Toxic Sunscreens are Everywhere!

Okay that’s a shock inducing title, but I’m constantly baffled by how many bad sunscreens are on the market. And now it’s that time again, when the sun comes out and I start prowling the shelves for a good creamy barrier to skin cancer. As a very fair skinned individual, the sun and I are not friends. I’m always trying to look for the best ways to block it out, avoid looking like a lobster, and last but not least prevent my moles from growing into melanomas.

As someone who has recently begun using sun damage as a research model to induce DNA Damage and study cancer therapies, I wanted to make sure I was using the right sunscreen at least…I turned to Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide and imagine my surprise when I learned some shocking truths about the sunscreens on our shelves right now! EWG is a reliable watchdog group for environmental issues, and their analysts are trusted by health professionals and academics alike. They have superior information that breaks down which ingredients are harmful or not, I couldn’t help summarizing some of the key points they found.

The biggest myth: That SPF number actually means something. Sorry, a higher SPF does not guarantee more or better sun protection.

The common misconception that a higher SPF contributes to high sun protection is wrong, and also potentially dangerous. Many people assume that if they slather on SPF 99 and never reapply, they are safe in the sun all day and can even spend more hours sunbathing. This misguided behavior is what is believed to be responsible for the disturbing and counter intuitive trend of rising skin cancer rates alongside increased sunscreen use. Sometimes it’s just better to stay in the shade. However, reapplying SPF 30 versus SPF 99+  all day give comparable and reliable protection, as long as both block broad spectrum UVA and UVB rays. And although UVB rays cause sunburn, it is actually UVA rays that are the most harmful when it comes to skin cancer. The SPF number reflects UVB, not UVA protection so even if you don’t get burnt, you can still get a lot of harmful sun exposure. It’s best to get a sunscreen that has ingredients which reliably block UVA rays (see below).

The most shocking myth: sunscreens and moisturizers containing SPF prevent harmful sun-induced skin damage and have anti-aging effects. In some cases, the opposite is true.

For example, some chemicals in sunscreen actually become activated by the sun to shed free radicals: harmful agents that can damage DNA and age your skin. The worst offender: VITAMIN A. Also known as retinoic acid or retinol, if you see this in your sunscreen or moisturizer, do not use it. Of course, Vitamin A is not bad for you, it’s even necessary for health. Eating vitamin A is not harmful, and it does great things for your skin as long as you are not exposed to sun while you are wearing it, such as in night creams.

the controversial myth: Sunscreens contain hormone disrupting chemicals that can harm children.

This sunscreen is not baby safe, it contains Oxybenzone

This is somewhat true.

The active ingredient in most sunscreens (oxybenzone) is in fact a documented hormone disruptor that is worrisome because it is absorbed into the body with relative efficiency once applied to your skin. This is not a good sunscreen for kids, or even adults. Just because it says it is a “baby sunscreen” doesn’t mean it’s suitable for babies, it may still contain hormone disrupting Oxybenzone so read the label. Sadly, this sunscreen also says “apply liberally” to your baby- not a chance Coppertone!

Agency is legit, its seal is not

Don’t trust “seals of approval”: Have you seen the seal of approval for the Skin Cancer Foundation on bottles of sunscreen? This doesn’t have anything to do with the sunscreen’s safety and everything to do with how deep the company’s pockets may be. All that is required to put the seal on your bottle is a $10,000 donation to Skin Cancer Foundation, no safety tests required. The FDA does not validate the claims made by these seal sporting brands, including that they are safe and effective. The watchdog group EWG notes that although the foundation officially recommends mineral sunscreens and ingredients like the aforementioned Avobenzone on their website, their seal does not appear on these products in store.

The Good Guys: Other ingredients, such as Avobenzone (3% is best and reliably block UVA rays) and Octisalate do not penetrate the skin much and are not known hormone disruptors. The best sunscreens, according to Environmental Working Group, are sadly (I find) the most expensive ones containing ingredients Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. These are also known as mineral sunscreens. Both these block UVA and UVB rays very well. A quick google search for “Titanium Dioxide” reveal it is listed as a probable carcinogen to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Don’t be fooled! Looking closer, this can only be a probable carcinogen in the case that its dust is inhaled, which is not possible in a cream form. If you aren’t going to eat it, these sunscreens are safe! If this still seems risky, going out without sunscreen is much much riskier.

Why is it so hard to find a good sunscreen? The answer is just bureaucracy. The FDA has been trying and trying to roll out new rules, but it is taking them so long that Europe leaps ahead with better sunscreens and we are left with ones deemed safe in 1978…when reliable testing measures were just in their infancy. The grapevine says the FDA is working a whole new way to define that SPF number: good news I say. They may also approve several new active ingredients for sunscreen that are already used in Europe. In the meantime…I learned to trust the people who actually spend time looking in to this issue, and do some research myself. Don’t trust the gimmicky packaging, and don’t buy blind.

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5 thoughts on “Toxic Sunscreens are Everywhere!

  1. Reblogged this on Crone's K and commented:
    It’s sunny now and this is a MUST for all of us that love to be outside. (The fact that the author is my daughter has nothing to do with it! ;)) )

    Like

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  3. I havent checked in here for some time because I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are really good quality so I guess Ill add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it my friend. insurance guides 809731

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