Sunblock or Polyphenols?
What’s the Safest Way to Protect Your Skin this Summer?
Picture this: you’re headed to the beach (FINALLY!). You’ve got your cute new swimsuit, a fun sun hat, and that dusty novel you’ve been trying to read forever.
You start your voyage out to the beach. You’re excited to relax on the warm sand listening to the seagulls and crashing waves. The warm sun beating down on your back…
Sucking you straight out of your daydream you realize you’ve forgotten your sunblock.
No big deal, you can stop at the drugstore for some snacks on the way and grab some there. But, in the back of your mind, you’re a little nervous looking at all the options. You heard about how there are dangerous chemicals in sunblock and now you’re not sure what to do to protect yourself.
You shouldn’t have to ‘pick your poison’: skin cancer from the sun or cancer and endocrine system problems from the chemicals in sunblock. Luckily there are some other options to keep you safe this summer.
Why We Need Protection from the Sun
Not protecting yourself from the sun at all is obviously not an option. Sunburn is terrible. It hurts, it gives you early wrinkles, and it’s not quite that glow we were looking for.
On top of all of that, we have to worry about skin cancer. The rays from the sun not only inflame your skin and make it red and puffy, but they also cause DNA damage and oxidative stress.
There are 3 different types of ultraviolet (UV) rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
We don’t really have to worry about UVC rays because they don’t pass through the ozone layer (if that keeps deteriorating we might have a problem with them in the future).
UVA rays affect your skin the most out of all three because most of it isn’t absorbed by the ozone layer. UVA rays are responsible for skin aging and color change.
UVB rays are more absorbed by the ozone layer — 90% of it is absorbed. However, it is the most dangerous type of ray. UVB rays contribute to sunburns, DNA damage, and nonmelanoma skin cancer.
DNA damage, inflammation, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) from UV radiation can cause immunosuppression and cancer. These are the main reasons to protect yourself from the sun.
How Sunblock Works
You’ve probably been lathering up since you were a little kid. Before you go outside (or usually once you’re already out there regardless of the directions on the bottle), you cover yourself in whatever your preferred sunblock brand is.
But what exactly is in there that protects you from these harmful rays? In short, there are a lot of different ingredients that make a scientific concoction to protect you. Some are used to balance out others, while others are used to strengthen the power of ones that aren’t quite as potent as they could be.
The most common ingredients that make sunblock work are:
- Cinnimates — most commonly octinoxate is a strong UVB absorber, although it does need help from others to provide a stronger SPF
- Salicylates — are used to strengthen other UVB absorbers since they aren’t strong on their own. The two most commonly used are homosalate and octisalate
- Octocrylene — helps to strengthen SPF and has very low irritation, phototoxicity, and photoallergic potential
- Ensulizole — only has effects on UVB and none at all on UVA. It’s often used for cosmetic purposes since it feels less oily on the skin.
- Benzophenones — mostly absorb UVB rays but oxybenzone is able to absorb both UVB and UVA rays. While it’s strong for protection, it does have a higher chance of being a skin irritant. It’s also not photostable meaning it has a chance to be mutated by the UV rays potentially being toxic to your body. It hasn’t been proven yet, but it is suspected to have potential cancer-inducing properties.
- Oxybenzone is also banned in Hawaii because it has been proven to be a factor in the decline of coral reef health.
- Avobenzone — loses its potency after about an hour of being in the sun, but when mixed with other chemicals it has a longer sun-life and is helpful to protect you from UVA rays
All of these products are used to protect your skin from the UV rays that cause damage. However, a recent study by the FDA found that the amounts used in common sunblocks are higher than the safe amount. This is a problem because if they are absorbed into your body and at high levels, it can be dangerous.
Polyphenols as Protection from the Sun
Polyphenols are really versatile little molecules. These helpful plant byproducts help our bodies in so many ways. There’s a reason that some of the most potent ones grow when the sun is at its peak — because our bodies need them.
There were no drug or grocery stores during our ancestors’ time. Just the foods they ate and the pelts on their backs. But they were still protected from the sun. This is likely — in part — thanks to polyphenols.
Polyphenols can be ingested or used topically on the skin. Some are more potent when eaten while others are more useful on top of your skin.
Some of the top polyphenols to get in your diet or to look for in natural sunblock products include:
- Grapes especially in wine (you’re welcome)
- Green or white teas
- Romanian propolis
- Calluna vulgaris extract
Polyphenols work as a sunblock because they help to scavenge the ROS that causes inflammation. They also have natural chemoprotective and anti-UV properties (each at differing levels). Polyphenols also help to repair the damage done to DNA strands which is a common side effect of sunburn.
While polyphenols have not been proven to take care of all of the UV radiation we are exposed to, they can definitely help. Researchers are still investigating what levels of each polyphenol are needed to be completely effective in sunblock, but the research is underway.
So while you’re on your way to your beach getaway weekend, pack your Atrantil (for extra gut support and a daily dose of polyphenols) along with some fruits and freshly brewed tea with honey. You’ll get (a portion of) your sunblock and a delicious but healthy treat that will keep you going all day.
Do you have a favorite natural sunblock? Let us know in the comments what your favorite way to protect yourself from those harmful rays is!