Sunblock is one of those essential items that you can’t really be without on a sunny day. Especially if you live in a tropical climate that gets loads of sun every year. Wearing a hat, covering up with clothing and applying sunscreen are the 3 best ways to avoid sunburn and more permanent skin damage. But did you know that when you slap on the sunscreen to protect yourself and your family, you might actually be applying nasty chemicals that could do you harm?
Many commercial sunblocks contain a variety of chemicals that could have varying effects on your health. These are currently approved for use but many of them were studied back in the ’70s and don’t have up-to-date research available.
Here’s a list to help you avoid sunblock with these toxic chemicals.
Oxybenzone. This is one of the big nasties and over 50% of sunscreens appear to have it in their ingredients list. The main function of this toxic chemical is to absorb ultraviolet light from the sun. When it is absorbed through the skin, however, Oxybenzone has the potential to cause disruptions to body hormones and various types of cell damage. Despite this, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved this chemical for use, and states that it is safe to apply to children over the age of 6 months.
Titanium dioxide. Possible DNA damage has been shown in studies when this chemical is exposed to light. As an ingredient in sunscreen it’s sure to see a lot of light exposure! Perhaps you don’t want to risk this one.
Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate). Who would think that a vitamin could be harmful? But that’s exactly what this strain of Vitamin A can be in large doses. Studies on mice have shown that absorption of retinyl palmitate can increase the risk of skin cancer when the skin is exposed to the sun. There is no conclusive evidence for the effects of this substance on humans.
Retinyl palmitate is easily absorbed by the skin. When absorbed it has been found to result in increased levels of retinoic acid. The FDA list retinoic acid as moderately toxic to body organs.
Avobenzone. Otherwise known as Butyl-Methdiebenzoylmethane. This toxic chemical is known to degrade in sunlight in just an hour. It can release free radicals into the body, which we all know can be associated with cancer. In small doses (3%) this chemical is sometimes noted as allowable in sunscreens but we’ve included it here so you have the complete picture.
When choosing a sunscreen, make sure that besides a check for the above ingredients, that you adhere to the following guidelines.
- Always make sure you buy a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Protection from both UVA and UVB rays is mandatory if you want to give yourself the best chance of good sun protection.
- Don’t be fooled by SPF labeling showing large numbers. A 50+ sunscreen is about the most you should ever purchase. Higher numbers don’t mean large jumps in protection. The difference between a 50+ sunscreen and one labeled 85+ for instance is just a couple of percent. It’s not really worth the extra money for a much stronger sunscreen. SPF only protects from UVA rays – as stated above make sure you always have broad-spectrum protection.
- Try not to sustain any type of sunburn. As soon as your skin starts to turn pink it is becoming damaged. Even with sunscreen applied, you can still become burnt if you don’t remember to reapply after you swim or become sweaty. Sunscreen should be applied every two hours even if you are not swimming. Sunburn should be avoided at all costs.
- Remember to use other ways to protect your skin from the sun. Wearing a shirt and a cap are great ways to reduce the risk of sunburn. Normal clothing provides around 15SPF just by being a barrier between the sun and your skin. Teach children from a very young age to always apply sunscreen, wear their hat outdoors and wear shirts that cover a lot of their skin. These habits will stand them in good stead for a lifetime of sun exposure.
Unprotected exposure to the sun can have far-reaching health consequences. Melanoma is a very serious skin cancer and can cause death if not detected and removed in the very early stages. You absolutely should not stop using sunscreen because of a fear of toxic chemicals. What you should do is research and make sure the brand you choose to protect your family is free of any nasty substances. There are many natural products on the market that offer high levels of sun protection.
By checking your sunscreen ingredients beforehand you can feel comfortable that your family is getting the best protection possible. And don’t forget to wear those hats!