After a long winter, summer time is finally here. And that means bike rides, walks, park picnics and generally basking in the Sun. There are so many benefits of being outdoors, however we have to take our sun protection seriously to enjoy the sun responsibly. The National Institute for Cancer has reported that rates of skin cancer have tripled since 1975 which can seem like a scary statistic. But there is a lot we can do to educate ourselves around sun safety! While it is important to become educated on the facts about sun safety, it is also essential to take the next step and find out what we can practically do with this knowledge. I set out to research what to avoid in products that can be harmful and what some safe alternatives are to ensure you have a safe, healthy and sunny summer!
I reference the Environmental Working Group (EWG) a few times throughout. The Environmental Working Group is an organization committed to research and environmental advocacy and is a fantastic resource for skin safety. If you go to this website, you can check the safety of your skin care products/sunscreen.
What are Common Ingredients in our Sunscreen?
In the majority of sunscreens we are familiar with, there is often two of the six following chemical ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate (what a mouthful!) All have varying levels of skin penetration and endocrine disruption (aka hormone disruption). Oxybenzone is the most common of all ingredients and is detectable in over 96% of Americans.
What to Avoid
- Vitamin A: While this is a ‘natural ingredient’ and antioxidant in some cases, there is research suggesting it can do more harm than good in sunscreen products. When retinyl palmitate (a name Vitamin A may be listed under) is in the presence of sunlight, it has the potential to enhance the development of skin lesions, potentiating the risk of skin cancer.
- Oxybenzone: This ingredient is an estrogen mimetic which means it can disrupt your hormone balance. It also has commonly been found to trigger allergic responses.
- It is also important to avoid spray sunscreens due to the potential of inhaling these harmful chemicals.
- Very high SPF (50+) can lead us to believe we don’t need to re-apply as often, however it is still important to re-apply frequently and it does not offer the same broad spectrum protection lower SPFs do (15-50 SPF is adequate).
Here are a few of the ‘most harmful’ brands/products as concluded by the EWG: Banana Boat Sport Performance, Coppertone Sport High Performance, CVS line of sunscreen, Neutrogena Sheer line and NO-AD lotions. The products with the higher SPF were deemed more harmful (as mentioned above).
A shocking 80% of products on the market contain oxybenzone and Vitamin A; so where does this leave us in selecting other options?
Mineral products such as zinc oxide have proven to protect against the Sun without breaking down into harmful metabolites that would be absorbed by the body while also providing UVA spectrum protection. There are a number of oils that offer some protection as well. Coconut oil has an SPF of 4-10 which – while low – can protect against and reduce oxidative damage to the skin. It is unrated by the CDC in reference to skin protection, so this should not be the sole product used. Ideally, SPF should be applied daily to exposed areas.
Don’t forget general skin safety such as consuming a range of richly-coloured fruits and vegetables, staying out of the Sun during peak hours (10am-2pm) and wearing sun-protective clothing.
Here are a few sunscreen brands that have been assessed by the EWG and rate really well:
- Beauty Counter
- Think Sunscreen Lotion
- Neutrogena Zinc * SPF30
- SuperGoop! Mineral Sunscreen or Unseen Sunscreen for darker skin tones without the white cast from mineral sunscreens.
By: Dr. Heather Robinson, ND
Sage Naturopathic Clinic