All you need to know when buying an organic sunscreen!
The American Cancer Society says that skin cancer is the most common of all. More than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed in the USA every year, and this year they project more than 76,600 cases of the most serious type, Melanoma.
Multiple factors may contribute to chances of developing skin cancer including a genetic predisposition; exposure to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium; or moles. The most preventable risk factor for developing skin cancer is sun damage. When a person has pale skin that burns easily, frequent unprotected exposure to UV rays, or if they’ve ever had a severe sunburn, chances of developing the disease increase.
Protecting your skin also helps to prevent premature aging, over drying and wrinkles. Consider this another reminder for you and your kids to wear sunblock whenever you go out to play. But are all sunscreens created equally?
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 Titanium Dioxide & Zinc Oxide Controversy
Nanoparticles of these two metal oxides show up in a variety of sunscreens, including organic and all-natural brands. They’ve been a controversial ingredient because, if absorbed into the bloodstream, they’re toxic.
The question isn’t whether they’re dangerous, but whether they can get past a healthy skin barrier. Nanoparticles are 1/20th the thickness of human hair, which have led many to believe they inevitably flood the blood, but studies have yet to support that fear. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) specializes in sunscreen safety. They support the use of titanium and zinc oxide, citing a study published in 2012. Researchers administered sunscreen containing either 19 nanometer-sized zinc oxide particles, or as large as 100 nanometers for five days and with plenty of sun exposure. With both particle sizes they found no more than .0001 (1/1000th) of the zinc in the blood and urine, but “the overwhelming majority” of the particles were not absorbed through the skin. Another study found similar results, testing on patients with psoriasis. The EWG insists that “sunscreen lotions do not pose penetration concerns,” but, contrary to the FDA, strongly urges against sprays and powders, which you’re sure to inhale.
Spray Sunscreens: Safe or Unsafe?
The FDA has been running tests to determine the safety of spray sunscreens, particularly with children. Since 2011 they’ve warned that inhaling the spray could be harmful, and since children are more likely to “squirm around” and inhale while the mist is in the air, parents are warned not to use the spray at all on kids. Adults, they say, are safe to spray on the body but never on the face. But let’s just think about this. If there’s a danger of toxicity at all, whether you squirm around or not, why take the risk? Health experts seem to be united on this one: both spray and powder sunscreens are unsafe and should be avoided.
EWG’s Top Picks
The EWG warns against any product containing “oxybenzone,” which may actually increase the risk of skin cancer. They also put a stern “NO” on combo bug/sunscreen sprays, sunscreen towelettes, tanning oils and super-high SPFs.
Thankfully, they do have some recommendations. For the entire list of 184 EWG-approved products, scored based on efficacy and health risk, see the link below. Here’s a selection of the organic brands that scored the best:
- Green Screen D Organic Sunscreen, SPF 35, by Kabana Skin Care
- Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Screen, Green Tea, SPF 30+
- Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin/Children, Unscented, SPF 30+
- Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Saving Face Sunscreen, SPF 15
- 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
A Few Guidelines
When we’re getting ready to go outside and play, we want to use the good stuff, and also use it right. Here are some tips for the best protection:
- Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to exposure
- WebMD quotes H. Ray Jalian, MD, a dermatologist at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica recommending “a shot glass full.” Apply generously!
- Reapply every 2 hours
- To maintain freshness/shelf life, don’t keep sunblock in the car or in a hot place
- Check expiration dates and buy fresh, because SPF can diminish slightly over time
A Note About Vitamin D
It’s actually true that too much sunscreen could be a bad thing. Sunscreen blocks out UV rays that are actually necessary for your body to generate vitamin D. People with too little sun exposure tend to have Vitamin D deficiency, which is not only linked with poor calcium absorption leading to osteoporosis, as well immune deficiency, but is now also considered a major risk factor in developing breast cancer.
The good news? Experts say a daily 10-15 minutes of undiluted sunshine on your skin should provide adequately for your vitamin D needs, but also recommend you take the time to have your levels checked. If you have a deficiency and need to avoid direct sunlight, you’ll find the vitamins in fortified food products and in supplement form.
This summer, enjoy safe fun in the sun and come home with a healthy radiance.
 Consumer Reports: “Don’t Get Burned by Your Sunscreen.”
 WebMD: “Sunscreens Not Created Equal: Consumer Reports” By Kathleen Doheny, Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD.