***Warning: This a loooong post but one worth reading***
With the summer almost over, people are running to take advantage of as many beach/pool days as possible. The thought of hanging out by the water, sipping a cool drink, listening to the waves crash and taking in the salty air often conjures thoughts of relaxation in our minds. That being said, most of us run into the store to buy whatever sunscreen we can get, without thinking about the ingredients, slather that stuff on and carry on with our day. We have all been told that sunscreens helps to fight skin cancer and premature signs of aging but what if I told you that some of those factors all depend on the quality of sunscreen you are using???
Yes, Not All Sunscreens Are Created Equal
In fact, most of the ones you’ll find on US store shelves contain ingredients that have been banned in other countries. Go grab your bottle of sunscreen right now…go on…I’ll wait! (Kat Williams voice). Let’s look at some ingredients together. It goes without saying that you should avoid any products with parabens, phthalates and PEGs, so go ahead and check if those are listed. If they are, you might be at risk of hormone disruption which can, itself, lead to cancers. Now look at the active ingredients. Do you see Oxybenzone? Octinoxate? Homosalate? Methoxycinnamate? or something else you can’t pronounce? GET RID OF IT! Some studies have found some of these ingredients to be estrogenic, which means they can mimic or increase the production of estrogen in the body. This can lead to hormone disruption and even cancer formation.
I bet you are wondering about the SPF. Surely if your sunscreen has a high SPF, it should provide more coverage right? Wrong! SPF only refers to protection from UVB and not UVA. In addition, the difference between SPFs and the percentage of rays it screens are not proportionate. Example, SPF15 screens 93% of the sun’s rays but SPF30 screens about 97%. I know those sound like high numbers but keep in mind that this is only for UVB.
What You Should Be Looking For
I had a physics teacher in Uni tell me that the best sunscreens are Titanium Dioxide and Iron Oxide. She knows a thing or two about UV rays and radiation so I took her word for it. As years passed, and I did more research, I learned that Titanium Dioxide and Iron Oxide, are known as physical sunscreens. This means that they are actual mineral ingredients that sit on top of the skin, creating a physical barrier to protect against the sun. This also means that they won’t be as transparent, as they are obviously trying to create a barrier, so you will have a white cast on your skin when you use them. On the bright side, they will actually protect your skin from the sun and not get absorbed by your skin the way chemical sunscreens do (assuming they are not nano-particle size) and actually provide broad spectrum protection (UVA and UVB).
So What Brands Should You Use?
The Environmental Working Group puts out a list every year. I screened through some of their recommendations and picked out my favorites. Don’t be surprised if most of them are labelled as being for babies or kids. If they have the most sensitive skin, and these products are meant to protect them, then they will work great for you. In no particular order:
Please Remember The Following
-Your body needs exposure to the sun without sunblock. It is how our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D3 and most of the population is Vitamin D deficient. 15 minutes a day (early morning or late afternoon preferably) is plenty.
-Antioxidants help fight cancer from the inside more than any topical product. That’s right! What you eat can affect your body’s ability to fight cancer. Some even argue that you can increase your own body’s natural sun protection by consuming more Resveratrols (blueberries, red grapes), Omega 3 fatty acids (Flax seed/Salmon), and Vitamin E (pumpkin seeds in almonds).
-It is always best to avoid midday sun exposure. That ranges from 11am-3:00pm (depending on where you live), not just the actual mid-day.
-You should always reapply your sunscreen after 2 hours, or after exposure to water or excessive sweating.
-If you don’t have any sunscreen available, whatsoever, and you MUST be outdoors. Consider using alternatives rather than nothing on your skin. Oils such as Coconut, Sesame, Avocado and Red Raspberry oil are said to offer some protection. Aloe Vera may also offer some protection as well diaper rash ointment (this one actually makes sense as the active ingredient is usually Iron Oxide). Again, these are not substitutes, just better alternatives to nothing at all.
There is a lot of debate as to weather or not sun exposure causes cancer. We do know, however, that it can cause sun damage and premature aging. No one likes a sunburn anyway. Keep in mind that, even though I tried to research as much of this information, some of this information is based on my current knowledge and experience but not scientific fact. That being said, I have only suffered sunburn twice in my life. Both times were on my feet because I neglected to apply sufficient sunscreen there. My skin has only peeled once from sun exposure and I was of single digit age, with not a care in the world, when it happened.
Stay Awesome (and protected) Peeps,