Choosing a Healthy sunscreen
Summer time is here and that means spending more time outside enjoying pool parties, trips to the beach, water parks, amusement parks, and summer travel. You know you won’t forget to put on sunscreen to avoid burning, and ruining all the fun, but which sunscreen will you choose?
Many sunscreens use a combination of chemicals that may prevent the surface of your skin from burning, but will not necessarily prevent the rays from the sun from getting into your skin and possibly causing cancer.
According to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, “ Scientists don’t know conclusively whether sunscreen can help prevent melanoma. A 2011 study of sun-savvy Australians found that they reduced their risk of melanoma by daily, year-round use of a SPF 15 sunscreen, wearing hats and avoiding the sun in other ways.
Other studies have not come to clear conclusions. Some suggest that sunscreen users are at increased risk of melanoma. Whereas a number of studies conducted in the 1990s reported higher, not lower, incidence of melanoma among frequent sunscreen users (1, 2, 3, 4). But other studies indicate that sunscreens protect against melanoma (5, 6).
In addition to most sunscreen’s possible ineffectiveness against skin cancer, many of the chemicals and ingredients used in sunscreens “absorb into the blood, and some have toxic effects. Some release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight, some act like estrogen and disrupt hormones, and several can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation,” according to the EWG’s report. (7)
Also, these chemicals themselves may cause a host of additional problems simply from repeated exposure, such as skin breakouts, and male infertility. Another thing to consider is that some sunscreens allow you to spray them on, but are full of chemicals that can be very harmful once they have been breathed in.(8)
For example, The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens has classified titanium dioxide(a common chemical in spray sunscreens) as a “possible carcinogen” when inhaled in high doses. They say “The lungs have difficulty clearing small particles, and the particles may pass from the lungs into the bloodstream.” They also say “insoluble nanoparticles that penetrate skin or lung tissue can cause extensive organ damage”.
Choosing a healthy sunscreen
The Environmental Working Group has compiled a list and rating of 217 of the best sunscreens you can buy to help you make the best sunscreen decision for yourself and your family. (9)
However, if you are out at the store and have not had the chance to look over their list, here are some good things to keep in mind .
A good sunscreen should have:
- UVB protection – The UVB rating is the SPF score and should be higher than 15
- UVA protection –You can tell if your sunscreen provides UVA protection if the bottle says Broad Spectrum. UVA coverage not only protects against DNA damage and cancer, but also protects against premature skin aging. (10)
- Water resistance – Of course your sunscreen needs to stay on when you have fun in the water, so look for a sunscreen that claims resistance for at least 30 mins.
What to stay away from:
- Avoid oxybenzone – Oxybenzone is a common ingredient in sunscreens but it has been found to penetrate the skin and disrupt hormone systems. Instead look for products with zinc oxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. They can protect skin from harmful UVA radiation without being as disruptive. (11)
- Vitamin A(retinol) – You may think that Vitamin A would be good for your skin, and if you were to stay indoors you would be right, but studies have shown that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with creams laced with Vitamin A. Vitamin A has been added to 20% of sunscreens reviewed by the EWG in 2015. (12)
No matter what you choose remember that just because you have sunscreen on does not give you a good reason to stay out in the sun all day. Remember to take brakes and get out of the sun every 20 to 30 minutes, wear a hat, and loose clothing.