Sunscreen is supposed to protect skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. It seems only natural to think that these products must be safe because they are supposed to be protecting the body. With over 2 million people receiving a skin cancer diagnosis each year it is really important to protect the skin (Axe, 2014). However, it also equally important to choose the right sunscreen; one that is safe and effective. It doesn’t make much sense to protect the body from UV rays with a poison, does it?
Despite people reporting use of sunscreen more often, skin cancer has continued to be diagnoses at a higher rate. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a guide in which over 2,000 sunscreens were reviewed to determine if they were safe or not. Over 75% of those sunscreens had toxic chemicals in them that can actually increase a person’s risk for cancers and other health issues. Sunscreen is applied to the skin, which is the largest organ of the body. It is porous and can absorb things that are put on the skin, sunscreen being no exception. Several chemicals in sunscreens disrupt hormones, cause skin irritation, release skin-damaging free radicals, and can cause allergic reactions (Axe, 2014).
Sunscreens are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and haven’t been regulated since 1978! Shocking, right? The FDA also does not have rigorous safety standards for the ingredients that are put into sunscreens (Axe, 2014). Essentially, a company can put whatever ingredients they want into a sunscreen.
Ingredients in sunscreens that should be avoided are listed below including the Hazardous score rating (if it has one) that the EWG (Environmental Working Group) gave these ingredients. Scores of 1-2 means the ingredients are a low hazard, anywhere from 3-6 means there is a moderate hazard, and 7-10 means the ingredient presents a high hazard to one’s health.
Parabens (parabens are comprised of many different chemicals and as such the rating varies)
Octyl salicyclate (no score)
Menthyl anthranilate (1)
Dioxybenzone (no score)
Para amino benzoic acid (6)
Exposure to these chemicals can minimize the benefits of sunscreen. Some of the ingredients that are listed as being a low risk by the EWG have been found in studies to be linked to cancer such as methoxycinnamate (Axe, 2014). There is limited research on some of these products so that does need to be taken into consideration, however there are safer alternatives that do not have ingredients that are linked to cancers (EWG, 2016).
Oxybenzone has been found to increase several reproductive aspects of both men and women. Men with higher exposures to oxybenzone-2 (BP-2) had lower sperm counts. Elevated BP-2 and 4-hydroxyoxybenzone levels in men were linked to a longer conception time in the males’ partners. The odds of having a female infant were increased when both the man and woman had high BP-2 levels and the odds of having a male infant were increased when males had a higher level of 4-hydroxybenzophenone. There has been a correlation of endometriosis and women who have exposure to oxybenzone (EWG, 2016).
Typically, it has been found that mineral sunscreens are safer and more effective. Mineral sunscreens contain titanium or zinc which are not typically absorbed by the body and do not break down in the sunlight. They are more effective at blocking UV rays and are not allergenic. The EWG highly recommends mineral sunscreens for children and they have the best safety ratings in the United States (Axe, 2014).
Putting sunscreen on can be such an inconvenience that it is often skipped or people try and get the aerosol sunscreens because they are faster to apply. In 2011, the FDA recommended against using the aerosol sunscreen on children at all,due to the fear that children may be breathing in the chemicals. Even adults are recommended not to spray it on or near their faces; instead spraying it on the hands and then applying it.
Using sunscreen is important, however consumers need to check the ingredients or visit the EWG website and check out their list of safest sunscreens on the market (https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/). Other things that can be done to avoid UV exposure: wear a hat, wear sunglasses, avoid being in the sun when the rays are strongest (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), stay in the shade, and check the UV index.
There are sunscreens that are safe and effective such as BabyGanics, Kiss My Face, Badger, Alba Botanical, California Baby, and Nature’s Gate, to name a few. The EWG website: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/ is a great resource for finding sunscreens that are safe and effective. Remember to apply enough sunscreen and reapply every 70-120 minutes depending on the sunscreen, the activity, the SPF level, time of day, and the skin type of the person. Water activities require application of sunscreen sooner. Persons with skin conditions such as vitiligo (pigment disorder) should reapply more often as that area of the skin has no melanin and thus no sun protection.
NATURAL SOLUTION: Coconut Oil for Sunscreen
Daily exposure to the sun is essential to your overall health; it’s the overexposure that could cause some issues. Sunshine exposure is the best way for your body to create health protecting vitamin D. To protect against sunburn, use a non-toxic sunscreen like coconut oil or opt for a low-risk, safe sunscreen that doesn’t contain health-compromising ingredients.
Bruce Fife, ND, author of Coconut Cures: Preventing and Treating Common Health Problems with Coconut Oil, explains that coconut oil applied on the skin protects against sunburn and cancer. Unlike sunscreen, unprocessed coconut oil doesn’t completely block the UVB rays that are necessary for vitamin D synthesis. It protects the skin and underlying tissues from damage excessive exposure can cause. Instead of burning or turning red, it produces a light tan, depending on the length of time you spend in the sun.
Fife asserts that “Consuming coconut oil also strengthens the skin and makes it more resilient and less prone to sunburn.” He warns against using hydrolyzed or processed oil. Just make sure the coconut oil is pure and not processed.
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