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Safe Summer Skin

If you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s like me, you probably remember putting on baby oil (or St. Tropez oil SPF 4 if you splurged) and using reflector kits while drinking tang in your best friend’s back yard. Luckily, I was always a pasty white kid and would have burned to a crisp if I had attempted that trick. I was always the kid with the zinc oxide stripe on my nose.

In the last 30 years, we have been urged to put on sunscreen whenever we step outside. Skin Cancer is a deadly disease. Melanoma is a deadly disease.

Unfortunately, even though Americans are using more and more sunscreen, skin cancer rates have not decreased. Melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) rates have more than tripled since the mid 70’s despite the fact that sunscreen use has gone up. A growing number of experts suspect there is more to the story.

We all need vitamin D and most people are deficient. You have to get a decent amount of sun to get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can affect your immunity (specifically the flu-avoid the flu shot and try upping your vitamin D instead!), diabetes, arthritis, bone health, and it is believed that it can help protect us against cancer.

I am not recommending foregoing sunscreen completely just to get some vitamin D. However, many experts believe that daily exposure to sun is one of the best ways to get vitamin D. I apply sunscreen if I am out during peak sun times, sitting by the pool or going someplace like the zoo, where I will be out in the direct sunlight for long periods of time. Playing in my back yard with my daughter for 20 minutes is not a time I apply sunscreen to either of us. Even with time in the sun, many people are still vitamin D deficient. Eating foods and taking supplements with Vitamin D is essential. It is also a great idea to have your health professional check your vitamin D levels yearly.

Vitamin D aside, many chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that may be linked to cancer-some with a possible link to skin cancer! Yep-you heard that correctly, you are putting on sunscreen that contains chemicals that may cause skin cancer. WTF????? This is the other reason many experts are now questioning why skin cancer rates are still on the rise despite the fact that people are wearing sunscreen regularly.

Most chemical sunscreens (and products with SPF) contain many of the same toxic chemicals found in everyday personal care products. These chemicals include parabens, which are known carcinogens as well as endocrine disrupting chemicals. Ingredients listed as Fragrance or parfum are considered a trade secret, meaning companies do not have to disclose the chemical cocktail that makes up the fragrance. Studies have shown that up to 75% of fragrances contain phthalates. Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals. Endocrine disruptors mimic, block and alter hormone levels in the body-also called hormone disruptors. The Endocrine system regulates ALL biological processes in the body. This includes: the brain and nervous system, the reproductive system, metabolism and sugar levels, ovaries, testes, pituitary, thyroid, and the adrenal glands. Endocrine disruption is linked to many diseases, including cancer and infertility. Endocrine disruption is especially scary for our children as they are still growing and developing.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the active ingredients in most broad spectrum chemical sunscreens and are also endocrine disrupting chemicals. The CDC found that 96% of people tested had oxybenzone in their urine, suggesting the body’s ability to store the chemical. Toxic body burden anyone? Toxicologists believe that oxybenzone is a photocarcinogen and may actually break down when exposed to sunlight, penetrate the skin promoting indirect DNA damage, increasing free radicals, which may then cause malignant melanoma. They can also cause chemical burns, skin allergies and eczema.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are also penetration enhancers which make the other toxic chemicals in your sunscreens sink into your skin faster.

And if those ingredients were not enough to make you question what you are using, another common sunscreen ingredient, retinyl palmitate (vitamin A), may enhance skin cancer lesions in the presence of sunlight. Say what? These were FDA studies done on mice-but I prefer not to take a chance and be a human guinea pig.

To make matters worse, many of these chemicals can cause skin inflammation and increase free radicals which cause premature aging.

Last but certainly not least, these chemicals are damaging our environment. Are you upset we left the Paris Accord? Then you should look at what your products are doing to the environment. Sunscreen chemicals like oxybenzone are causing the destruction of coral reefs which then harms other aquatic life and pollutes our oceans. It is also believed that toxic chemicals from personal care products that go down our drains, the cleaning products we use, as well as fertilizer in waste water run-off are a cause of toxic algae blooms in many water ways which have caused water supply problems in cities like Toledo, Ohio. Hawaii recently banned chemical sunscreens-a big step in the right direction.

Besides the problems we discussed above, chemical sunscreens may not provide adequate protection against harmful UVA rays despite stating they are broad spectrum. The UVA rays are the ones that are melanoma causing as well as wrinkle inducing.

Mineral (also referred to as physical) sunscreens actually block the sun’s rays, (all of them) UVA and UVB. Mineral sunscreens deflect the sun’s rays while chemical sunscreens absorb them. Zinc oxide is your best bet. Yes, the white stuff. Titanium Dioxide is also a safer option.

I most often hear the complaint that a mineral sunscreen leaves a white tint or is hard to rub in. First, there are some fabulous safe mineral sunscreens on the market that are not that hard to rub in and just leave a very faint white tint behind. But this is how you know that this shit is the real deal and actually blocking the sun’s rays. So, it takes you an extra ten seconds. So, you look a bit pastier for the first few minutes. Isn’t that a better option than slathering on toxic sunscreen that actually doesn’t even work as well?

Unfortunately, you must still be an ingredient detective and read the labels. Don’t be fooled by companies like Neutrogena and their “mineral sunscreens”. Many still contain dangerous toxic chemicals along with a mineral component. For a larger list of chemicals to avoid, check out this list:

Just because a sunscreen says “kids or babies” doesn’t mean it is safe either. Those terms tend to be marketing ploys.

I prefer to buy from companies that only sell safe sunscreens. It infuriates me that companies make totally toxic sunscreens and throw in a safe mineral one for good measure. They clearly realize there is a demand for safe sunscreen, and know how to make it, but still choose to put out sunscreens that may cause cancer.

When choosing a mineral sunscreen, it is important to look for non-nano particle. Nano-particles make mineral sunscreen easier to spread. However, studies show that nano-particles are so small that they may cross the cell barrier and enter the organs, including the brain.

Lastly, you want to avoid most sunscreen sprays. Almost all of them are toxic and you are not only putting it on your skin but inhaling it as well since they are aerosol propelled. Furthermore, studies have shown that the spray is generally not applied evenly. If you must use a spray, there are some mineral ones (my new favorite is Beautycounter Countersun spray) on the market. I recommend rubbing the spray in and making sure you are using enough. Especially when applying on children.

Remember that the best sun protection is the shade, SPF clothing, hats, sunglasses and avoiding sun at peak times. Aside from that, it is important to remember to properly apply sunscreen. 1 ounce is the recommended amount. That is a lot and I admit that I often don’t apply enough but I do tend to wear a hat and sit in the shade. Reapply hourly and after you get out of the water.

The great thing about mineral sunscreens, besides the protection they provide, is that they are good for your skin. Zinc oxide is incredibly soothing. It is even found in many natural diaper creams. It not clog your pores. Suffer from sensitive skin, eczema or rosacea? Mineral sunscreens are much less likely to cause you problems. Furthermore, mineral sunscreens are less likely to cause allergies and irritation too.

Have a health professional check your skin yearly. Don’t forget that skin cancers can show up anywhere on the body and you should be checked thoroughly (another reason to believe that the sun is not the only contributing factor). If something on your skin changes, doesn’t look right or is constantly irritated, have it checked.

The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a yearly list of the best and worst sunscreens. They not only look at the ingredients in each sunscreen but also how well they work. Check out their annual list here:

My personal favorites are from Beautycounter. I use their tint skin foundation with SPF 20 almost daily. I also LOVE the Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion (rubs in easily and smells amazing, plus its super moisturizing) and the brand new Countersun Suncreen Mist (the first safe spray on sunscreen I have found). Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Stick work great on the go and for squirmy kids. The stick and spray are perfect for summer camp. I also love Babo daily sheer facial sunscreen. It's light weight and wears great under my makeup without clogging my pores. Another favorite is Pure Haven Essentials Sunscreen. My mom is a fan of badger sunscreens. They work great but go on a bit thick for my taste. Many of my friends swear by Earthley’s sun shield. I haven’t tried it yet but I am a huge fan of their other all natural products.

Most people have no idea that sunscreens could cause potential harm. And while more scientific studies are needed for all of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens, as well as studies on whether sunscreens actually prevent melanoma (because there is no study that exists to prove this), I choose not to be a human guinea pig and to use safer ingredients.

One of my favorite quotes is “when you know better, you do better.” I choose to do better and I hope you will too. Happy Summer!