So begins the 2007, sci-fi movie Sunshine. If I told you that I actually spend time worrying about the plot of this movie and the fact that our sun will someday die, you would probably suggest I lay off the post-apocalyptic themed books and movies for awhile; but the fact remains – if the sun ceases to exist, so will life on earth. Why then has the sun been so demonized in the last few decades? I live in ‘America’s Finest City’ with it’s perfectly sunny, 70 degree weather year round; yet when I walk or do anything outside I see people covered in clothing, carrying an umbrella, slathering on sunscreen, and doing everything to avoid direct contact with our very life source.
Throughout history, every ancient culture has had various sun deities that welded the power to create and destroy. Why have we been conditioned to only fear the sun?
I find it fascinating that obvious lies are perpetuated from generation to generation because various industries’ need to turn a profit above all else – including health and ethics. Why do we eat bacon with eggs? Because in the early 1900’s, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, applied his uncle’s theories of psychological motivations to public relations, a field he is considered the father of. By surveying physicians with tricky questions he was able to promote bacon, as the breakfast choice of doctors. Don’t get me wrong, I love my weekend treat of bacon and eggs (nitrate free bacon and local eggs bought at the farmer’s market), but I was conditioned to believe that this is “proper breakfast.” At the same time bacon was created, there was an overproduction of citrus fruits in Florida and so they created the process of pasteurization to preserve it and a marketing campaign to train the public that it was a healthy way to start the day. If you want a truly healthy start to your day, just eat the fruit, as juice is over-processed, sugar water. Alissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know about Orange Juice, explains on the blog Civil Eats:
“When the juice is stripped of oxygen it is also stripped of flavor providing chemicals. Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature.”
Like all things, marketing has evolved. What started with campaigns of “information” about what is good for you, is now based on advertising what is bad for you and the product to protect you from said danger. I once had a gynecologist tell me that if I did not take birth control pills I would get endometrial cancer. I am physically active, eat organic whole foods, and have no family history of any type of cancer. I also have a history of severe adverse side effects to synthetic hormones including birth control. I asked to be seen by a different doctor after a few choice of words. It is now more common than ever for marketers to use the threat of cancer to manipulate our buying power in everything from supplements to sunscreen.
The Dangers of Sunscreen
I previously reported on the dangers of chemicals in various beauty products. The FDA doesn’t monitor the ingredients sufficiently because we don’t ingest it, but it goes directly into our bloodstream. What’s worse is there is no conclusive evidence that commercial sunscreens even prevent skin cancer, while they inhibit the body from producing Vitamin D when getting adequate sun. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics reports “Sunscreens protect against sunburn, but there is no evidence that they protect against basal cell carcinoma or melanoma. Safety of sunscreens is a concern, and sunscreen companies have emotionally and inaccurately promoted the use of sunscreens.”
As we approach the dog days of summer, there will inevitably be days when you are in the sun for long periods of time and need some sort of protection. Instead of just buying into catchy jingles and flashy or convenient displays shop smartly and avoid the following common ingredients:
Retinyl Palmitate: an ingredient composed of palmitic acid and retinol (Vitamin A). When exposed to UV light, retinol compounds break down and produce toxic free radicals that can damage DNA and cause gene mutations, a precursor to cancer.
Oxybenzone: (AKA methanone, 2-hydroxy 4 methoxydenzophenone and benzophenone-3): a sunscreen ingredient associated with photo-allergic reactions. Produces excess reactive oxygen species that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, lead to cell death and may be implicated in cardiovascular disease. Also acts as an endocrine disruptor.
There are numerous ingredients that are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and more. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Summer 2012 site for more detailed information on FDA regulations, ingredients and other summer safety tips. Organic Authority also lists 21 safe sunscreens here.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Family
Awareness. Start looking at products and asking yourself, “How much of this is substantial information and how much of this is just marketing?” This goes beyond sunscreens and to everything you buy. We are trained like Pavlov’s dogs to buy this to be healthy, buy that to be happy. Buy. Buy. Buy. Start forcing yourself to be more aware of marketer’s ploys.
DIY! The popular blog, Wellness Mama, has easy DIY recipes for safe, cheap and easy to make sunscreen (note: I tried to find zinc oxide at various stores with no luck. Plan ahead in case you have to order it online).
Don’t Buy into Manipulative Marketing. In the beginning of this post I confessed that I actively worry about the sun dying. That’s silly, right? Well, is it sillier than putting dangerous toxins on you or your family’s bodies in hopes that it will prevent cancer solely because a label says it will? Is it anymore ridiculous than treating the very thing that gives life to this planet as a cancer to be avoided because an industry told you to be afraid? This summer try spending some time in the sun without sunscreen. Be safe and limit your exposure to small amounts of time before covering with safe sunscreen or clothing. Build a base tan to protect against getting burnt. See if you feel happier, more energetic, healthier after 15 or 20 minutes sitting in the sun during your lunch break.
Ancient cultures feared and revered the sun because of it’s power to heal and to hurt. Let’s start a movement celebrating and respecting the sun rather than just fearing it because we are told to.