It’s the time of year to revisit the issue of sunscreen. This is a hot topic as some people are adamantly against sunscreen, saying they do more harm than good, others say use with moderation, and still others say absolutely use sunscreen everyday! Here’s my take on the issue of chemicals in sunscreen vs. health benefits of avoiding too much sun.
I get a lot of questions from readers and clients along the lines of: Aren’t there a lot of chemicals in sunscreen that are best avoided? What should we avoid and which brands are best? And what about getting enough Vitamin D?
The controversy around sunscreen is that most brands have a lot of toxic chemicals in them known to do us harm. Sure, they may help us from not getting burned which we all know is bad for potentially getting skin cancer, but how bad are the chemicals we’re putting on our skin (and in doing so absorbing them into our system)? What harm do they do? And isn’t a little sun a good thing?
Most people these days agree that a little sun exposure is good for us. We need Vitamin D and as long as we don’t get burned, it’s okay to go out in the sun. Vitamin D is beneficial for a number of reasons, it helps our bodies absorb calcium making our bones strong, it activates the T-cell cancer fighters in our immune system, it lowers blood pressure and hypertension. Low levels have been linked to increased risk of type 1 diabetes, as well as cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, ovaries, esophagus, and lymphatic system. Since I’ve had two of those cancers, I am all about Vitamin D!
So do we want to block our Vitamin D absorption by constantly slathering on sunscreen when out in the sun? Yes and no. To be very conservative, I recommend getting 15 minutes of direct sun a day (most people can go longer than this), long enough to get our daily D dose, but short enough to not burn our skin. Beyond that, I recommend staying in the shade during the hottest parts of the day and wearing a hat if you are out and about during that time. The chemicals in some sunscreens are toxic (more on that below) and therefore definitely to be avoided. However, if you have super fair skin and/or burn easily, I do recommend non-toxic sunscreen in order to be able to enjoy outdoor life for longer than 15 minutes!
Ultimately, I say use sunscreen as a last resort. When you shop, please be aware of these nasty chemicals found in the most popular brands of sunscreen. Read labels and look for the two most toxic chemicals widely used in the U.S. brands of sunscreen: Oxybenzone and Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate). According to the Environmental Working Group, (ewg.org) these are known hormone disruptors that act like estrogen in the body, alter sperm production in animals, are associated with endometriosis in women, and cause thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies. Other chemicals to look for are Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene which have moderate toxicity concerns. As with all of your personal care products, you also want to make sure that your brand doesn’t contain parabens or phthalates.
So what brands are good? With over 1800 products to choose from, making a choice can be challenging. Here’s what to look for:
- 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 with water resistance
- Pick broad spectrum sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB rays
- Choose sunscreen products that are rated 0-2 in the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide.
A few brands to look for and try:
- Badger– Certified organic, several different SPFs and option for kids, babies and active people, unscented available
- Thinkbaby/Thinksport– Great for athletes, kids and adults for prolonged exposure in sun.
- All Good – Several options available for kids, and sports
- Seventh Generation– SPF 30, only one option available
- Aubrey Organics– SPF 26-45 available, unscented available
- Raw Elements– The first organic, non-GMO certified sunscreen.
- Sunology – Kids, Face and Body Protection
- California Baby (Target carries this brand) – Formulated for sensitive skin, SPF 18-30
So enjoy the sunny days and get your vitamin D. As with everything, moderation is important. Get some direct sun, don’t burn, stay in the shade and as a last resort use a quality sunscreen without the toxic chemicals.