As it turns out, May is also skin cancer awareness month.
As an aside, May promotes awareness of roughly 15 conditions, three ethnicities, and a few other causes and/or activities (i.e. National Bike Month). But, I have some personal experience with mental health (my last post) and with skin cancer. For that reason I chose to look at nutrition and skin cancer.
Skin cancer is on the rise. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime.
We don’t often associate good nutrition with healthy skin but, just like the brain, skin is part of the body and uses nutrients we ingest as building material. Actually, skin is the largest organ of the human body, with an area of about 20 square feet!
The three major types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Skin cancers develop from mutations of skin cell DNA. The type of cell that has mutated determines the type of cancer. The skin’s top layer – or epidermis – contains squamous cells (just below the outer surface), basal cells (just beneath the squamous cells producing new skin cells), and melanocytes (at the lower part of the epidermis producing melanin, or skin color).
The most common cause of skin cancer is UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds. However, toxic substances, a weakened immune system, and other radiation exposures can cause skin cancer in areas not exposed to the sun.
The first recommendation for prevention is sunscreen.
Use sunscreen when skin is exposed to sunlight. Even if you are just driving – make sure your arms are covered or sun screened. You may not be headed for the beach, but those arms are still baking.
Sunscreen safety has been called into question lately, so let’s take a small detour.
Concerns have been raised almost exclusively by a group called Environmental Working Group. I have not located any other person or organization publishing studies on the safety of chemicals contained in sunscreens. In other words, publications claiming sunscreens are dangerous cite EWG research – which is mostly opinion with little to no documented data.
Like so many products we use every day, chemicals in our lotions cause concern. Some common sunscreen ingredients given orally in high quantities to rats have caused adverse reactions. If you have a zero tolerance for any chemical at any level, you will want to avoid most sunscreens.
However, claims that the ingredients have not been reviewed since the 1970’s are outdated themselves. Some questionable ingredients (most notably homosalate and octocrylene) have undergone recent testing and were found by many studies to be safe in levels of 10% or less.
Other organic UV filters undergo testing before FDA approval:
“The safety dossier of a new UV filter resembles that of a new drug and includes acute toxicity, irritation, sensitization, phototoxicity, photosensitization, subchronic and chronic toxicity, reproductive toxicity, genotoxicity, photogenotoxicity, carcinogenicity, and, in the United States, photocarcinogenicity testing. The margin of safety of new UV filters for application to humans is estimated by comparing the potential human systemic exposure with the no-effect level from in vivo toxicity studies. Only substances with a safe toxicological profile and a margin of safety of at least 100-fold are approved for human use.” – Benefit and risk of organic ultraviolet filters: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11407932
I don’t 100% trust the FDA – I prefer to see scientific studies proving or disproving specific concerns. However, the fact is – no published study exists confirming sunscreens are toxic to humans.
My personal view of sunscreens is to stick with a trusted manufacturer – one that puts consumer safety first and conducts its own research. I also look for sunscreens with four or fewer active ingredients in low percentages and avoid brands that don’t list percentages of their active ingredients.
A last word on sunscreens. We all need some “unprotected” sunlight to facilitate vitamin D production. We don’t need a lot, but 20 – 30 minutes a few times a week is important for our health.
Moving on to other means of skin cancer prevention . . . the second suggestion is staying out of direct sunlight between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, if possible. If not, reduce sun exposure with protective fabrics carrying a UPF value on the label, hats, and sunglasses.
Finally, give your skin the hydration and nutrition it needs. Drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet, and use skin care products enriched with antioxidents. The most important vitamins for skin health are Vitamin C (antioxidant and collagen producer), Vitamin A (cell repair), and Vitamin E (antioxidant and protectant). Resveratrol also aids in cellular repair. A diet filled with fruits and vegetables is a good start and supplements can help fill the gaps.