Sun Smart: A Practical Guide for Sunscreen Consumers
Last week’s blog post on The Sunscreen Dilemma brought to light important points to consider when trying to optimize skin health while still enjoying the great outdoors. While it is important to become educated on the facts about sun safety, it is also essential to take the next step and find out what we can practically do with this knowledge. I set out to research what to avoid in products that can be harmful and what some safe alternatives are to ensure you have a safe, healthy and sunny summer!
What is Commonly in Our Sunscreen?
In the majority of sunscreens we are familiar with, there is often two of the six following chemical ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate (what a mouthful!) All have varying levels of skin penetration and endocrine disruption. Oxybenzone is the most common of all ingredients and is detectable in over 96% of Americans.
What to Avoid
Vitamin A: While this is a ‘natural ingredient’ and antioxidant in some cases, there is research suggesting it can do more harm than good in sunscreen products. When retinyl palmitate (a name Vitamin A may be listed under) is in the presence of sunlight, it has the potential to enhance the development of skin lesions, potentiating the risk of skin cancer.
Oxybenzone: This ingredient is an estrogen mimetic which means it can disrupt an individual’s hormone balance. It also has been found to commonly trigger allergic responses.
It is also important to avoid spray sunscreens due to the potential of inhaling these harmful chemicals. Additionally, very high SPF (50+) can lead us to believe we don’t need to re-apply as often, however it is still important to re-apply frequently and it does not offer the same broad spectrum protection lower SPFs do.
Here are a few of the ‘most harmful’ brands/products as concluded by the EWG: Banana Boat Sport Performance, Coppertone Sport High Performance, CVS line of sunscreen, Neutrogena Sheer line and NO-AD lotions. The products with the higher SPF were deemed more harmful (as mentioned above).
A shocking 80% of products on the market contain oxybenzone and Vitamin A; so where does this leave us in selecting other options?
Mineral products such as titanium oxide and zinc oxide (the safer option) have proven to protect against the Sun without breaking down into harmful metabolites that would be absorbed by the body while also providing UVA spectrum protection. There are a number of oils that offer some protection as well. Coconut oil has an SPF of 4-10 which - while low - can protect against and reduce oxidative damage to the skin. It is unrated by the CDC in reference to skin protection, so this should not be the sole product used. Don’t forget general skin safety such as consuming a range of richly-coloured fruits and vegetables, staying out of the Sun during peak hours (10am-2pm) and wearing sun-protective clothing.
Here are a few affordable sunscreen brands (seen in Toronto health food stores) that have been assessed by the EWG: Jason Natural Cosmetics, Badger, The Green Beaver Company, derma e and The Honest Company.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization committed to research and environmental advocacy and is a fantastic resource for skin safety. If you go to this website, you can check the safety of your skin care products/sunscreen.
Disclaimer: Contact a health care provider about what sun care regime is right for you. Choosing one that is safe and effective for you can be done through an appointment at the clinic!
Teressa, Sobhana, G. Mohan Kumar, and S. Sampath. "Ultraviolet transmission through a few edible oils in the context of changing solar insolation." Journal of Indian Geophysical Union 8 (2004): 267-271.
The Environmental Working Group, EWG’s 2016 Sunscreen Guide
The Natural Society: Ditch Toxic Sunscreen and Use Coconut Oil Instead. Retrieved from: http://naturalsociety.com/ditch-toxic-sunscreen-use-coconut-oil-instead/