May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a time when we come together to raise awareness about the importance of skin cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment. As much as we all long for golden, bronzed and glowing skin, it’s important to educate ourselves and others about the risk factors, warning signs, and preventative measures we can take to protect ourselves and our loved ones, as well as debunking some sun-related myths that are NOT correct (I’m talking sunscreen, sun exposure and seed oils, among others!).
Skin cancer, like many other cancers, is a consequence of a selection of cells responding to the body's environment and terrain within. Our terrain is constantly being influenced by various factors such as hormones, nutrition, stress, infection, and inflammation so it’s powerful to understand how we can help build a healthier body that is more resistant to the stressors around us. To prevent and treat skin cancer effectively, it's crucial to address these underlying factors rather than just treating the symptoms.
While most people think the biggest risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to sunlight, only 10% of all skin cancer cases are actually attributed to forms of ‘radiation’ and UV is a very small part of that spectrum. We shouldn’t be scared or terrified of the sun but we should understand the concept of ‘healthy sun’.
Healthy sun is so important for us and we really do need to get our Vitamin D from the sun (not from tanning beds). The foundations of healthy sun are:
- not baking in the sun, ever (particularly if you have fair skin)
- avoid the sun during peak hours
- avoid tanning beds always (Vitamin D from the sun is totally different to tanning beds which are more closely connected to melanoma)
- replace toxic, chemical-laden sunscreen with mineral sunscreen, and
- cut inflammatory seed oils (and foods, along with alcohol and cigarettes) from your diet to reduce your likelihood of sunburn and skin cancer.
Sunscreen is an important topic and one that I am *SO* passionate about that it has led me to formulating my own, non-toxic, mineral-based sunscreen! I truly cannot wait to bring this to market and bring it to you, so you can stop using all of the toxic sunscreens out there.
Many sunscreens are packed full of chemicals that get absorbed into the bloodstream and can be found in urine and human milk samples. A study published in the April 2004 Journal of Chromatography discovered that all tested sunscreen agents had notable skin penetration, including oxybenzone and its metabolites. Long-term exposure to benzene, a common ingredient in traditional sunscreens, is also thought to cause cancer. These chemicals are among the most powerful free radical generators known and can cause various health concerns such as carcinogenicity, reproductive disorders, and even feminization of tissues. By contrast, and unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and scatter UV rays away like a mirror, rather than absorbing into the skin and bloodstream. So my advice would be to avoid toxic sunscreens where possible. The EWG provides a guide for selecting safe sunscreens based on their ingredients and protective abilities, so until mine comes out, you can start there.
Seed Oils and Sunburn
Awareness of seed oils is also gaining traction quickly, particularly in connection to how they can drive inflammation, inflammatory responses, skin damage, sunburn and even skin cancer within the body. Inflammatory seed oils, such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oils, have been linked to an increased risk of sunburn and skin cancer. These oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation in the body when consumed in excess. When exposed to sunlight, the combination of these oils and UV radiation can cause oxidative damage to skin cells, leading to inflammation and an increased risk of skin cancer. Additionally, these oils may decrease the skin's natural ability to protect itself from the sun's harmful rays, making it more susceptible to sunburn and damage.
The connection to hormones is interesting. Despite being traditionally categorized as a non-hormone-related cancer, there is growing evidence to suggest a link between sex hormones, especially estrogens, and melanoma. In Germany, certain fish were even discovered to have developed hermaphroditic traits due to the presence of chemicals from sunscreens in their bodies.
Skin cancers, especially squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, have important inflammatory components and researchers are increasingly studying the molecular pathways that trigger inflammation-mediated tumorigenesis. Melanoma, the most aggressive skin cancer, is being researched in regards to new immune-therapies. These findings further support how important an anti-inflammatory diet is in the pursuit of wellbeing, optimal health and living a life without cancer.
Some recent studies are suggesting that consumption of alcohol, another inflammatory substance, may raise the risk of developing skin cancer too. Dr. Eunyoung Cho of Brown University and Harvard Medical School completed a study that found that every 10-gram increase in daily alcohol consumption is linked to a higher risk of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. The average U.S. drink contains 14 grams of alcohol. Another German study found that drinking alcohol before sun exposure increased the risk and severity of sunburn. This may be due to lower levels of antioxidants, called carotenoids, which protect against UV exposure and reduce the risk of skin cancer.
Several supplements have been studied for their potential to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Studies show that Manuka honey, Vitamin D, Vitamin B3 / nicotinamide, astaxanthin, melatonin, and glutathione have all shown promising results in studies. Antioxidants such as Vitamins C, E, and A, zinc, selenium, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, and polyphenols can also help protect against free radical damage and reduce the risk of skin cancer. Finally, a recent study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that methylene blue, a common laboratory dye and medication, shows promise as an alternative sunscreen ingredient that’s both effective for blocking UVA and UVB rays and safe for the environment. A balanced high antioxidant diet and avoiding synthetic Vitamin A supplements are also recommended.
In conclusion, while supplements alone are not a substitute for healthy lifestyle habits, incorporating certain supplements into a balanced diet and lifestyle may help reduce the risk of skin cancer. Your diet can help too:
- A diet rich in polyphenols can protect against UV radiation, inflammation, and skin cancer. Polyphenols are found in foods such as berries, green tea, pomegranate, cocoa, and spinach.
- Anti-inflammatory foods such as coffee have been linked to lower markers of inflammation in melanoma patients.
- Oral probiotics have shown a photoprotective effect against UV radiation-induced skin cancer.
- Antioxidants, fats, proteins, and plant-based spices such as curcumin can also help prevent cancer.
- Research also shows that managing stress levels is also important in preventing skin cancer.
It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen. If this is something you need help with, or want to learn more about, I highly recommend Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy. She’s a renowned functional medicine physician who believes in taking a whole-body approach to skin cancer treatment, addressing the root causes of illness rather than just treating the symptoms. I interviewed Dr. Connealy here. Dr. Connealy's approach is based on the belief that true healing requires addressing the whole person, not just the disease, and that the body has the ability to heal itself given the right tools and support. I wholeheartedly agree with this approach and stance and hope that this article has shed some light on some insight into that position.
It is so important for us to adapt to a low inflammation lifestyle as inflammation markers and high CRP have been associated with many types of cancers. It’s also important to avoid unnecessary chemical exposure (arsenic, contaminated tap water, industrial tar, coal, paraffin and other types of oils) where possible.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST***