As discussed in Sun Exposure & Sunscreen: Friend or Foe (Part 1), lack of sun exposure can lead to a vitamin D deficiency which is linked to numerous health issues including cancer. Sunscreen has its own problems. It reduces our body’s production of vitamin D by 97-99%. Sunscreen also gives us a false sense of security, causing us to stay out in the sun a lot longer than we should.
The Environmental Working Group recently released its 7th annual Sunscreen Guide rating the safety and efficacy of more than 1,400 sunscreens, lotions, lip products and makeups that advertise sun protection. EWG researchers found that only 25 percent of products on the market in 2013 offer strong and broad UV protection and pose few safety concerns. So, what’s in your sunscreen?
What to Avoid in Sunscreen
According the EWG, these are the top 4 things NOT to bring to the beach:
- Sunscreen sprays – They may pose serious inhalation risks and not fully cover skin. Stick to lotions that you can make sure you get everywhere.
- Super-high SPFs (above 50+) – Sunscreens and other sun protection products with high SPF provide little additional skin protection. They often contribute to consumer misperception and misuse by giving a false sense of security that it’s safe to stay out in the sun longer.
- Vtamin A (retinyl palmitate) – Vitamin A is known for its anti-aging effects on skin. But retinyl palmitate, the form of vitamin A added to many sunscreens, makeups and moisturizers, could speed development of tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin, according to a government study.
- Oxybenzone – A common ingredient used in sunscreens. Oxybenzone is a chemical that absorbs through the skin, gets into the bloodstream and causes hormone disruption in the body. It can trigger allergic reactions and possibly cause cancer.
Here are a few more chemicals to avoid in your sunscreen:
- Octyl methoxycinnamate – Main chemical used in sunscreens to filter out ultraviolet B light. It was found to kill mouse cells even at low doses and to be particularly toxic when exposed to sunshine. And guess what? It is found in 90% of sunscreens.
- Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane – a common ultraviolet A filter with toxic properties.
What to Look for in Sunscreen
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays
- Titanium Dioxide – Appears to be safe to use on skin because of its low penetration. Protects against UVA/UVB.
- Zinc Oxide – Zinc has been used a long time in sunscreen and other skin care products; little absorption and no adverse health effects are reported. Protects against UVA/UVB. It actually blocks more UV radiation more than titanium dioxide so if you have the opportunity to pick between zinc oxide or titanium oxide as the active ingredient, pick zinc oxide.
- Use SPF 15-50 – Sunscreens with SPF 50+ require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals, posing health risks when they penetrate the skin. Many are linked to tissue damage and potential hormone disruption. So stick to SPF 15-50.
Resources: Sun Exposure & Sunscreen Tips
- Use common sense. Everything that happens in nature is gradual. Don’t stay indoors all year long then go on vacation and spend days (starting on the first day) out in the sun without following the rules below.
- Check your vitamin D – You don’t want to be deficient in vitamin D. Not only is it necessary and is known to help protect from colds & flu but having healthy levels of Vitamin D before you go in the sun will help you tan faster (the body’s protection mechanism from the sun).
- Limit sun exposure – I get 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a day and this is considered healthy.
- After the first 15 minutes:
- Wear protective clothing
- Don’t skimp – Apply about 1 ounce (5-6 teaspoons) of sunscreen to attain the stated level of protection. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming and sweating.
- Don’t let an overcast day fool you. UV rays still penetrate and can do a lot of damage.