Safe Sunscreen Guide
We are a culture that has been taught to fear the sun. Medical professionals and skin care companies alike have advised to either stay inside or dubiously lather up in sunscreen to prevent the damage of UV radiation from the sun.
Conventional wisdom scares us and has us avoid the sun like the plague. What should be avoided like the plague are the sunscreens loaded with chemicals.
I am very careful about not only the food that I eat, but also the products that I apply to my skin.
Sunscreens are designed to protect your skin by scattering, reflecting, or absorbing harmful UV light. The most common types today are chemical-based sunscreens, which are absorbed by your skin and work by deactivating or degrading the UV light once it’s in your skin.
Chemical sunscreens often contain a combination of three to six of these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, octisalate, homosalate, and octinoxate.
It’s easy to get lost in the long list of ingredients found in sunscreen labels, especially if they are loaded with hard-to-pronounce, scientific-sounding words. Since they’re found on supermarket shelves, most people assume they’re safe to use.
But the cold, hard fact is that many studies have found potential links between active chemical sunscreen ingredients and cell damage, allergies, and even hormone disruption.
An animal study conducted found that widely-used sunscreen chemicals mimic the effects of estrogen and trigger developmental abnormalities in rats.
What’s more, the chemical cocktail in conventional sunscreens can add to your toxic load.
To give you an idea of just how invasive these chemicals can be, here’s an example: oxybenzone, a penetration enhancer (a chemical that allows other chemicals to be penetrated by the skin), is used in 56 percent of non-mineral sunscreens in the market. It is found that it already contaminates the bodies of 97 percent of Americans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Have Safe Sun?
Appropriate sun exposure is an essential health habit one should incorporate in their life. Read this post to read the long list of healing properties of the sun and its rays: helps reduce blood pressure, fat metabolism, influencing lifespan, improved evening alertness, pain killing properties, protective against MS, helps with production of vitamin D which incidentally support your eyesight and reduces the risk of many types of cancers.
Sun is good medicine. To learn how I receive the healthful benefits of the sun safely while avoiding premature aging (wrinkles and other skin), read this previous post. Learn the 4 foods and 1 free easy practice that help protect against sunburns.
Choose the Right Sunscreen
Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases their annual guide to sunscreens, and this year’s data again shows that you must be very cautious when choosing sunscreen to apply to your skin.
The chemicals in sunscreen are actually responsible for more skin cancers than the sun. In 2014, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reviewed over 2000 sunscreens and over 257 brands. They found more than 75% of the sunscreens contained toxic chemicals that can increase your risk of cancer and other health issues.
What to Choose
Choose a sunscreen that protects against Both UVA and UVB Rays. SPF only protects against UVB rays, which are the rays within the ultraviolet spectrum that allow your body to produce vitamin D in your skin. But the most dangerous rays, in terms of causing skin damage and cancer, are the UVA rays. Therefore, look for a sunscreen that contains the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which block the sun’s rays without penetrating your skin.
What to Avoid
The most toxic sunscreens typically contained the hormone-disrupting chemical oxybenzone, synthetic fragrance, and retinyl palmitate, which poses cancer concerns:
In 1978, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began to develop its first-ever sunscreen safety regulations. Decades later, the job still isn’t done. That’s outrageous.
The FDA hasn’t protected us from the sunscreen industry’s false claims or use of potentially hazardous ingredients.
Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a Sunscreen Guide. You should have the best information possible to help you choose products that will protect you and your family from burns and skin cancer and keep you safer in the sun.
Since there are no regulations, the industry doesn’t have to verify that its sunscreens work or provide adequate UVA protection or even check their “waterproof” claims.
Two-thirds of the sunscreens analyzed by the EWG did not work well or contained potentially hazardous ingredients.
This is one of the most troublesome ingredients found in the majority of sunscreens. Its primary function is to absorb ultraviolet light. However, oxybenzone is also believed to cause hormone disruptions and cell damage that may provoke cancer. According to EWG:
“…the chemical oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can trigger allergic reactions. Data are preliminary, but studies have found a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and health harms.
One study has linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women; another found that women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters.”
Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A palmitate)
Sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol, and retinyl palmitate.
The problem occurs when this form of vitamin A is exposed to the sun (as opposed to when it is used in night cream, for example), which is why sunscreens that contain it should be avoided.
I caution against using personal care products that contain synthetic fragrance, as this term describes any number of harmful chemicals that do not have to be listed individually on the label. Some common “fragrance” chemicals include:
Synthetic preservatives known to interfere with hormone production and release.
Another synthetic preservative that’s carcinogenic and linked to reproductive effects (decreased sperm counts, early breast development, and birth defects) and liver and kidney damage.
These are linked to hormone disruption and are thought to persist and accumulate in breast milk, body fat, umbilical cord blood, and the environment.
Additionally, here are three more things to stay clear of:
- Avoid Spray Sunscreens: These are incredibly popular, especially for kids, but the convenience comes at a price. When the sunscreen is sprayed, toxic particles are released into the air, making them easy to breathe in, with unknown health effects. Spray-on sunscreens may also contain flammable ingredients, and there have been reports in which a person wearing the sunscreen received serious burns from coming close to an open flame.
- Avoid Super-High SPFs: Higher SPF sunscreens (SPF 50+) are not intrinsically harmful. However, there’s evidence that the higher protection level gives people a misleading sense of security, encouraging them to stay in the sun longer than they should. In reality, research suggests that people using high-SPF sunscreens get the same or similar exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays as those using lower-SPF products.
- Avoid Sunscreen Towelettes or Powders: These offer dubious sun protection and the powder poses a risk of lung irritation if you inhale it.
BareFood Angel’s Closing Words
Health and wellbeing are precious gifts that we must preserve and protect.
Go out and enjoy the warmth and benefits (vitamin D, reduced blood pressure, increased fat burning capability, pain killer etc) of the sun safely mid day unprotected (no sunscreen, least amount of clothes) for a limited time (20-30 minutes/day depending on the color of your skin). Read this to find out how to sun safely. And remember, if you are going to be under the sun longer than that, apply some safe sunblock and a hat. Complete avoidance of the sun is a surefire way to cause some problems for yourself down the road.
If you know you are going to be under the sun for a prolong period of the recommended time, here is a short list of sunscreens I recommend.
To help my customers shop my recommended brands (the first top 3 brands), I have set up an account with the following company. Your cost will be the same. New customers will save $10 on purchase of $40 or more, or $5 if the order is less than $40.00, and will be introduced to one of the best overall values for natural products. Free shipping for orders over $20. I earn a small commission if you use the links in this article to purchase the products I mentioned. (see affiliate disclosure)I only recommend products I would use myself or that pass my test. Your purchase helps support this site and my ongoing research.
Here are some general rules for choosing a safe sunscreen:
- Look for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide based mineral sunscreens, which do not penetrate the skin and provide UVA protection against the sun’s most damaging rays.
- Choose non-nano products that do not have small particles that can absorb into skin.
- Choose sunscreens that are unscented or use essential oils as fragrance.
- Pick lotion based sunscreens that are labeled “Very Water Resistant”.
Choose sunscreen products that are rated “0” to “2” in the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide.
Enjoy the sun!
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