This article is dedicated to my son, his friends, and to all other ignorant people who play Russian roulette with Mother Nature. Going to the beach in the middle of the summer, in Florida, at 3:30pm (which is really 2:30 pm normal time) and thinking that the sunscreen will protect you from the dangerous sun rays is criminal to your body and health.
Being young is no excuse to forget that you are not invincible. If one doesn’t care for their own health nobody else will. Even the indigenous tribes in the South Pacific Islands, despite their dark brown (protective) skin pigment, with their active outdoor lifestyles have known for probably thousands of years to stay in the shade or go indoors during the peak UV periods of the day. It is a custom to have “siesta” or a break and a sleep for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. But our children are easily (brainwashed) by manufacturer propaganda portraying their products as panacea protecting from the dangerous sun rays. I can only try to give some facts and believe that this will open our children’s eyes, and make them think before applying anything on their bodies. As much as I prefer to not use sunscreens, because they interfere with normal vitamin D production, and this has dire health consequences, there is one exception when they can be used and this is when it is impossible to limit full body exposure to sunlight for a prolonged time. The debate about sunscreens is not new by the way. For many years the media and health care (professionals) have warned us of how dangerous and damaging the sun is. We have been told that it will cause wrinkles, premature aging, and that it will increase the risk of cancer. The answer: use sunscreen and a lot of it. And while it is true that we want to avoid sun burn because sunlight can be harmful, many of the sunscreens cause more damage than they prevent. Making matters worse, scientists are not even sure whether sunscreens prevent against melanoma in the first place. They suggested that sunscreen may prevent sun burn, but may fail to actually protect against cancer, because most sunscreen only screen the UVB which makes vitamin D, not the UVA that causes most of the damage. So how can we protect ourselves from overexposure safely? As we are all applying diligently on sunscreen to prevent cancer in the back of our minds (at least mine) is the evil thought that the FDA has had no mandatory regulations for sunscreens or their ingredients. Companies have not been required to verify that sunscreens work, to test that their sun protection factor (SPF) levels are accurate, or to show whether their claims for waterproof or product against UVA rays hold up. So when the Environmental Working Group issued its 2010 guide for the best and worst sunscreens, it gave its OK to just 39 products out of 500 sunscreens evaluated. It suggests that ingredients in many brands including the most popular ones may actually raise cancer risk. The new report shows that many widely available screens contain dangerous ingredients, provide inadequate protection, and are advertised by their marketers as far more helpful then they are. The list of dangerous sunscreens includes not only the leading brands, but even some designed just for babies. I will go through the nastiest health hazards we need to know about, and hope this will make my son and other young people think what they are doing. Almost half of the sunscreen examined by EWG contained one or two cancer causing ingredients. One is a hormone disrupting chemical that penetrates the skin and disrupts the normal functioning of the body in ways that lead to cancer and other serious medical conditions. The other is a vitamin A derivative that when exposed to sunlight may encourage skin cancer! The hormone disrupting chemical that penetrates the skin, enters the blood stream and is an ingredient in about half of the sunscreens is oxybenzone. This chemical is linked with endocrine disruption and cell damage, also low birth weight when used by pregnant woman. Another dangerous ingredient found in 41% of sunscreens is retinyl palmitate. A vitamin A compound associated with the accelerated growth of skin lesions and tumors! FDA data suggest that vitamin A has photo-carcinogenic properties. It means that when it is exposed to the sun, it may speed up cancer formation. But manufacturers put vitamin A derivatives in sunscreens because everybody knows they are slowing the signs of aging and their popularity as antioxidants fighting wrinkles and rough skin makes them more desirable. Many sunscreens offer protection only for UVB rays – the type of ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn while it is known that UVA can cause skin cancer. That’s why EWG recommends purchasing broad spectrum sunscreens that derive their protective properties not from chemicals that penetrate the skin, but from metals like titanium and zinc, which stay on the surface of the skin, do their job to protect you, and then can be washed off entirely. To be on the safe side don’t use spray or powder forms sunscreens, because you are in danger of inhaling them. The nanoparticles used in many sunscreens can penetrate easily in the tissues in your body and cause at least inflammation (we don’t their other long term effects). Growing concerns are also the high SPF levels labeled on the products. These claims are misleading because the products may not provide more protection than the sunscreen labeled with a lower SPF’s, and people may be mislead into thinking that the higher number means they can spend more time in the sun. It is also a false sense of security, because SPF applies to only one type of cancer causing ultraviolet ray UVB. It tells you nothing about a product ability to protect from the UVA rays. UVA rays penetrate your skin more deeply and cause more free radical damage. Not only that, but UVA rays are constant during all hours of daylight, throughout the entire year – while UVB rays are low in the morning and evening, and high at midday. Since UVA rays are more damaging, persistently high during all daylight hours, wearing sunscreen that doesn’t protect you from UVA rays will detrimental to your overall health. Again the two non toxic ingredients that protect from both UVB and UVA rays are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They have been used for over 75 years all over the world as safe sunscreens. No consensus on optimal SPF doesn’t help either. American Cancer Society recommends that you use sunscreens with SPF of at least 15, the American Academy of Dermatology says 30 and the FDA says that any SPF rating above 50 is “inherently misleading”. So, be ware of sunscreens with SPF 50, especially when combined with “baby” on the label. The marketers are trying to sell their products, but the reality is that many offer little or no UVA protection and some also contain dangerous ingredients.
The EWG’s hall of shame:
- Banana Boat Baby Max Protect, SPF 100: No UVA protection -- and it contains oxybenzone and vitamin A.
- Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection, SPF 55: Label says "mild as water," but warns "keep out of reach of children and seek medical help from poison control center if ingested." Also contains oxybenzone.
- Banana Boat Ultra Defense Sunscreen Stick, SPF 50: Misleading advertising says "it doesn’t break down," which might lead consumers to think it will last all day.
- Hawaiian Tropic Baby Crème Lotion, SPF 50: Does not have the advanced UVA protection advertised on the label, and also contains oxybenzone and vitamin A.
A full list of EWG’s lowest-rated sunscreens you can see at https://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/buyer-beware/.
The EWG’s”Hall of Fame”:
All 39 of EWG’s top-rated sunscreens contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Top recommendations include...
- All Terrain Aquasport Performance Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Badger Sunscreen for Face and Body, SPF 30
- Loving Naturals Sunscreen, SPF 30+
- Purple Prairie Botanicals Sun Stick, SPF 30
- Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
See a full list at https://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/best-beach-sport-sunscreens/.
Now, unfortunately even these EWG approved products aren’t perfect, because they contain nanoparticles, and not everyone agrees that they are safe. So, do your homework, avoid sun exposure during “bad hours” and minimize sunscreen use, because your body needs its vitamin D from the sun not from the supplements. And because even using non toxic sunscreens perhaps you will still not be protected from the damaging UVA.
And in the end the safest option is to put on a long sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat once you have reached your limit of sun exposure.