Pretty much every dermatologist and beauty magazine in the world will tell you that sunscreen is necessary to combat premature aging and skin cancer. But did you know that your sunscreen may be doing more harm than good?
Before I get into the why, it’s important to understand that there are two types of sunscreen: Mineral sunscreen (aka. physical sunscreen) and chemical sunscreen. Both types protect skin from harmful UVA & UVB rays, but chemical sunscreens are coming under fire for being potentially toxic to humans (and ocean life).
Mineral sunscreens are made with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both and act as a barrier between your skin and the sun. Unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreens are not absorbed by your skin but instead form a protective layer that lays atop the epidermis. As a result, this layer can sometimes appear slightly white in color.
It's worth noting that zinc oxide is slightly better at blocking out UVA rays than titanium oxide. One thing to look for when buying a mineral sunscreen are 'non-nano' formulations. Nanoparticles help mineral sunscreens apply better (with less of a film), however it has since been discovered that these tiny particles can cause permanent lung damage when inhaled.
Chemical sunscreens are made with chemicals like:
Oxybenzone- Mimics estrogen in the body, linked to lowered sperm count and endometriosis, high rates of skin allergy. This chemical is also responsible for damaging our oceans’ coral reef by inhibiting its ability to reproduce (scary!!)
Octylmethoxycinnamate (octinoxate)- Linked to hormone disruption, reproductive & thyroid issues, moderate rates of allergy
Homosalate- Hormone disruptor (estrogen, androgen, progesterone)
Octisalate- Skin allergen; another chemical linked to hurting the coral reef
Octocrylene- Skin allergen
Chemical sunscreens are partially absorbed by the skin, which means they find their way into your bloodstream. So while you're protected from harmful UVA and UVB rays, you're exposing yourself to chemicals linked to hormone disruption, reproductive problems and allergies. Oxybenzone in particular has been linked to reproductive and endocrine issues in coral. Approximately 8000-16000 tons of sunscreen enters the ocean every year, which is why places like Hawaii have begun banning sunscreens with oxybenzone. Ask yourself, if these chemicals are strong enough to kill our coral reefs, is it really worth exposing your own body to them?
Some other things to consider about sun protection:
Make sure whichever sunscreen you choose offers broad spectrum protection, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Opt for an SPF 30 or higher, but don’t be fooled by the numbers. The difference between an SPF 30 and an SPF 50 is about 1% of additional protection (SPF 30 will block out 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks out 98%). In fact, the FDA believes these numbers are misleading consumers and has proposed limiting brands’ SPF claims to SPF 60.
Try using an antioxidant-rich body lotion prior to applying your sunscreen. Antioxidants (with the exception of Vitamin A) give added protection from the sun as well as prevent the formation of free radicals.
Be wary of spray sunscreens. While they are all the rage at the moment, spray sunscreens have not been adequately tested, both for safety and efficacy. While there are some mineral spray sunscreens available, the vast majority are chemical sunscreens. And even a mineral spray may still have its dangers, particularly when inhaled. Titanium dioxide for example is toxic when inhaled, which means it should never be used in spray form (though some brands are doing it). If you absolutely insist on using a spray, make sure it only contains zinc oxide and try your best not to inhale any of it!
Avoid using any products that include Vitamin A, retinyl palmitate or retinol before you spend time in the sun, as these ingredients make skin more sensitive to sunlight, which can cause sunburns and promote the growth of tumors and lesions.
And lastly, don't forget that some sun is good for you! Most people are Vitamin D deficient. 10-20 minutes of direct sunlight per day is enough to produce 10,000 IU of Vitamin D, which can protect you against osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain types of cancers. If you're not getting enough Vitamin D, consider taking a supplement, which will be absorbed best if combined with Vitamin K2.
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