It’s not an easy question. Most of us know that there is a relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer. But how many know about the problems inherent in many of the lotions that are on the market – there to supposedly limit damage to our skin?
What if the products you were buying and lathering on your face and the skin of your family contained chemicals that when exposed to sunlight actually broke down into compounds that can cause cancer? What if they contained chemicals that could disrupt normal hormonal function? But the government is there to help keep us safe, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the FDA has not made a final ruling on standards for sunscreens for the past 32 years. Proposed standards would require manufacturers to provide proof of their safety, UVA and UVB protection, and waterproof stability if those claims were made.
Research found on the website of the Environmental Working Group shows that 60% of sunscreens in the US contain oxybenzone as the active ingredient, to prevent burning and sun damage to skin. What the purveyors of these products do not tell you is that oxybenzone, which may be easier to apply to the skin than mineral sunscreens – like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – is absorbed into the skin in large amounts, potentially causing allergic reactions and hormone disruption. Researchers now recommend that oxybenzone not be used on children.
Vitamin A is a wonderful antioxidant and has been shown to beneficially reduce free radical damage when taken internally or applied to the skin in night creams. But using Vitamin A in sunscreen has potentially carcinogenic effects. So rather than preventing skin cancer, it actually may be contributing to it. Look for “retinol palmitate” as it is sometimes called on labels.
Much safer products are on the market now. But you have to be willing to do some research and read some labels. The biggest issue with the labels is that most of them have many ingredients. And most of the ingredients are unknown and unpronounceable by the general public.
But here is a good point. We know that our skin is a great delivery vehicle for medications, right? Why else would there be patches for quitting smoking, birth control and other medications? We do absorb substances readily through our skin. And yet we assume that the skin care industry, which is largely unregulated, has our best health at heart. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it’s not true. We live in a great capitalistic society, and they want to make money. Many of the chemicals and fragrances that are added to make them appealing are very unhealthy.
I don’t expect you to go out and get a degree in chemistry to understand all of this. Here are a few hints to help:
- More is not better. Aim for labels with fewer ingredients – not so many that you are weary to read all of them.
- Familiar is good! If it sounds like a strange chemical that you can’t even pronounce, you might want to think twice about it.
- “Baby” in the name does NOT mean it is safe for kids!
- Don’t assumethat there is someone knowledgeable at your health food store who prevents the unhealthy ones from being put on the shelves.
- Mineral sunscreens – zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – provide physical barriers to the sun yet are not absorbed into the skin.
- Check www.ewg.org to see if your sunscreen is safe, or to find one that is (as well as read more in-depth research on sunscreen ingredients).
- Use other protective barriers against the sun, such as clothing, hats, and umbrellas. And avoid being in the noonday sun when the UV rays are potentially most damaging.
We all love this surge in warm weather and ability to spend some time outside. Spring and summer are a wonderful time for enjoying nature. Soak up your summer rays safely.
Sara Thyr, ND
Willowbend Natural Medicine