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Summer Fun & Safer Sunscreen

Summer Fun & Safer Sunscreen

by Gisele Bridges

Knowledge is power and the majority of the sunscreen products on the market offer less than what they promise, or worse, can hamper your own health.

First let's talk about UVB & UVA. UVB rays cause our skin to burn, thus what sunscreens are made to block. Remember this with U-V-Burn, or U-V-Block. However, UVB rays are responsible for vitamin D production. It's a double-edged sword. 

UVA rays, which most sunscreens don't actually block, are the ones that are responsible for the deadly melanoma type of skin cancer. 

Second, let's look at some of the ingredients in sunscreens that you'll find on the market, their risks, and alternatives.

  • Octin-oxate is a photo sensitizer and possible estrogen mimic which can interfere with our own naturally occurring estrogen.
  • Octi-salate is a penetration enhancer, meaning it can increase the amount of absorption of it as well as other chemicals present in the lotion.  
  • Oxybensone is used to absorb both UVA & UVB rays and is often labeled a “broad spectrum” sunscreen. It is readily absorbed into the body through the skin and testing by the Centers of Disease Control has found this chemical in 97% of people tested. It is a suspected endocrine disrupting chemical and is also suspected of being a photosensitizer and photocarcinogen which means that it can release damaging free radicals when exposed to the sun.
  • Padimate-O (commonly known as Paba) has been shown to cause DNA damage when exposed to the sun and is also a suspected endocrine disruptor and photocarcinogenic. 
  • Retinyl Palmitate, a type of Vitamin A, has been shown to sensitize the skin and actually make it more prone to damage and burning.
I would recommend avoiding all spray sunscreens especially on children. Also, many cosmetics including sunscreens are now manufactured with nano-particles which means that the chemical can more easily be absorbed through the skin. This is a new process and has not been widely studied. Until we know more, it would be best to avoid these.  
This isn't to say that you should never use sunscreens again or that all sunscreens are bad. The risks of skin cancer is very real and no one wants to burn. So, third, let's talk about “barrier” sunscreens.
Look for sunscreens that use zinc oxide, a broad spectrum blocker. In fact, it's the best and most comprehensive blocker that you can get to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. It works by sitting on the top layer of your skin instead of penetrating and being absorbed into the skin. The top layer of your skin, stratum corneum, is made up of dead skin cells. Zinc oxide, like some other chemicals, can break down into free radicals. However, by sitting on top of your skin, this significantly lowers your risk of free radical damage. 
The reason most sunscreens don't include zinc oxide is that it is more expensive for the manufacturers to use and most people don't like the white cast on their skin. So some sunscreens will use a combination of say oxybenzone and octi-salate and zinc oxide but they'll only add 1-3% zinc oxide which is not enough *and* the oxys and the octis will absorb into your skin. Instead, look for sunscreens that have 15 – 20% zinc oxide and an SPF of about 30. If you want a lower SPF like say 15, then you are going to get around 10% zinc oxide.
Another safe physical barrier sunscreen is titanium dioxide. It offers great UVB protection. Because it doesn't offer UVA protection, you will likely also see it in combination with zinc oxide in some products. Look for a minimum of 15 – 20% zinc oxide. 
Explore Environmental Working Groups' Guide to Sunscreens for a great list of products that are available. 

Now is a great time to rotate out those products with ingredients that you don't really need. Summer is here, let's safely enjoy the outdoors!

Enjoy the rest of this newsletter.