During the spring and summer months most of us find ourselves more involved with outside activities for longer periods of time. When out in the sun for more than 15-30 minutes, it is very important that our skin is safely and effectively protected. Finding a truly non-toxic and safe sunscreen that offers adequate protection can be difficult. The good news is that more and more non-toxic and safe sunscreens are hitting the market. Below are some things to consider when choosing a safe sunscreen for you and your loved ones.
The Importance of Using a Safe Sunscreen
When choosing a non-toxic and safe sunscreen, look for a sunscreen product that is made of non-toxic ingredients, one that is effective against both UVA and UVB rays and one that is NON-GMO certified. Be careful of many commercial and even some so-called safe sunscreens that may contain harmful chemicals that can enter your body through your skin. Read labels and research the ingredients. A long list of chemical names that are difficult to pronounce most likely means you will be drenching your body in toxic chemicals during a time when skin pores will be open. And, of course, be especially careful what you put on your children’s skin.
How to Choose a Safe Sunscreen
Choosing a safe sunscreen can be quite daunting. And, for most of us, we do not have an extensive chemistry background to determine which ingredients are harmful and which ingredients are safe. This is why we should shop online first so that we can actually research sunscreen ingredients. The following sunscreen guidelines will prove to be helpful when shopping for a safe sunscreen.
- Avoid Spray Sunscreens – Spray sunscreens can pose serious inhalation risks and well as lung injury. Even the FDA is concerned about spray sunscreens. While mineral blockers are usually considered a good alternative to other chemicals in sunscreens, that’s not the case with spray sunscreens. Be concerned with spray sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide. A 2006 report from the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens, found that titanium dioxide is “possibly carcinogenic to humans when inhaled. The EWG’s (environmental working group) report on nanoparticles says: “The lungs have difficulty clearing small particles, and the particles may pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. Insoluble nanoparticles that penetrate skin or lung tissue can cause extensive organ damage.”
- Avoid Super-High SPFs – SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and refers only to UVB protection. Higher numbers often tempt people to stay in the sun longer than they should – in other words, a false sense of security. Anything higher than 50 SPF is most likely not a good idea and the FDA calls them “inherently misleading.”
- Avoid Oxybenzone and Other Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – Often used in sunscreens, oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and can mimic estrogen in the body. It can also trigger allergic reactions. Data are preliminary, but studies have found a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and health concerns. One study has linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women; another study found that women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters.
- Avoid Retinyl Palmitate – On sun-exposed skin, retinyl palmitate may speed development of skin tumors and lesions, according to government studies. Why is this “inactive ingredient” allowed in sunscreens intended for use in the sun? Good question. The FDA has yet to rule on the safety of retinyl palmitate in skin care products, but EWG recommends that consumers be proactive and avoid sunscreens containing this chemical.
- Avoid Combined Sunscreen/Bug Repellents – Bugs are typically not a concern during the hours when UV exposure peaks. Also, sunscreen may need to be reapplied more frequently than repellent, or vice versa. Studies suggest that combining sunscreens and repellents leads to increased skin absorption of the repellent ingredients – many of which are toxic.
- Avoid sunscreen towelettes or powders – The FDA’s sunscreen rules bar sunscreen wipes and powders. But some small online retailers are still offering towelettes and powders. Don’t buy them. Why? Dubious sun protection. Besides, inhaling loose powders can cause lung irritation or other harm.
- Avoid Tanning Oils – Tanning oils are simply a bad idea. If they contain sunscreen ingredients, the levels are always very low and offer little, if any, sun protection. Don’t buy products with SPF values lower than 15, nor those without zinc oxide UVA protection.
- Choose Zinc Oxide – The safest sunscreens use zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Look for Zinc Oxide sunscreen levels to be over 18% on the back label for proper protection. It provides strong sun protection, doesn’t breakdown in the sun and offers good protection from the sun’s UVA rays. A recent real-world study tested penetration of zinc oxide particles of 19 and 110 nanometers on human volunteers who applied sunscreens twice daily for five days (Gulson 2010). Researchers found that less than 0.01 percent of the zinc from either particle size entered the bloodstream. Separately, a European Union review found that sunscreen users did not demonstrate elevated blood zinc levels (EU 2012).
- Choose natural base ingredients – Read the label and research the ingredients. The safest sunscreens will include organic and safe ingredients that provide hydration, antioxidants, high levels of moisture, vitamins and minerals. These qualities battle the damage of the skin on the cellular level from free radicals generated by the sun and other carcinogens, long after environmental exposure.
- Choose NON-GMO Verified – Non-GMO Verified means that all the ingredients are free of harmful GMOs.
- Choose Broad Spectrum Labeling – In the past the SPF number only included the UVB protection index. SPF now has a relevance toward UVA1 and UVA2 protection. The rating is now proportional for both UVA and UVB rays. This means that if a product claims to provide “Broad Spectrum Protection,” the SPF will indicate the relative protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Currently there are 18 FDA approved active ingredients in sunscreen that provide protection from the sun. These ingredients generally offer adequate UVB protection, but there are only four that offer UVA protection: Avobenzone, Mexoryl SX, Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. Of these four, only Zinc Oxide can physically block the entire range of UVA and UVB rays.
- Skincare with added sunscreen – This is an area in which women and men need to be extremely watchful. Many skincare products boast of containing an added sunscreen for anti-aging benefits. However, the same guidelines fro sunscreen apply to skincare products. Often the added sunscreen contains the same toxic ingredients as most sunscreen formulas. Add those ingredients to the already toxic ingredients of most skincare lines and you are actually getting a double whammy of toxic chemicals.
- Essential oils as sunscreens. There are many homemade sunscreen recipes floating around that promote essential oils, especially red raspberry seed oil and carrot seed oil, for adequate SPF protection. I notice more social media posts about adults and children experiencing sun burns after using these homemade essential oil sunscreens. According to essential oil expert and author, Robert Tisserand, “𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝗻𝗼 𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗮𝗹 𝗼𝗶𝗹𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗺𝗲𝗮𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴𝗳𝘂𝗹𝗹𝘆 𝗳𝗶𝗹𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝗨𝗩 𝗿𝗮𝘆𝘀.” This also includes carrier oils such as coconut, olive and grape seed. If you are going to be in the sun for long periods of time, there are some very effective non-toxic, chemical-free sunscreens available with proven SPF protection. Do your research to find one that meets the needs of your family. The good news is some essential oils, when used with a carrier oil, are very effective for 𝗮𝗳𝘁𝗲𝗿-𝘀𝘂𝗻 skin care. 𝗡𝗼𝘁𝗲: The research often quoted about red raspberry seed oil says in-part: “𝘙𝘢𝘴𝘱𝘣𝘦𝘳𝘳𝘺 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘥 𝘰𝘪𝘭 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘥 𝘢𝘣𝘴𝘰𝘳𝘣𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘜𝘝-𝘉 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘜𝘝-𝘊 𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 *𝘱𝘰𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘢𝘭* 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘴 𝘢 𝘣𝘳𝘰𝘢𝘥 𝘴𝘱𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘳𝘶𝘮 𝘜𝘝 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘵.” Potential does not mean that it works or should be used as an effective sunscreen.
- Choose Water and Sweat Resistant beyond 80 Minutes
- Choose Hypoallergenic
- Choose safe for adults and children
There is really no good reason to apply sunscreen if your time in the sun is less than 15-30 minutes (depending upon skin type) at a time. Your body needs sun every day for adequate Vitamin D3 production. The most natural way to get vitamin D is by exposing your bare skin to sunlight (ultraviolet B rays). In the summer this can happen fairly quickly depending on your type of skin. You don’t need to tan or burn in order to get Vitamin D. Exposing your skin for around half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink is usually adequate for Vitamin D production. Normally, this amount of time for is between just 15 minutes for a very fair skinned person and maybe a couple of hours or more for a dark skinned person. Again, individual times will vary. The body can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D in just a little under the time it takes for your skin to turn pink. It is also important to know the body makes the most vitamin D when a large area of skin, such as the back, rather than a small area such as the face or arms is exposed to the sun.
Research and More Information
Plum LA and Deluca HF. The Functional Metabolism and Molecular Biology of Vitamin D Action. In Vitamin D: Physiology, Molecular Biology and Clinical Applications by Holick MF. Humana Press, 2010.
Reichrath J and Reichrath S. Hope and challenge: the importance of ultraviolet radiation for cutaneous vitamin D synthesis and skin cancer. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation, 2012.