal of experience in skin cancers. They say: “In view of the work of Black and Erickson in mice and our own work in humans, we believe that human subjects who are at high risk of melanomas and other solar-induced forms of skin cancer should be advised to be moderate in their intake of dietary polyunsaturated fats.” (28)

Patricia Holborrow also points out that the increase in melanomas could be a result of dietary changes to PUFs.”Recently, I followed up four families that started in 1976 to use a diet with preferred oils as safflower and sunflower oil and low in salicylates and additives (that interfere with the metabolic pathway of these fats). There had been three cases of cancer resulting in two deaths in these families.” (29) “The issue is further complicated by dietary factors that are cofactors for the metabolic pathways for the fatty acids and which may in addition favour or have a negative effect on the anticancer or cancer enhancing properties of the various prostaglandins (eg the negative effects of vitamin E and the positive effects of vitamin C).” (30)

The Australians are as paranoid about heart disease as the Americans. I was in Australia in 1995 and noticed that it is even their custom to remove the cream from milk and replace it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil.

One of the recommendations for reducing the risk of skin and other cancers is to reduce intakes of fats and take vitamin supplements. But this approach doesn’t seem to work. The findings of a huge study by scientists at the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; the Division of Human Nutrition and Epidemiology, Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands; the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York; and the Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, of 43,217 male participants of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, did not support the hypothesis that diets low in fat or high in specific vitamins lower risk of basal cell carcinoma. (31)

It’s usually saturated animal fats that get the blame for all diseases today. They are not the culprits — ‘healthy’ vegetable oils are (see Polyunsaturated Fats in The Cholesterol Myth)”

From personal experience, I have seen that since I increased my intake of saturated fat, I tan more easily, burn less easily, and I retain my tan for longer than I ever have in my life. I no longer use sunscreen, and I visit the tanning bed at least three times a week, to maintain a nice tan that acts as a natural sunscreen. Check out Barry Groves’ recommendations below:

▪  “Most important: the best protection is a natural suntan.

▪  DO try to develop a moderate natural suntan unless you have extremely sensitive skin and burn easily.

▪  DO build up a tan slowly over, say, a week. Aim for no more than a slight pinkness each day. You should never tan so much that your skin peels off.

▪  DO remember that sunlight is strongly reflected from sand, snow, ice, and concrete and can increase your direct sunlight exposure by 10 to 50%.

▪  DO cut down on the amount of polyunsaturated fat and oil in your diet.

▪  DO see your doctor if you spot any unusual moles or growth on your skin — particularly if they are irregular in shape, bleed, itch, or appear to be changing. Most skin cancers can be cured if caught in time.

▪  DO NOT sunbathe in the early morning or late afternoon sun as recommended by health authorities. If the sun is low in the sky, you will only receive UVA rays, which is counter-productive. Yes, UVA tans, but it also reduces the body’s vitamin D stores.

▪  DO NOT use a sunscreen but DO use a moisturiser on your skin. Put it on at least fifteen minutes before going into the sun to allow it to penetrate the skin. It is a good idea to put this on all over your body before you dress to go out. That way you don’t miss bits such as the ‘bikini line’.

▪  DO NOT shower in the morning before going out to sunbathe. The oils naturally produced by your body during the night are a good protection.

▪  DO NOT shower for at least an hour after you have sunbathed. Vitamin D formed by the action of the sun on oils on the skin need time to be absorbed.

▪  Forget ‘aftersun’ products. They are expensive and unnecessary if you have followed this advice and not allowed your skin to be burnt. But after you have showered, do use a moisturiser.

▪  DO NOT wear sunglasses that filter out 100% of the ultraviolet light. They may protect you against the development of cataracts, but they stop UV entering the eyes – and that is much more important as UV through the eyes prevents cancer.

There is also some evidence that a person’s skin color is indicative of their Vitamin D status. People with lighter skin, are actually more efficient at producing vitamin D in response to sun exposure than people with dark skin, but light skin might also be an indicator of Vitamin D deficiency… just because someone HAS light skin, it absolutely does not mean that they should hide away from the sun. It’s quite the contrary in fact; pale people NEED to get a little sunlight….but not too much!

Surprisingly, darker skinned people like African Americans also need more sunlight than the majority of these people actually get:

“Can dark skin be a health hazard? It might be — if you are a dark-skinned person who lives far from the equator, gets little sun exposure and consumes little vitamin D.

That describes many African Americans and helps explain why studies find that average African-American children and adults have much lower blood levels of the vitamin than white Americans do. Vitamin D is produced in response to sun exposure in a process that works most efficiently in pale skin. It’s also in fortified dairy products and fatty fish, but few Americans — of any skin color — consume enough of those foods to meet recommendations.”

“Just how much vitamin D Americans need and how they should get it is under debate. Scientists also are debating evidence that vitamin D, best known for building bones, can lower the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.

And they are asking this intriguing question: Could varying vitamin D levels contribute to the health gap between black and white Americans?

Boston University professor Michael Holick, a leading vitamin D researcher, says yes: “We think it’s why African Americans develop more prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer and get more aggressive forms of those cancers.” – Kim Painter, USA Today.

Let’s also not forget that although sunscreens CAN help prevent sunburn, your skin (which is the largest organ in your body), absorbs many of the potentially harmful chemicals from the product. One of the worst chemicals found in sunscreens is Oxybenzone:

“Oxybenzone is a chemical in the family of benzophenones that is used in the vast majority of common sunscreens, as well as other skincare products, lip balm, etc. It is in the majority of sunscreens because of its ability to absorb and dissipate UV light, which causes sunburn and eventually skin cancers. Ideally, the chemical would simply sit on the skin and block sun rays until being washed off. Unfortunately, a study from the CDC suggests that the chemical is actually absorbed into our system, and can stay there for an unknown amount of time. The CDC randomly tested thousands of blood samples and found traces of benzophenones in 95 percent of the samples. It is certainly a scary thought that this chemical is being absorbed into our systems and causing unknown effects.

Currently, there are no studies showing a direct relationship between oxybenzone in sunscreen and negative health consequences. However, there is evidence that benzophenones can cause damage to cells and affect hormones in a lab setting. This means that if you expose animal cells to oxybenzone in a lab, you may see toxic effects. The caveat is that this does not always translate into cellular damage in the real world, usually because the concentration of the substance is much higher in lab studies.” - DrSugar

So…..when it comes to The Paleo Diet and Sunscreen, the take-home message is to nix the sunscreen, maintain a nice tan WITHOUT burning, use shade and clothing to limit sun exposure during summer, and eat more saturated fat than any other type of fat (like most people do in the Paleo Template). Oh, and EAT REAL FOOD!


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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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3 Responses to The Paleo Diet And Sunscreens

  1. Morley Robbins May 7, 2012 at 6:57 am

    OK, let’s connect dots:
    - Over the last 100 yrs the Magnesium (Mg) levels in our diet has dropped like a rock
    - The latest Gov’t figures indicate that as much as 80% of Americans are deficient in Mg (prob. closer to 100%)
    - The synthesis of Hormone (Vitamin)-D requires Mg at every stage. You can NOT activate Vit-D w/o Mg
    - It turns out that the raging “deficiency” of storage Vit-D (25OH-D) is actually signaling two key issues:
    — Tissue levels of Calcium are TOO HIGH which is why the body is so wisely keeping Vit-D levels low (pls go back & check what Vit-D’s job is in the body… To put Calcium into the blood & tissue. It is Calcitonin’s job to put Calcium back into the bones ( which is also activated by Mg…)
    — Mg levels are TOO LOW to flip storage to active Vit- D.
    The obsession with Calcium & now Hormone-D will be our downfall as a species. Pure & simple…

    • Barry Cripps May 7, 2012 at 11:45 am

      That’s true Morley…..which is one of the reasons that Chris Kresser recommends “Hormone-D3″ and Magnesium as standard supplements for everyone, because they are difficult to gain in sufficient amounts for diet, but are vitally important.

      Let’s also not forget that sufficient levels of Cholesterol are also necessary for proper conversion into Vitamin D3. People with low Cholesterol can’t assimilate as much Vitamin D, as people with higher/normal Cholesterol.

      Thanks for commenting again!!

  2. Thomas Cunningham May 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Barry Cripps,
    Wonderful article. Very informative and pushes the reader to truly think about the topic. I enjoyed the detailed information throughout the article and found the “Do’s & Don’t” by Barry Groves to be very useful. I am a Forty year old white male with a dominate Irish heritage mixed with Dutch. I have dark brown hair and fairly fair skin. As a child I grew up in rural Mississippi where all of the outdoors was my playground and remember getting burned a fair amount of times but not overly often. I always had to establish a light burn every Summer before my skin would tan and I simply accepted this as protocol for my skin. At the age of 17-18, my Mother acquired a Tanning Salon as a business at which I began working at (and using) on a daily basis. This went on for a good two years until I left to go to an out-of-state college.
    It wasn’t until my 30′s before I noticed what would become my first cases of skin cancer ( Basil Cell Carcinoma ). One on my face and two areas on my body ( chest and arms ) During my College years in Charleston, SC it was standard practice for students to visit the local beaches on a regular basis, especially during the Summer Months (That’s were the girls were!) I never was much for using sunscreens back in those days and only remember a few times I incurred major sunburns. I stayed fairly tanned for my skin type and easily spent far more time in the sun than I probably should.
    Recently, about 2-3 years ago, I noticed spots on both my forearms that were reason for concerned. For an easy 2years I did nothing. I didn’t go see a Dermy because I just couldn’t afford to. ( I didn’t have Heath Insurance because I worked as an Independent Contractor “Real Estate” ) It wasn’t until about six months ago, with the help of Family, that I went to see a Dermatologist and confirmed my fears. Three cases of Basil Cell Carcinoma and one case of Squamous Cell Carcinoma. The three Basil Cell’s were far along and grew to between a dime & nickel in size since I had delayed for years to address them. I had to have them surgically removed which required a lage chunk of skin to go with them. I’m left with three Z shaped, Frankenstien like scars on my arms as a reminder.
    I share all of this with you and your readers because I am a huge opponent towards the use and advocation of use of any Tanning Beds whatsoever. In your post above, the paragraph before Barry Groves do’s & don’t, you state “I visit the tanning bed at least three times a week, to maintain a nice tan that acts as a natural sunscreen.”
    Personally, I have a big problem with this statement and believe that artificial tanning beds are a primary culprit in the massive increases of cases of skin cancers. I believe that the use of tanning bed as a teenager was primary cause to my cases of skin cancer throughout the follow years and it disturbs me to see you using them yourself and advocating their use in a way that would encourage anyone reading this article to use them themselves as a way to protect themselves from future risk of skin cancer.
    Tanning beds scare me tremendously because they are strictly “man-made” and unnatural. The tanning beds are designed to produce filtered UV radiation focused mainly on the UVA rays only. These UVA rays are the longer of the two UV’s wavelengths and penetrate deep into the dermal layers of the skin. I’m pretty sure that our bodies, especially our skin, was never designed to deal with type of focused exposure of select UV radiation. As advocates of the Paleo Lifestyle, we tend to preach the importance of maintaining “natural based” lifestyle making sure all things that we bring into out bodies is procured from the most natural source if not fully organic.
    I find it odd that you would promote as well as choose to use for yourself, tanning beds while promoting a natural paleo lifestyle. It just seems contradictive to me. I hope you can understand my concern as well as my point of view. I mean no disrespect nor to be argumentative in nature, only to voice my opinion and provide open discussion on the subject.
    Thomas Cunningham