PHOTO: Porter Magazine
It’s that time of year again! Summertime means picnics, beach trips, rooftop cocktails and other fun in the sun. But as you take advantage of the summer weather, remember to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. You might be thinking, “duh, I keep my sunscreen in my bag at all times!” But, unless you’ve already done your research, your sunscreen is likely doing you more harm than good. Have you ever thought about what conventional sunscreens are made of?
The big business of SPF
Think about it this way: your body has trillions of pores. Anytime you apply a product to your skin, it has the potential to be absorbed through these pores into your bloodstream. Sunscreen is especially susceptible to absorption because, unlike a face wash or shampoo, you are supposed to constantly reapply sunscreen throughout the day and let it sit on your skin for hours at a time. According to the EWG, many sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body and can be detected in blood, urine and breast milk for up to two days after application. This wouldn’t necessarily be so terrible if it weren’t for the fact that many of the chemicals in conventional SPFs are toxic.
“But I thought the whole point of sunscreen was to protect our health?!” – Yeah, well, unfortunately the large corporations that produce and preach the importance of using sunscreen only really care about making money (not about our actual health or anything…). So, how bad exactly are these chemicals?
The truth about mineral and chemical-based sunscreens
There are two main types of sunscreens on the market: mineral-based and chemical-based.
Mineral-based sunscreens use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect sun rays away from your body. However, to make these sunscreens transparent and less gooey (as most people prefer), these minerals must be ground into tiny pieces called nanoparticles. Because these particles are so small, they can easily slip past skin’s defense barriers and absorb into the bloodstream. Titanium dioxide, in particular, has been shown to increase inflammation – a sign of cell distress linked to aging and cancer (two of the main things people use sunscreen to avoid!).
Chemical-based sunscreens use petrochemicals such as oxybenzone to absorb and convert UV ray energy into heat energy. First of all, one molecule of sunscreen can only be used for this conversion process one time, so chemical-based sunscreens need to be applied super frequently to be effective - which is just inconvenient. In terms of actual dangers to your health, oxybenzone is a synthetic hormone (found in nearly two-thirds of chemical-based sunscreens) that mimics estrogen. Many sunscreens also contain parabens that do the same thing, disrupting the endocrine system. This disruption can have a multitude of potential effects including reduced sperm count and breast growth in men and endometriosis in women. Many chemical-based sunscreens also contain a synthetic form of vitamin A called Retinyl palmitate that, according to a U.S. government study, can increase skin tumor and lesion growth when exposed to sunlight. So, some sunscreen products actually have the potential to speed up the spread of skin cancer!
The harmful effects on ocean ecosystems
Spray sunscreens are also a huge no-no. A lot of parents like to use these because they’re easier to apply to kids who just won’t stay still. But conventional spray sunscreens release toxic particles like oxybenzone into the air, allowing for potential inhalation for more direct effects on the body. So, if you’re stuck using a spray sunscreen, spray it into your hand first and then apply it to your body. But try to stay away from these as much as you can!
These sunscreens are not only bad for us, but also our planet! Think about all the sunscreen people wear into the ocean – most of it gets washed off and stays in the water. Some sunscreen compounds have proven to awaken dormant viruses in an algae species (zooxanthellae) vital to coral life. Consequently, the viruses kill the algae and the coral eventually die. Which is bad because we need coral to support healthy ocean ecosystems, protect our shorelines, filter water and so much more. Plus, what’s more depressing than snorkeling over a dead reef?
Does clean sunscreen exist?
So, are any sunscreens safe? The answer is yes, but make sure to look closely at ingredient labels. When shopping for a non-toxic sunscreen, here are some of the main things to avoid:
- Oxybenzone, octinoxate & homosalate
- Vitamin A (Retinyl palmitate)
- Spray sunscreens
Long story short, you ideally want to find a lotion sunscreen with non-nano zinc oxide as the only active ingredient and none of the above listed chemicals. Most safe sunscreens on the market also contain natural oils such as coconut oil and jojoba oil which naturally contain SPF and moisturize (making you less likely to burn).
3 brands to avoid:
- Banana Boat
- Sun Bum
3 sunscreens we recommend:
But when it comes to sun protection, sunscreen should be your back-up – not your first line of defense. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t ever use sunscreen. If you’re planning an all-day trip to the beach, you should definitely use a non-toxic SPF. But, if you can, the easiest way to avoid direct sun exposure is to plan your outdoor activities for the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lowest in the sky. If you are out during peak sun hours (11am-4pm in the summer), opt for covering up with clothing and finding shade before resorting to sunscreen.
Embracing your time in the sun
Don’t be afraid to get in the sun! It’s actually really healthy to have some sun exposure every day. Studies have shown that 20 minutes in the sun per day raises vitamin D levels, boosts your mood and can actually help prevent skin cancer. Sunscreen is made to prevent sunlight from reaching your skin, which inhibits vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, healthy endocrine and immune systems, and preventing depression, infertility and more. Furthermore, our skin builds a natural SPF! Sunscreen may help prevent sunburns, but there is actually little evidence to suggest that it reduces cancer risk, particularly melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer). Sun exposure can actually protect you against cancer by helping your body build up a naturally immunity to UV rays. Our bodies are built to receive sunlight; preventing sunlight from reaching your skin will only make your skin more sensitive to exposure in the future.
So remember, some daily exposure to sunlight is healthy. If you are planning to be outdoors for extended periods of time, try to spend time in the shade or cover up with clothes and hats before applying sunscreen. And when shopping for sunscreens, make sure to carefully read the labels to avoid buying products with toxic chemicals. In the second part of this series, we’ll be showing you guys how to make your own non-toxic sunscreen.
Be sure to share this article with your friends and family so they can learn about the hidden dangers in their conventional SPFs!
*Disclaimer: We are passionate about the subjects we cover, but are no means experts! When it comes to sun care, always do your own research and seek the advice of your doctor before taking any action. The above is based purely on online research and our own experiences. Be safe ladies!
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