It’s officially summertime, people!—and that means sun. And though the sun is great for filling us up with bone-strengthening vitamin D, there are also certainly some things it’s not so great for: sunburn, accelerated skin aging, and all the other dangers that can come with too much sun exposure.
So. Time to lather up with heaps of good ol’ sunscreen, right? The answer is yes… and no. Sunscreen can be an excellent protector from the sun’s harmful rays, but when it comes to quality sun protection, not all sunscreens are created equal. In fact, many of the conventional sunscreens you’ll find in the store can actually do more harm than help, despite what their colorful labels may claim.
Too often chemicals found in sunscreen are absorbed through the skin, and can be found in people’s blood, urine, and even breast milk. Here are a few examples of harmful chemicals known to be found in conventional sunscreens:
· Oxybenzone: Chemical by day, hormone by night, this femme fatale is a synthetic estrogen that can sneak through the skin and disrupt the hormone system. Oxybenzone can lower testosterone levels, modifies sperm production in animals, can filter into women’s breast milk, and has been detected in over 96% of the US population. She’s a popular one—found in almost 65% of the non-mineral based commercial sunscreens tested by the Environmental Working Group in their 2017 database.
· Octinoxate: Another hormone imposter, Octinoxate not only joins Oxybenzone in causing some skin allergic reactions; in studies it has also been found to affect the thyroid, reproductive system, and, yes, even alter behavior in animals. Octinoxate? Octi-nothankyou.
· Vitamin A, a.k.a. retinol or retinyl palmitate: This ‘vitamin’ seems innocent enough, as it is an antioxidant that fights against skin aging. Don’t judge a book by its cover, though; federal government studies show that when put on skin and exposed to light, this chemical may activate the development of lesions and skin tumors—not exactly something you want in your sunscreen. Watch out for Vitamin A in skin lotions, cosmetics, and lip products as well.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that higher SPF equals more protection, either. Sunscreen with SPF ratings higher than 50 have been called “inherently misleading” by the FDA, as they don’t necessarily do much more than their lowly SPF counterparts; plus, SPF only signifies protection from UVB rays (associated with sunburn), not its equally harmful cousin, UVA radiation (associated with DNA and cell damage, skin aging, and skin cancer).
In fact, most scientists and public health agencies, like the FDA, have not found much evidence to support the idea that sunscreen even protects against most skin cancers! Rather, despite top-dollar sunscreen industries and increased knowledge about sun protection, the most fatal type of skin cancer, melanoma, is three times more rampant now than it was in the 1970s.
We know… sounds pretty bad. But fear not! We’ve put together some tips to help you find a sunscreen that really does just what it’s supposed to, minus the hang-ups:
1. Repeat After Me: Mineral, Not Chemical
Mineral-based sunscreens, made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, tend to be a better choice than chemical-based ones, because they do a good job of blocking both UVA and UVB radiation, with minimal health risks. They work differently from chemical-based screens in their protection technique, in that they reflect, rather than absorb, UV rays. They also don’t break down in the sun in the same way that most chemical-based sunscreens do.
2. All Hail Queen Cream!
Always look for creams instead of sprays, the latter of which may be harmful to the lungs and other internal organs when accidentally inhaled.
3. Go a-Broad
‘Broad-Spectrum’ labeled sunscreens signify that these shield against both UVA and UVB radiation.
4. Did Someone Say Internet?
Websites like the Evironmental Working Group (ewg.org) offer ratings of many different sunscreen brands, explaining in detail the health risks and benefits of a given brand name.
[Not in the mood to start scanning bottle labels? We already have a hand made, natural and locally sourced sunscreen available for purchase at the store.]
Now before you rush out into the summer sun, natural sunscreen in hand, keep in mind that shade and clothing are always the real superheroes when it comes to sun protection—sunscreen ought to be thought of more as their trusty sidekick.
Okay. Now ready, set, sun!