It’s time to start putting on sunscreen…or is it? Before you grab that tube of protection, remember that there are lots of other options with conservation in mind to protect yourself from getting burned this summer, like wearing protective clothing, finding shade, and avoiding noon sun. If you do use sunscreen, make sure what you put on your skin is safe and effective.
I love the sun, and when I was a teen I used to mix baby oil and iodine and rub in on my skin before I went to the beach. While this seems pretty foolish, some of the sunscreens on the market today may not be much better. One great resource for information is the new 2012 Sunscreen Guide put out by The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC. Its scientists analyzed 1,800 sunscreens and reported that only 25% passed their tests.
EWG recommends the following when buying sunscreen:
- Don’t be fooled by high SPF. Anything higher than “SPF 50+” can tempt you to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburn but not other kinds of skin damage. The FDA says these numbers are misleading.
- Avoid Vitamin A-laced creams listed as “retinyl palmitate” on the label. New government data show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with vitamin A.
- Avoid the chemical oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body.
- Look for active ingredients zinc, titanium, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. These substances protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin, with little if any penetrating into the body.
- Skip sunscreens with insect repellent – if you need bug spray, buy it separately and apply it first.
- Avoid sprays and powders which cloud the air with tiny particles of sunscreen that may not be safe to breathe. Choose creams instead.
One of the most disturbing things I read in the EWG report was the use of the Seal of Approval from the The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) which is found on hundreds of sun protection products. SCF approval is easy: just document that your product has an SPF of at least 15 and pay a $10,000 donation to the Foundation’s Corporate Council. According to the EWG, “SCF-approved products are not required to protect from UVA rays.” In addition, 45 products using the SCF seal exceeded SPF 50+, which according to the FDA, is misleading consumers about how well these sunscreens protect from skin damage.
Sunlight is important for our health, so I try and make sure I get about 20 minutes a day of direct sun on my bare skin (arms, legs and torso), without sunscreen. This insures that I have enough Vitamin D, which is made in our skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. According to Michael Holick, M.D., Ph.D., and author ofThe Vitamin D Solution, vitamin D deficiency is one of the most commonly unrecognized medical conditions, leaving us at risk of developing not only osteoporosis and fractures but also “numerous serious and often fatal diseases, including several common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and heart disease.” Your doctor can test your D level with a blood test and recommend supplements if necessary.
So get out in the sun this summer, don’t get burned, and use a safe sunscreen when necessary. The best way to protect yourself and the planet is to choose products from companies known for their purity and integrity. Unless our concern grows for what we’re putting on our skin, truly natural products won’t have a fighting chance to survive in the market. It’s important to support products from trusted cosmetic and body care companies that use natural, certified organic, nontoxic and non-synthetic ingredients.