HOW SAFE IS YOUR SUNSCREEN?
KNOW YOUR A FROM YOUR B
Many sunscreens only protect against ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation and not against the more dangerous ultraviolet A (UVA). We can differentiate the two by thinking of UVA in terms of causing skin ageing and UVB in terms of causing the skin to burn. Without protection from the full ultraviolet spectrum we are at an increased risk of developing malignant melanoma, a form of skin cancer. With a good dose of sunscreen we feel protected and tend to spend longer hours in the sun. This is a danger if the protection doesn’t include both UVA and UVB.
SCRUTINISE THE INGREDIENTS
Some common sunscreen ingredients (like oxybenzone, benxopenone, octocrylene and octyl methoxycinnamate) have health risks attached and are potentially carcinogenic.
Several ultraviolet filters used in sunscreens have an estrogenic effect on your body (this means a biological effect similar to the hormone estrogen). For women, the more of these residues present in your body, the more likely you are to develop endometriosis. Some of the chemicals in sunscreen when used in combination have a more potent estrogenic effect. Fragrance is another ingredient to look out for. When the word fragrance is seen under ingredients, even in ‘green’ or ‘natural’ products it can contain up to several hundred unlabeled ingredients, some of which are hormone disruptors and probable carcinogens according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Many of the chemicals are bad for the environment. Residues of ultraviolet filters can be detected in fish. Scientists report that only tiny amounts of biologically active chemicals could produce harmful changes in wildlife and particularly in amphibians. They are in the process of researching reasons for the alarming increase in reproductive defects in wildlife.
GET ENOUGH VITAMIN D
We all need Vitamin D yet if your sunscreen is blocking out your Vitamin D you could become deficient. A 2012 article in the British Journal of Dermatology revealed that “When the amount of sunscreen and protection factor (SPF) advised by the World Health Organization is used, Vitamin D production may be stopped entirely. Re-evaluation of sun protection strategies could be warranted.”
Without using sunscreen, adequate amounts of Vitamin D can be made in an hour of sun exposure for dark skins and 10-15 minutes in light skins twice a week.
ENABLE THE SKINS NATURAL PROTECTANT
UVB protection can cause the skin to suppress the production of the natural photo-protectant, melanin. The lack of melanin leads to an increased risk of melanoma. Sunscreen chemicals that penetrate the skin can also cause free radicals or toxicity. Some sunscreens use Retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A, which is under research for its possible ability to cause tumour growth. A European study found that, after sunscreen was applied three times a day for five days, skin had absorbed the chemicals and was itself resistant to UV light. The health effect of this has not been determined.
CAUTION: Read the ingredient list on your sunscreen. Learn what they are and how they affect your body and the environment. If something sounds like a chemical you don't want in your body, find an alternative.
5 TIPS FOR SUN SAFETY
1. Build up to longer sun exposure – your body will generate its own natural defense against the sun’s potential to damage skin. But before you get sunburned, move into the shade or add a hat and protective clothing.
2. Use a sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection, check the ingredients first and choose one without chemicals that damage the skin or the environment.
3. Never use indoor tanning beds with UV, they produce more UV than the sun.
4. Eat food that protects against cancer. While ultraviolet can generate ‘cancer contributing’ free radicals, food high in antioxidants, neutralize free radicals. These include green tea, vegetables and fruits.
5. A wholefood, plant based diet also slows skin ageing and wrinkles. Many of the fruits in season during summer melons, peaches, mangoes, grapes, plums, apricots and more will protect against sun damage.
Look Out For: Many chemical preservatives, emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilizers, and fragrances used in many conventional and ‘natural’ sunscreens have documented concerns as endocrine disrupters and carcinogens.
Look For: Natural Ingredients as found in nature and processed through physical, non-chemical means.
Look For: Certified Organic Ingredients grown without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or GMOs, and processed without chemicals or other harmful ingredients.
Look For: Full ingredient disclosure including processes and additives, fragrances and flavours.