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Monday, May 2, 2011

Is Sunscreen Safe for Your Family?


Over the last few months I have been looking in to some options for our sunscreens. This is an important subject for us as dh’s mother has been dealing with skin cancer for the last seven years. Couple that with the fact that our skin is our largest organ and anything we put on it is absorbed into our skin. I began my research here Environmental Working Group's Sunscreen Guide. Here is what I found out. The sunscreens we were using were among some of the lowest rated sunscreens. It turns out that many products are rated very low by the EWG because of their use of hormone-altering chemicals, vitamin A, misleading SPF ratings, poor UVA protection, to name a few problems. Products by Banana Boat, Neutrogena, Coppertone, Aveeno, Hawaiian Tropic, CVS, Solar Sense, Rx Suncare, Peter Thomas Roth, Rite Aid, Panama Jack, Ocean Potion, and No-Ad all ranked worst, among others. See the full list here.  The products we were using contained oxybenzone – a synthetic estrogen that absorbs through the skin and Vitamin A.

The problem with Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a common ingredient in sunscreens. It was added because it is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging. However when vitamin A is exposed to the sun it activates its photcarinogenic properties. Recently available data from an FDA study indicate that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions (NTP 2009). This evidence is a problem vitamin A is in 41%  of all sunscreens. So we have ingredients  in our sunscreen that causes cancer?  I decided to investigate more.
Do Sunscreens Even Work?
There is no evidence that sunscreens work. In fact the first sunscreens were not marketed for protecting your skin but rather to promote that healthy glow.  We do know that sunscreens are effective at preventing sunburns by blocking the UVB rays of the sun. Sunscreen is proven to reduce the risk of squamous-cell carcinoma, but not any other types of skin cancer. SCC accounts for only about 16% of skin cancer cases. UVA rays penetrate much deeper, and most sunscreens in the U.S. are very poor at protecting against this.
Studies have shown that sunscreens promote a false sense of security. When we were sunscreen we tend to stay out in the sun longer. Thus exposing ourselves a greater risk of malignant melanoma. Malignant melanoma is the cause of 75% of all skin cancer deaths.

Vitamin D We Need It

We all need Vitamin D.  It is essential for our immune systems and reduces the risk of many cancers. I know my psoriatic arthritis feels much better when I get my daily dose of vitamin sunshine. Sunscreen can block 97% of your body’s Vitamin D production. synthesize the vitamin.  You put yourself at risk of not getting enough Vitamin D and most of us living far from the equator already are considered low in Vitamin D. Experts disagree on how much sun time we need to get Vitamin D but most agree it is at least 10 minutes a day direct exposure to the sun.

What about Sunscreens with Zinc Oxide?
Okay so if we are going to use sunscreens we should avoid those with Vitamin A and oxybenzone. That still leave us 59% of all the sunscreens on the market. We still have options. At least that is what I thought. I remember being a kid at the beach and seeing the lifeguards with their white noses. My mother told me these came from the zinc oxide. So why not use a zinc oxide?  There is some concern about these also. Depending on the formulation the particles of zinc oxide may be small enough to penetrate the skin.  On the upside the mineral based sunscreens do provide more UVA protection. On the downside they only constitute 20% of the sunscreens available.

What to do?

It seems the least toxic and most effective are available only in Europe at least until the FDA approves them here. Since I can’t rely on family members to do my shopping for me I have to have a plan. So far this is my plan. I plan on more coverage. Think what do peoples in climates that see a lot of sun wear. They cover up. They recognize the importance of protecting the sun. We will be wearing rash guards and swim shirts at the lake and pool. We will wear hats when we are outside gardening. We will be wearing light weight long sleeves when we can.  We will try to stay out of the sun in the peak hours of 10-2.  I will be increasing the family’s intake of B-complex vitamins. PABA an ingredient in sunscreens is a B vitamin.  I  will be picking up a couple of the bottles on the recommended list by EWG here.

For more reading check here.

Surprising Facts about Sunscreen
EWG Best Beach Sport Sunscreens

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Anonymous said...

I had been wondering about this since the media excoriated Gisele Bundchen for declaring sunscreens dangerous. Thanks for clearing that up!

I am pretty pale, and so are two of my children. I tend to stay out of direct sunlight...sadly, more for vanity reasons than medical.

Jen in OK

Lisa @ Granola Catholic said...

Jen, this is a subject that has been on my mind since this winter, when I was stocking up on supplies for soccer. While it is cold in March here, one can still get a good sunburn spending a Saturday at the soccer field. For us we will be avoiding sun when possible. My Irish skin paired with dh's Cherokee means everyone freckles.

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