Most people lather on the sunscreen before going out in the sun. But is it safe? Are you really doing the right thing by coating yourself with sunscreen? Maybe not! Read the label on your suntan lotion (just like reading food labels) to pick the sunscreen with safe sunscreen ingredients.
If you think you’re protecting yourself from harmful sun rays, skin cancer and lowering associated health risks with a push of the suntan spray nozzle, you better think again.
Five Problems With Your Sun Protection
Sunscreen ingredients are associated with common health problems. The associated health hazards range from not actually getting broad-spectrum coverage and creating deep skin tissue damage to disrupting natural hormonal pathways. Here are a few things you should know.
1. Hazardous Sunscreen Ingredients
Common active sunscreen ingredients (oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate) used in lotions may be hazardous to your health. These ingredients are hormone disruptors (chemicals that can interfere with endocrine or hormone systems).
These disruptors can cause skin allergies, cancerous tumors, birth defects, developmental disorders in children, and issues with your thyroid, sex hormones, and the endocrine system.
This chart by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides a more detailed overview of the hazardous sunscreen ingredients and the health concerns they raise.
2. Sun Protection But Not Against UVA Rays
The sun protection factor (SPF) rating only refers to ultraviolet B rays (UVB) NOT UVA rays. Blocking UVB rays will protect the skin from a sunburn and squamous cell cancer.
It doesn’t protect against the other types of skin conditions and cancers. Protecting skin from UVA rays isn’t simple. That’s because UVA rays radiate deeper into the skin tissue.
Typically sunscreen ingredients that protect against both UVA and UVB rays aren’t used together because they don’t mix well. So it’s difficult to get the cross coverage you need.
3. Higher SPF Linked With HIgher Amounts of Controversial Ingredients
While a higher SPF may block UVB rays, this also means that there are higher concentrations of the controversial sunscreen ingredients. A higher load of hormone disruptors that are absorbed through the skin isn’t healthy.
4. Sunscreen Ingredients Can Increase Risk For Skin Cancer
Sunscreen additives, like vitamin A (retinyl palmitate or retinoic acid), are there for cosmetic purposes. However, evidence suggests that the combination of sunlight and vitamin A may actually increase free radical damage. This changes DNA and increases skin cancer risk. Skin cancer affects more than 2 million Americans each year despite the fact that sunscreen is a $1.3 billion industry. In fact, melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) has tripled over the past 45 years.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP, the inter-agency federal research group) and the federal Food and Drug Administration’s National Center for Toxicological Research collaborated to research this.
Retinyl palmitate was used in a lotion on lab animals. These lab animals were then exposed to the equivalent of nine minutes of maximum intensity sunlight every day for a year (NTP 2009). At the end of the study, they found the lab animals were developing cancer and skin tumors at “dramatically accelerated” rates.
I am not trying to put you in a panic. You’re not a lab animal and not likely exposed to “maximum intensity sunlight” for 365 days and certainly. However, I prefer to always be cautious where there may be a question of things that potentially cause illness.
5. Sunscreen Brand May Be Lying To You
Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security just because you use sunscreen. When tested by EWG, 4 out of the 5 brands tested didn’t measure up to their skin protection claims.
5 Ways To Stay Safe and Healthy in The Sun
- The best way to avoid health conditions that are associated with sun exposure is to stay out of the sun at midday. That’s when the sun’s rays are most intense. Plan activities earlier or later in the day. Use the afternoon for a siesta.
- Better and safe ingredients options are those that don’t affect your hormones like zinc oxide. Yes, it’s messy and thick. But zinc oxide is also the safest sunscreen and most effective option. Another option is titanium dioxide with a 30 SPF.
- Read the label to screen your sunscreen ingredients. Don’t just buy “UVB SPF”. It should also read UVA, broad spectrum, or multi-spectrum protection.
- Reapply, sunscreen as directed. Even sports and waterproof sunscreens need to be re-applied as often as directed.
- When it comes to sunscreen, the cost is not an indicator of effectiveness or safety. A cheaper brand can be as effective as a more expensive brand. Safe sunscreen ingredients are what matters.
Screen Your Sunscreen With Safe Sunscreen Ingredients Wrap Up
Have your fun in the sun but protect yourself. A better, expensive sunscreen doesn’t always mean better protection. Read the sunscreen labels. Choose a lotion containing safe sunscreen ingredients. Know how the EWG rates your lotion. Be an educated consumer and enjoy your summer!