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Skin Cancer Awareness: Is the Sun Really to Blame?

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.

 

It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and that more than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour. With harrowing statistics like that it's only natural we talk about this hot topic during skin cancer awareness month.

 

If you go to the Skin Cancer Foundation or American Academy of Dermatology they will tell you that increased sun exposure, changes in clothing style and genetics are some of the main culprits of the alarming 2000% increase in skin cancer rates since 1950. In fact the rates of skin cancer continue to climb year after year despite the introduction of chemical based UVA and UVB filters in 1970.

 

SO IS THE SUN REALLY TO BLAME?

 

Prior to 1950 the diagnosis of melanoma was actually quite rare. (1



And while there were some forms of sun “block” it wasn't really until the 1970's that conventional sunscreen as we know it today was widely produced, right before the big uptick in skin cancer rates…. (we'll touch briefly on this but it's a larger topic than this email has space for).

 

Interestingly research also shows that Americans today actually spend less time outdoors than previous generations. (I'm sure I don't need to show you the stats on this one). Desk jobs, commuting, indoor activities and screen time all contribute to decreased time spent outside.

 

THE MECHANISM OF SKIN DAMAGE

 

Don't we all know that UV radiation causes skin damage?

True, skin damage and aging is induced by UV exposure but that's not the whole story. The real culprit of skin damage and aging comes at a cellular level, lipid peroxidation a.k.a oxidative damage within the cell. So exposure to UV light causes lipid peroxidation which leads to damaged skin cells and DNA which ultimately leads to cancer. 

 

And there you have it, a campaign to fear the sun was born.

 

But let's not forget about the countless benefits of sunlight (and UV) exposure! Balanced circadian rhythms, improved mood, synthesis of vitamin D and it's actually been found to protect cells against oxidative stress. (1, 2)

 

THE REAL CULPRIT

 

There's been one major change since the 1950's that the Skin Cancer Foundation and American Academy of Dermatology have failed to mention, the drastic change in the Western (American especially) diet.

 

Seed oils.

 

The majority of our diet consists of highly processed foods containing seed oils or PUFAs (Polyunsaturated fatty acids). PUFAs contain a dangerous amount of omega 6 fatty acids which increase skin inflammation and make it more sensitive to UV light. And when did PUFAs start to become more prevalent?



The 1970's of course.

 

When exposed to UV light the omega-6 fatty acids break down into toxic substances causing an increase in lipid peroxidation and if you remember, UV exposure + lipid peroxidation = cell damage and malignancy. (1, 2, 3)

 

 

DECREASING YOUR SKIN CANCER RISK

 

Since working to reduce my family's processed food intake and subsequently our seed oil consumption over the past several years we have found we have much less sensitivity to the sun. My fair skinned, light haired children have never burned despite our minimal sunscreen use and attempts to maximize our time outdoors.

 

Here are four suggestions to help decrease your risk of oxidative damage from UV exposure so you too can enjoy the benefits of the sun.

 

  1. When possible, opt for whole-food, non-processed food options. 

  2. Limit your use of vegetable oils like canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower and   grapeseed.

  3. Use more butter, ghee, olive oil, tallow and coconut oil when cooking and baking.

  4. Wear lightweight, loose fitting clothing and a hat when out in the sun and take           regular “shade breaks” to offer protection from direct sunlight when outside during 

  peak UV hours from 10am - 2pm.

 

BUT WHAT ABOUT SUNSCREEN?

 

For the past 3 years my family has only used sunscreen on our faces, ears and neck and typically only during peak hours. We also switched from using chemical based sunscreens like those popular brands found in stores to a physical, mineral based sunscreen.


If you remember, despite the widespread introduction of chemical based UVA and UVB sunscreens in 1970, skin cancer rates continued to soar. Chemical based sunscreens rely on a chemical reaction (hence the name) to protect you from the UV rays however this chemical reaction takes place within the skin which can still cause oxidative damage. Physical sunscreens, like a non-nano zinc oxide, alternatively sit on top of your skin and actually block and reflect back the UV light. This is great except there are benefits to UV exposure (as we previously discussed), so my recommendation to you is to find a healthy balance because there is a time and place for sunscreen.

 

Sadly the sunscreen my family has used the past 3 years was recently discontinued but this will be what we use going forward.





Elizabeth Rose | BSN, RN, Integrative Wellness Coach


On a mission to help women heal their mind and body from the inside out so they can show up with more confidence in everything they do and create a legacy of generational wellness in their family. Elizabeth believes you were created on purpose for a purpose and it is her goal to equip you with the tools to reclaim your health, discover your purpose and confidently live out the life you were made for.

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