Can Supplements Prevent Sunburn?

Summer is here and along with summer comes sunburns, that we all hate.  We’ve been told for years to slather on the sunscreen, but still a long day at the beach on on the lake you still end up pink.  So wouldn’t it be nice if you could just pop a few pill and skip the sunburn?

Lets talk for a minute about what makes up the sun, or at least the part that causes damage and pain. Those are the ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are two types UVA and UVB:

  • UVA – These are the UV rays which cause damage to the skin. Think of UVA as UV-Aging. These cause can lead to cancer, dried out leathery skin, etc. These don’t cause the burn though.
  • UVB – These are the UV rays which cause burning, so think of UVB as UV-Burning. UVB rays also cause the conversion of cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D.

Ok, so now a bit about sunscreen. Many sunscreens just block the UVB rays, so they prevent the burning but also block the production of vitamin D, but they don’t block the UVA rays, so the rays which can damage the cells and possibly cause skin cancer get right in.  So when you shop for a sunscreen make sure it is a full spectrum sunscreen that blocks both the UVA and UVB rays.

OK, so about that magic pill that prevents sunburn.  Sadly there isn’t a pill that will totally prevent sunburn, but there are a number of vitamins that have been shown to lessen the burning. So you may still burn, but not as bad. These are:

  • Beta Caroteen – Beta Caroteen is found in high concentrations in carrots – that is what gives carrots their orange color. Many supplements will also use beta carotene as their source of vitamin A.  Your body can break down beta carotene to make vitamin A as it needs it without the risk of too much vitamin A. This, like all those that follow isn’t a morning after pill. It takes 10 to 12 weeks of daily supplementation to reduce the redness and burning.
  • Lutein and Lycopene are carotenoids that also show some protection. Lutein especially for the eyes. (Make sure your sunglasses block UV rays, not all do.)
  • Astaxanthin – This is another carotenoid that is found in krill and salmon giving them their red color. (Note only wild caught salmon have high levels of this. Farm raised salmon (often called Atlantic or Norwegian salmon) are fed feeds which don’t contain astaxanthin, so they add red dye to the salmon’s feed to make the flesh red. Yech.  This works quicker, within a week or two of daily consumption (salmon or astaxanthin supplements)
  • Coco flavanols – Yep, chocolate has been shown to reduce redness from UV exposure in women, though I bet it would work for men too. Unflortunaely eating a handful of Hershey Kisses won’t work (well maybe a bag full) but the chocolate you reach for has much more fat, sugar, and milk that actual chocolate. Instead reach for a 90-100% dark chocolate. My favorite is the Lindt 99% chocolate (hard to find in the US, but you can find the 90 and 95%)
  • Vitamin C and vitamin E – when taken together in high doses daily. One study found that 2,000 mg of vitamin C and 1,000 IU of vitamin E (as d-alpha-tocopherol – the natural form) taken daily for 8 days modestly reduced redness caused by UV light – Equivalent to SPF 2. Note that these higher doses can cause problems for some people. A top rated multi vitamin has 1,300mg of Vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E and this is well tolerated by most people. So take that daily for a base, then jump up to the higher levels before you head to Bali – just make sure you don’t have any side effects (common is diarrhea from vitamin C)
  • Pine bark extract (Pycnogenol®, Flavangenol®) has been found in clinical studies to significantly increase the amount of simulated UV-radiation required to cause redness and skin damage, as well as reduce measures of skin damage caused by UV exposure. It has also been found to decrease the color of age spots in healthy young women.

Some supplements like St John’s Wort and dong quai (found in some menopause supplements) can increase photosensitivity, so avoided these if you are going out in the sun.

The big fear is skin cancer. Maintaining optimal  levels of vitamin D and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancers.   This leads to the vitamin D paradox – You need sun to naturally produce vitamin D and vitamin D has been shown to reduce the incidence of many types of cancer, including skin cancers. (Here is an article about vitamin D and its role in skin cancer)  Applying a high SPF sunscreen before going in the sun blocks that production, so you lose that protection.  So go out for 20 minutes or so, then apply sunscreen.  The recommendations above may help lessen the redness and damage and help a bit when you forget to reapply sunscreen. If you’re in and out of the water all day, or sweating and wiping your face, you just forget or can’t keep reapplying sunscreen. Here is an article that explains how sunscreens work and SPF ratings.

So what do I do?  I take our USANA Essentials and Visonex daily.  These provide high levels of most of the vitamins and carotenoids above. I’m not one that tans easily and I run for an hour daily usually around noon plus all the other Colorado outdoor activities, skiing, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, etc. I live in Colorado so high altitude and lots of reflection from the snow in the winter and water in the summer. I rarely use sunscreen unless I’m out all day, then usually just one application around noon. I can’t remember the last sunburn I’ve had.

Enjoy the sun and the water this summer!

 

Going to enjoy some fun in the sun this weekend? If you forget your sunscreen, then just skip the shower.

This holiday weekend many of us will be heading out to the beach, lakes, mountains, or just gardening in the yard. The forecast here is for lots of sun, so lots of sunburns on that winter white skin.

So many will grab the tube of sunscreen out of the medicine chest, slather it on, and think they are safe. It could be our obsession with sunscreen which has given way to the rise in skin cancer in the past decades. Lets back up for a bit of physics and biology.

The sun’s rays consist of visible light, inferred, which we feel as heat, and Ultraviolet, which we can’t see, but these very short wavelengths can penetrate out skin. The two ranges we often hear about are UV-A and UV-B.

UV-B is the shorter of the two and is the one responsible for the sunburn we are all probably too familiar with. UV-B is also the wavelength which converts cholesterol in our skin into Vitamin D.  Most of the sunscreens were designed to block the UV-B rays to help prevent a burn (Remember UV-B like Burn)

UV-A is the longer wavelength, which can penetrate deeper into the skin, and play a major role in skin aging and wrinkling. UV-A also can cause mutations and DNA damage in the basal layers of the skin where most skin cancers begin.

Lets talk a bit about Vitamin D. There is an avalanche of research coming out on Vitamin D over the past years and it is a key ingredient in your bodies anti-cancer defenses.  Vitamin D is fat soluble and is produced by a reaction in your skin brought on by exposure to UV-B rays. Once vitamin D is produced it resides in the surface oils in your skin and takes 18 hours or more to be absorbed deeper into the skin where it can become available to the rest of your body.

So lets take a look at a couple of scenarios:

  • The common scenario for the past few decades: You go out in the sun, slather on a traditional sunscreen so you don’t get a sunburn. If you were good you reapplied it ever few hours. Keep reapplying and you could stay out in the sun all day without burning. So what was the end result? You didn’t burn, you didn’t produce much vitamin D, AND UV-A rays did lots of damage to your deeper cells and may have pushed you one notch closer to starting the cascade of events which lead to skin cancer.  Vitamin D could help prevent this, but you didn’t produce much because you kept the sun screen on which blocked the UV-B rays.
  • The other common scenario is that you didn’t put much sunscreen on, or maybe none at all, you were in the sun for a little while, started burning, and covered up or went inside (or maybe stayed out a bit longer and fried yourself.  so in this scenario, you produced a ton of vitamin D. You didn’t do near as much damage to your deeper skin from less exposure to UV-A. Then you went in and very gently took a shower to get the salt water, lake water, sweat or what ever else off. Well doing that just washed all that vitamin D down the drain. So you’ve done less damage than the first scenario, but still lacking vitamin D.
  • A better scenario:  you slather on a full spectrum sunscreen which has agents to block both UV-A and UV-B rays. So you don’t produce the vitamin D, but you don’t burn nor damage your skin long term.  
  • Well there is one common scenario: Go out have fun hiking, biking, in the boat, etc. Get some good sun, maybe a little pink, but hey, you’re out camping, so you don’t take a shower until you get home, so that vitamin D has a chanced to get into your system and offer some anti cancer protection.
  • The final scenario, which is what I try to do, is I take 5,800 iu of vitamin D per day in supplements spread out twice a day. Then I use a full spectrum sunscreen as much as I can. I try to keep a shirt on my pasty white body which hasn’t seen the sun all winter.  
The labeling laws are changing, and I’m not up on the current laws as to what they can or can’t say, but grab your tube of sunscreen, or daily face cream and see which of the following ingredients it has in it. The table below lists most of the sunscreen chemicals and which range of UV radiation they block BUT read the next two paragraphs before you run for your skin care.
There are also the physical sunblocks like zinc oxide (that white stuff the life guards used to put on their nose) and there are also powders with tinted minerals, like zinc oxide, which block the sun fairly well, but don’t look like the life guards nose.  These are great for every day used.

There are numerous chemical names for each compound, so you may see something else listed on the label. For example Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate is also known as Oxybenzone.  Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate and Octyl Methoxycinnamate are also known as Octinoxate. So it may take some research to see which chemicals are the sunscreen agents.   A good source for honest scientific skin care ingredient information is http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org  

FDA-Approved Sunscreens
Active Ingredient/UV Filter Name Range Covered
UVA1: 340-400 nm
UVA2: 320-340 nm
UVB: 290-320 nm
Chemical Absorbers:
Aminobenzoic acid (PABA) UVB
Avobenzone UVA1
Cinoxate UVB
Dioxybenzone UVB, UVA2
Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) UVA2
Ensulizole (Phenylbenzimiazole Sulfonic Acid) UVB
Homosalate UVB
Meradimate (Menthyl Anthranilate) UVA2
Octocrylene UVB
Octinoxate (Octyl Methoxycinnamate) UVB
Octisalate ( Octyl Salicylate) UVB
Oxybenzone UVB, UVA2
Padimate O UVB
Sulisobenzone UVB, UVA2
Trolamine Salicylate UVB
Physical Filters:
Titanium Dioxide UVB, UVA2
Zinc Oxide UVB,UVA2, UVA1

So go out and enjoy the sun this long holiday weekend, just make sure you have a full spectrum sunscreen and you’ve taken some vitamin D. Or go out get fried, just resist taking a shower for a couple days.  
Just as a note, the daily skin moisturizer I use has three different sunscreens in it blocking both UV-A and UV-B rays and is rated as SPF 15. It is also free of parabens, formaldehyde releasing agents, and all other chemical preservatives.  I’ve used this when I go running and skiing and have never burned – And I take my vitamin D.

Skin and Sun Tanning (or Burning) and What About Sunscreen

Skin, the body’s largest organ, is its protective covering that receives external sensory stimuli. It consists of the outer layer, or epidermis, over a thicker layer, the dermis.

Epidermis is made of cells that include immune defenses, sensory receptors, pigments cells and keratin producing cells. Keratin producing cells migrate to the surface and form a dead, relatively dry outer layer that continuously sloughs off.

Dermis contains sensory nerves and blood vessels within connective tissue. Fibers of collagen and elastin make skin tough yet elastic.

Is a suntan, as opposed to sunburn, good for you?

No, because there is no safe way to tan. Melanin is the body’s substance that gives pigmentation to skin and helps protect the skin from sun. A tan is a telltale sign of skin damage. When ultraviolet rays penetrate the epidermis, the skin’s outer layer, the body produces more melanin in response to the injury.

With each tan, damage accumulates. It increases your risk for all types of skin cancer. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and International Agency for Research on Cancer panel have declared ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sunlamps, to be a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).

Ultraviolet light damage also accelerates the aging process. Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light, both natural and artificial, changes the skin’s texture, causing wrinkles and age spots.

What in ultraviolet light causes the damage?

Ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays can each cause harm.

  • UVA rays penetrate deeper into the dermis, the thickest layer of the skin. UVA rays can cause suppression of the immune system, making it harder for your body to protect against development and spread of skin cancer. UVA rays also lead to premature aging of the skin through wrinkling and age spots.
  • UVB rays are the burning rays. They are the primary cause of sunburn.

How do you treat sunburn?

  • It can take up to 24 hours for all of the effects of sunburn to show.
  • The two most common types are first-degree and second-degree burns.
  • First-degree sunburns cause redness, but will heal, sometimes with peeling, within a few days. Cool baths, moisturizers and over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams can help.
  • Avoid “caine” products, such a benzocaine, as they might cause sensitivity to broad range of chemicals. Anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can help ease the pain.
  • Second-degree sunburns cause blisters. Such burns can be considered an emergency, if a large area of skin is affected. Don’t break the blisters because it can delay healing and lead to infection. A layer of gauze may be used to cover the area until healed.
  • If severe sunburn is accompanied by headache, chills or fever, seek medical help immediately.

What about sun and vitamin D?

  • Sun exposure prompts vitamin D production in the skin.
  • Wearing sunscreen does decrease the production of vitamin D. Those who worry about not getting enough vitamin D should talk to their doctors about getting sufficient vitamin D from food and vitamin supplements.

Now what about Sunscreen


Is SPF 30 twice as protective as SPF 15?  Sadly no,

Definition and Workings of Sunscreen:

  • Sunscreen is a lotion formulated with unique chemical components to absorb UV light.
  • When sunscreen is applied to the skin, the chemical molecules form an invisible, protective layer on the skin that protects from penetrating UV rays.
  • All sunscreens protect from UVB rays, but only “Broad-Spectrum” sunscreens protect from both UVB and UVA rays.
  • UVB rays affect the top layers of the skin and are responsible for Burning.
  • UVA rays affect the lower layers of the skin and are responsible for Aging.
  • Remember to always buy a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum!

SPF… What’s it All About?

  • SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor.”
  • Always wear a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher!
  • SPF was developed to describe the amount of protection that a sunscreen provides. No sunscreen can protect your skin from all of the UV rays, but a higher SPF number indicates protection from more rays.
  • The SPF number tells you how much longer you can stay outside without burning while wearing the sunscreen product as opposed to not wearing any sun protection product. SPF measures “time to burn.”

SPF Math

SPF Number x Time to Burn Without Sun Protection = Time to Burn while wearing sunscreen*

*assuming that sunscreen is applied properly

Example: If your skin would burn in 10 minutes in the afternoon sun without any sun protection, and you applied a sunscreen with an SPF 15, you would have 15 x 10 = 150 minutes (2.5 hours) before you would burn.

Percentage of Protection from damaging UV rays:
SPF 15 = 92%
SPF 30 = 97%
SPF 40 = 97.5%

There is some controversy about very high SPF numbers and just how much more protection they provide. As you can see from the percentages of protection of the different SPF numbers, the difference in UV ray protection in SPF numbers becomes minimal as the number increases past about 30 or 40. The difference of protection between SPF 15 and SPF 30 is great (5%), but the difference between SPF 30 and SPF 40 is minimal (0.5%).


The Confusing Part About Sunscreen

  • Many people think that SPF values can be added. Actually, SPF values cannot be added – if you apply a sunscreen of 8 and then one of 12, you will not have the protection of an SPF 20. You will only be getting the protection of an SPF 12.
  • Reapplication only helps to ensure that you have the amount of protection and time before you burn that you calculated when you first applied sunscreen that day. Since no sunscreens can protect your skin from all UV rays, some rays will get through.
  • After your calculated “time to burn” has expired, your skin has absorbed all the UV rays that it can handle before it will start to burn. Even if you reapply sunscreen at this point, you will still burn because some rays will get through to your skin and your skin has already been saturated with UV. Therefore, you need to get out of the sun at this point and let your skin rest before exposing it to more rays.
  • Reapplication only ensures that you have your original time outside – sunscreen can wear off because of sweat, wind, and other factors you need to reapply in order to be protected.
  • So what’s the lesson to be learned about sunscreen? If you know that you will be in the sun for a long period of time, start with a higher-SPF sunscreen in order to have protection for the entire time that you are exposed.

Your Skin Care Products may be Causing Skin Cancer!

A study in the “The Journal of Investigative Dermatology” found that topical applications of moisturizers such as Dermabase, Dermovan, Eucerin Original Moisturizing Cream, Vanicream, or other lotions containing Mineral Oil could increase skin cancer risk.

In the study mice were irradiated with UVB, basically receiving a sunburn, and were treated with the mineral oil containing moisturizers exhibited a significant increase in their rate of tumor formation and increase in tumor size per mouse. Treatment of the mice with these lotions for 17 weeks increased the total number of tumors by 69 percent.

Mineral oil is a known carcinogen and applying it to sunburned skin appears to greatly increase this effect.

In light of the potential tumorigenic effects of mineral oil on UVB-exposed skin, it stands to reason that this is NOT an ingredient you want in your suntan lotion or tanning oil. However, that’s just what you’ll find in many tanning products. Unfortunately, just because you don’t see it on the label, it doesn’t mean it’s not in there. Mineral oil has countless different names, but each has the same effect… one you’ll want to stay away from!

Alternate names include:

  • Adepsine oil
  • Albolene
  • Drakeol
  • Lignite oil
  • Liquid paraffin / paraffin oil
  • Mineral seal oil
  • Petrolatum
  • White oil
  • Baby oil
Mineral oil also clogs your pores and can cause blackheads as well as preventing the absorption of any beneficial ingredients which may be in the products.
I think back on my high school and college days laying on the beach slathered in baby oil.
We’re fortunate now though that our skin care line doesn’t contain any mineral oil, by any name.