Most of us have heard how important it is to put on sunblock every day before heading out to prevent developing skin cancer from exposure to the sun's rays. However, this fails to take into account how important sun exposure is in order for our bodies to develop a sufficient amount of vitamin D, which is vital to our well being. The idea of incorporating sunblock into our daily regimen before going outside also fails to take into account the many chemicals included in sunblock lotions that are also potentially harmful to human health.
So which is worse? Exposure to the sun's rays or exposure to the chemicals added to most sunblock lotions?
Benefits of Sun Exposure
Vitamin D is most efficiently produced in the body through sun exposure. Although it is also available through certain foods such as salmon and mushrooms, many cases of vitamin D deficiency can be attributed to not getting enough exposure to sunlight. When the sun's UV rays penetrate a person's skin, a complicated reaction occurs that creates vitamin D in the body, which helps boost the person's ability to absorb calcium and phosphorous. This is particularly important because this helps regulate our bone-calcium metabolism, and an insufficient amount of vitamin D in the body can result in bones that do not form properly. Vitamin D deficiencies in children can be especially apparent, as it can cause rickets, a disease characterised by skeletal deformities, often resulting in legs that are curved or bowed.
Drawbacks of Sun Exposure
Spending too much time under the sun can result in deep burns that can penetrate the skin several layers deep, and result in serious skin damage. Although the burns themselves may seem temporary, they do long term damage by destroying the elasticity in our skin, thus increasing the number of wrinkles and age spots that appear down the road, not to mention weakening our skin so that its ability to heal becomes much slower. Sun burns also don't only occur on hot days, as they are a result of radiation penetrating the skin, rather than heat from the sun. So don't be fooled into thinking you can't get a sunburn during the winter season. If you're spending hours outdoors and the sun is out, it's still wise to protect your skin.
And of course, another serious consequence of too much sun exposure is skin cancer. Too much sun exposure increases the chances of abnormal skin cells growing out of control, which can spread to the body's organs, cause tumors, and even eventually death.
Also, please don't be one of those people who claim tanning beds won't put you at that same risk. A UV light from a tanning bed is the same as UV radiation from the sun, and can be equally or even more harmful, considering people just "bake" inside these beds so they can tan as much of their body as possible.
Benefits of Sunblock Lotion
Sunblock, although not as effective as avoiding the sun altogether, is a great way to protect your skin against UV rays when you're outdoors. Most chemical ingredients in sunblock lotions effectively absorb UV radiation before it reaches your skin, while physical ingredients effectively block the radiation so that it is reflected away instead.
The SPF numbers on sunblock bottles indicate how much longer you can spend under the sun without burning if you use the product. For example, if the bottle claims it has an SPF of 15, you should be able to get sun exposure 15 times longer than you normally would without burning. If the bottle claims it has an SPF of 50 of more, then you may be able to spend 50 times longer under the sun without burning.
Drawbacks of Sunblock Lotion
Sunblock lotions themselves can be harmful to the human body beyond just causing rashes or other allergic reactions. Some scientific studies claim that the chemicals added to many sunblock lotions can disrupt the body's metabolism and hormone production. In fact, some of these harmful ingredients accumulate within the body after long term daily application, and may even contribute to various types of cancer once absorbed through the skin.
So should we or shouldn't we be using sunblock?
For me personally, whether or not I use sunblock depends on the situation. Usually, the only exposure to direct sunlight I get is during my commute to and from work during the day, and I don't feel like these short blocks of time under the sun are putting my health at risk. Being a fair-skinned person, I feel I am getting just the right amount of sun exposure during my commute (perhaps even not enough!), which is why I choose not to use sunblock on a daily basis. However, if I know I will be under direct sunlight for an extended amount of time, and/or if I am walking about outdoors when the sun is highest (usually between 10am-2pm), then I will apply sunblock onto my skin.
It is also worth mentioning that many cosmetic products, especially foundations and daytime moisturizers, contain chemicals — such as titanium dioxide — normally found in sunblock lotions. That is something you should also take into account if you normally wear makeup.
If you are fair-skinned like I am, then it's probably prudent to be more careful about the amount of sun exposure you get, especially if you don't wish to apply chemical-laden sunblock onto your body. If you are dark-skinned, you are luckier and can probably spend more time under the sun sunblock-free without worrying too much about any health risks
In conclusion, do what you think is appropriate for your particular skin tone. You know best as to how sensitive your skin is and what products you're willing to use on your body.