Skin cancer is scary. And the sun is not something to take lightly. But, here’s an interesting thought to consider — more and more Americans are becoming diligent about using sunscreen every time they are out in the sun, yet the incidences of skin cancer continue to rise according to both the National Cancer Institute and the Center for Disease Control.
So maybe, there’s something wrong with this method of protection and prevention. Maybe we’re missing something critical to the equation. Let’s take a look at it. First of all, let’s look closer at the sunscreens most of us are currently using.
As we, the consumer, have been taught, sunscreen was put on the market to keep us from getting sunburned, which will in turn keep us from developing skin cancer. But there’s more to the story.
As with many products that go into mass production to get them into consumer’s hands quickly and cheaply, the ingredients, effectiveness, and healthiness of many of the most common sunscreens have been compromised. While these sunscreens are technically ‘doing their job’, they’re also having harmful effects on your health. It’s time to get these products out of your beach bag.
3 Reasons To Re-Think Your Sunscreen
REASON #1: They’re toxic
Every year, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes and rates the effectiveness and safety of more than 1,000 sunscreens, compiling a list for consumers of the best and worst sunscreens on the market. Unfortunately, the 2015 report found 80 percent of sunscreens currently on the market provide less than optimal sun protection and/or contain worrisome ingredients. The sunscreen ‘Hall of Shame’ as they call it, was straight-up alarming! Some of the most common brands, such as Neutrogena, Rite Aid, Walgreens “Well” brand, Target’s “Up and Up” brand, and Coppertone, are some of the most dangerous and least effective out there.
Why, you ask? Because of their toxic ingredients.
Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms, mineral and chemical. The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. All provide a different mechanism for filtering UV rays, but all of these mechanisms have their own set of health risks attached to them.
The most common one, oxybenzone, found in nearly all drug store sunscreens is one that needs to be 100% avoided. This ingredient is found in the majority of sunscreens because it is known to absorb ultraviolet light. However, when oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin, it gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. This is known as an endocrine disruptor because the increase in ‘fake’ estrogen in the blood stream causes your body to produce less of its own hormones and an imbalance occurs. Hormonal imbalances are the root cause of serious conditions such as endometriosis, thyroid disease, infertility, PCOS, and even cancer. Endocrine disruptors may also be the root cause of abnormal reproductive development. If this isn’t scary enough, there’s also a high correlation of oxybenzone and allergic skin reactions. And this reaction may not show up until days later and not even resemble a normal skin allergy.
REASON #2: Its not actually protecting you.
The sunscreens on the market today do a really great job at protecting us from UVB rays. These are the powerful ones that cause sunburns. But, that’s only half of the equation! What about the UVA rays? Recently, the health risks of UVA have been researched and established, showing these rays are responsible for skin aging, immune system suppression, and melanoma development. So, while these rays are less energetic and don’t cause the skin to burn, their effects are potentially deadly and definitely just as important. With this knowledge now becoming well known, SOME sunscreens have started including proper UVA protection too. But, in America, there’s no great way to tell which ones do and don’t provide the protection we need. Currently, the labeling requirements for sunscreens do not have a standard to determine strength of protection for UVA the way we determine UVB protection with SPF ratings. So, even one that claims to be ‘broad spectrum’ doesn’t necessarily mean FULL protection. European standards for UVA protection are much stricter with solid labeling requirements and many of our sunscreens would not make their cut.
Reason #3: It’s INCREASING your cancer risk.
We apply sunscreen every time we’re exposed to the sun’s dangerous rays in order to prevent skin cancer, right?! But what if I told you, you’re actually increasing your risk by doing that! Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, the sun is NOT the enemy we are making it out to be.
When skin is exposed to sunlight in its natural state, specifically the UVB rays, your body produces vitamin D — an extremely important, critical, health-guarding vitamin. Applying sunscreen every time you’re out in the sun inhibits your body’s ability to make vitamin D. Adequate vitamin D levels have been linked to a reduced risk in as many as 16 types of cancer…including skin cancer! The protection vitamin D provides your body when made from direct sunlight has a cancer-blocking mechanism that lowers your risk immediately of developing skin cancer, particularly melanoma.
How to Enjoy The Sun Safely
Now, I’m not saying to never use sunscreen. The benefit-to-risk ratio of sun exposure is something that needs to be addressed individually and once found, adhered to for maximum health benefits. Sunburns are still not good…they hurt, they’re hot and uncomfortable, they damage the cells of your skin, and they cause premature aging. But, you also don’t want to be entirely shielded from the sun’s rays.
In general, aim to be out in the sun for at least a few minutes everyday. (Or at least those days that are sunny!) Get as much of your skin exposed as possible — the skin that is exposed the least frequently will produce the most vitamin D — for instance, upper thigh, underarms, and stomach regions. The best way to gauge the ‘perfect’ amount of sun exposure for your skin type is to find the amount of time in the sun to where your skin starts to just turn a light shade of pink. For most light-skinned people, this will be about 20 minutes. For those with darker skin tones, this timeframe could be more like 60-90 minutes.
Once you have reached this point, it’s time to cover up! The best options after your sun exposure tolerance is met are to find shade or put on clothes and a hat that will cover your skin and protect it. If more sun is inevitable, (day at the beach, long hike, pool party, mowing the lawn) then it’s time to slather on the sunscreen. But now that I’ve just (hopefully) put a kibosh on the current mass-produced, heavily marketed, toxic brand you are currently using, where do you turn now?!
It’s quite simple actually. Look for a sunscreen that contains non-nano zinc oxide as the protective ingredient. Zinc oxide is the only mineral-based ingredient that blocks both the skin burning UVB rays AND the entire spectrum of health-diminshing UVA rays, so you are 100% protected. The ideal sunscreen WILL NOT contain any combination of these 6 chemicals: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
The EWG’s comprehensive list of safe sunscreens includes brands like Alba Botanica, Badger, and The Honest Company.
My Personal Safe Sun Plan
Because I have a light skin tone with freckles, I have found that 20 minutes of sun exposure is the perfect amount of sun for me. I try to make this happen as many days as I can in the summer months and make sure to expose different areas of skin every time I’m out. After those 20 minutes are up, I usually find shade and continue to enjoy the outdoors, but without any risk. If no shade is available, then I cover myself with mineral-based sunscreen and feel comfortably safe in the sun!
Now, what are you ding sitting inside?! Go out and get your vitamin D!