All you need to know about the dangers of sunscreen! Learn what ingredients to avoid, truth about SPF, and discover best organic sunscreen options.
Summer is here and most of us can’t wait to enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Sunbathing, swimming, camping, playing on the beach… All of these activities are fun until you get that painful sunburn.
So what do you do? You turn to sunscreen, and the higher SPF, the more protection you think you are getting. But is that really true?
RELATED: 6 Natural Sunburn Remedies
Turns out there are quite a few misconceptions when it comes to sunscreens. So we want you to not make potentially dangerous mistakes ever again, so from this summer onwards, we must ensure that we select our sunscreen carefully. Why? According to the experts, conventional sunscreens may cause more harm than good, and it is best that we stay away from them.
Shocking as it may be, there is substantial data that suggests the experts are right.
Far from protecting the skin, sunscreens are proving to be potential health hazards, causing skin cancer, because of their toxic ingredients that permeate the skin.
Understanding the Health Effects of UV Rays
Wearing sunscreen and avoiding sunburns does not mean your skin is adequately protected.
UVA and UVB rays have very distinct properties when interacting with the skin. UVA rays damage skin cells called keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis, where most skin cancers occur. They penetrate deeper into skin tissue where they release free radicals, damaging DNA and skin cells, promoting skin aging and causing skin cancer.
UVB rays stimulate the production of new melanin and a thicker epidermis, which are your body’s natural defense against UVA damage. They also cause sunburns, which are the body’s natural warning and protection system against UVA damage.
UVB rays are necessary to build the precursors to vitamin D in the skin. Vitamin D is a hormone essential to calcium absorption, promoting bone health. It is also essential to a strong immune system and helps protect against breast, colon, kidney and ovarian cancer. About one-fourth of North-Americans have low levels of vitamin D, which has been associated with increased cardiovascular mortality, colon cancer mortality, breast cancer, skin cancer, metabolic disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, upper respiratory tract infections and other microbe-caused infections.
Basically, for a sun protection lotion to be effective, it should block cancer-causing UVAs while allowing healing UVBs to interact with the skin.
Ironically, sunscreens create the opposite effect of what they are designed for. They block UVBs and allow harmful UVAs to penetrate deeper into the skin.
Stay Away From These Toxic Ingredients and Sunscreens
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released their yearly guide to sunscreen, and among the worst brands for sun protection is the number one culprit for toxicity and false advertising, Neutrogena.
Below is the full list to stay away from
Why are they the worst? Because most contained the following “red flag” ingredients. If you see them listed on the label of your sunscreen, throw it away and choose another.
EWG stated that 80% of Neutrogena sunscreens contain oxybenzone, “a hormone-disrupting sunscreen filter” and 33% contain retinyl palmitate, “a form of vitamin A linked to skin damage”.
This is one of the most troublesome ingredients found in the majority of sunscreens.
Oxybenzone is part of a class of aromatic ketones called benzophenones and is used in many sunscreens, hair sprays, cosmetics and nail polishes. It is also used in plastics to absorb ultraviolet light. With its use in sunscreen as a broad-spectrum UVB and and short-wave UVA protector, it is acts as a endocrine disruptor.
Endocrine disruptors like oxybenzone interfere with the hormone system, potentially causing cancer, birth defects and developmental disorders. A 2008 study looking at the effects of oxybenzone on juvenile rainbow trout and Japanese medaka found that those samples exposed to the ketone produced a decreased number of eggs, a smaller percentage of fertilized eggs and a smaller percentage of hatched, or viable, eggs.
According to EWG, oxybenzone acts like estrogen in the body and alters sperm production in males. It is also associated with endometriosis in women and may cause fertility problems.
Oxybenzone is detected in nearly every American and found in mothers’ milk.
2. Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A palmitate)
Sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol, and retinyl palmitate.
Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A used in sunscreens and has been found to accelerate cancer in high doses applied to the skin. While the evidence is not definitive, says EWG, it is troubling. A U.S. government study found that it “may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight.”
Vitamin A, or Retinol, is also used in many skin products that promise to slow the signs of aging, however, its controversy as an ingredient in sunscreen is due to its effects when exposed to sunlight. The harmful effects of retinyl palmitate include brittle nails, hair loss, liver damage, osteoporosis and hip fractures. Norwegian health authorities have also urged women pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid any products with vitamin A due to the skeletal birth defects it may cause.
I caution against using personal care products that contain synthetic fragrance, as this term describes any number of harmful chemicals that do not have to be listed individually on the label. Some common “fragrance” chemicals include:
- Parabens – Synthetic preservatives known to interfere with hormone production and release.
- Phthalates – Another synthetic preservative that’s carcinogenic and linked to reproductive effects (decreased sperm counts, early breast development, and birth defects) and liver and kidney damage.
- Synthetic musks – These are linked to hormone disruption and are thought to persist and accumulate in breast milk, body fat, umbilical cord blood, and the environment.
Inaccurate SPF Claims
Of course not. According to the Consumer Reports findings on sunscreens, SPF isn’t always a reliable gauge for the product’s strength largely because of shelf life. As the product ages, its protective powers may diminish. Check the expiration date and pick the one with longest life expectancy, the same way you shop for other perishables. Also avoid shopping just for sales, but be loyal to reputable brands. The FDA doesn’t test every batch to ensure the product delivers on its promises, and Consumer Reports found in fact that some brands are lax. Depending on your choice you might pay a little extra for a quality sunscreen, but compared to the detriments of cancer, it’s a no-brainer. What about the products boasting high SPF for “extra” protection? Experts are warning that the promises are inflated, and we shouldn’t too presumptuous in the sun while wearing a high SPF sunblock. From 40 to 50, 75, 80 and up, spot tests show you’re probably getting the same approximate level of protection. Whether you’re using a super high SPF or not, you should be equally as careful about your time in the sun and reapply with an SPF 80 just as you would SPF 30 or 40. In that case, the high SPF may have more marketing effect than health benefits. You should be good with a 30-40 SPF.
The Sun and Its Healing Powers
The sun, a dynamic source of life-sustaining energy, is truly one of the most powerful healing therapies in the world. And it is free, which is probably why nobody is promoting it! Here are some of the healing benefits of the sun:
- Helps fight cancer in conjunction with whole foods
- Heals skin disorders such as psoriasis, acne, eczema and fungal infections of the skin
- Lowers cholesterol and blood pressure
- Cleanses the blood and increases oxygen content as it penetrates deep into the skin
- Builds a strong the immune system as white blood cells increase with sun exposure
- Body’s primary source of vitamin D
- Treats depression
Natural Ways To Avoid Sun Damage
There are many ways to avoid skin damage and burning without the damaging affects of sunscreen:
- Stay hydrated. Your skin is more likely to burn if you are dehydrated, so drink lots of water..
- Naturally increase your skin’s resistance to UV rays by gradually exposing it to the morning sun for short periods of time. You will be less likely to burn, and you will reap the health benefits of increased Vitamin D. Avoid prolonged mid-day exposures.
- Avoid sunglasses. The optical nerve in the eyes sends signals to the hypothalamus. The gland has the ability to adjust the skin’s resistance to UV rays on the basis of how much light your eyes receive.
- Eat colorful foods – they are high in antioxidants and you will support the body to counteract the effects of sunburn.
- Cleanse your liver of toxins and heavy metals as they play a major role in UV protection. Adding zeolite to your diet is a safe and powerful way to detox the body.
- Apply micronized zeolite to your skin. Easily absorbed, it assists the skin to build and strengthen its own natural UV and UVA defense, healing and processing mechanisms. Zeolite does not deter beneficial UV rays from entering the skin, it protects against DNA damage, protecting your skin and cell membranes at the cellular level. Try out SunSheer from EarthSun, an organic zeolite cream with a protection level comparable to a sunscreen SPF 50.
Why You Should Only Use Sunscreen When Absolutely Necessary
If you work in the outdoors all day, are planning a trip to an outdoor theme park, or if you need to protect sensitive areas of your face (like around your eyes), safe sunscreen is certainly recommended. But if you apply sunscreen every time you’re out in the sun, you’ll block your body’s ability to produce vitamin D. Optimizing your vitamin D levels may reduce your risk of as many as 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, breast, prostate, and skin cancers.
That last one may surprise you, as we’re told that sunlight exposure causes skin cancer, but this is only part of the story. Studies show melanoma mortality actually decreases after UV exposure. Additionally, melanoma lesions do not tend to appear primarily on sun-exposed skin, which is why sunscreens have been proven ineffective in preventing it. Exposure to sunlight, particularly UVB, is protective against melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer)—or rather, the vitamin D your body produces in response to UVB radiation is protective. The following passage comes from The Lancet:7
“Paradoxically, outdoor workers have a decreased risk of melanoma compared with indoor workers, suggesting that chronic sunlight exposure can have a protective effect.”
By avoiding the sun, or blocking your vitamin D production by over-applying sunscreen when you are in the sun, your risk for vitamin D deficiency skyrockets, which increases your odds of developing melanoma and a multitude of other diseases. Not to mention, sunshine’s gifts extend well beyond vitamin D production.
Safe Sunning: 5 Top Sunshine Tips
To sum up, do spend some time outdoors in the sun regularly (ideally daily), but do so with some commonsense precautions:
- Give your body a chance to produce vitamin D; expose large amounts of skin (at least 40 percent of your body) to sunlight for short periods daily (a safe tanning bed can also be used for this purpose).
- When you’ll be in the sun for longer periods, cover up with clothing, a hat or shade (either natural or that you create using an umbrella, etc.). A safe sunscreen can be applied after you’ve optimized your daily vitamin D production.
- Shield your face from the sun daily using a safe sunscreen or a hat, as your facial skin is thin and more prone to sun damage like premature wrinkling.
- Consider the use of an “internal sunscreen” like astaxanthin to offer additional protection against sun damage.
- Consuming a healthy diet full of natural antioxidants is another incredibly useful strategy to help avoid sun damage to your skin. Fresh, raw, unprocessed foods deliver the nutrients that your body needs to maintain a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 oils in your skin, which is your first line of defense against sunburn. Fresh, raw vegetables also provide your body with an abundance of powerful antioxidants that will help you fight the free radicals caused by sun damage that can lead to burns and cancer.
What’s The Healthy Alternative?
Here’s a 10 organic sunscreen brands that we like the best:
- Green Screen D Organic Sunscreen, SPF 35, by Kabana Skin Care
- Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Screen, Green Tea, SPF 30+
- Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen, SPF 50
- Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin/Children, Unscented, SPF 30+
- Bare Belly Organics Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Saving Face Sunscreen, SPF 15
- Beauty by Earth Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 25
- Green Screen Organic Sunscreen, Bronze, Neutral, Nude or Peach, SPF 32
- Green Screen Organic Sunscreen, Original, SPF 31
- Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen for Active Lifestyles, Tropical, SPF 30
Now that you know how to avoid dangerous pitfalls of commercial sunscreens, go play in the sun and make sure to pick up one of the best 10 natural sunscreens mentioned above for you and your family.