Your Guide to Toxin Free Sunscreen
Dr. Georgina Compton B.Sc, B.Chiro
Slip, slop, slap and wrap are the recommendations we hear every summer in a push to prevent skin cancer. But what if the sunscreen you are applying is doing more harm than good?
The lack of exposure to the sun through covering up and consistent wearing of sunscreens have led to many being low in vitamin D. (Around a 1/3 of the NZ population according to a 2008/9 report). This vitamin is essential to many body functions and is produced through the skins exposure to UV light. Small amounts can be provided through foods such as eggs, milk and oily fish. But ultimately for a healthy body we need exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, ovaries, bladder, pancreas and more. Actually more people die of Vitamin D deficiency-based cancers than from melanoma!
Does that mean we should avoid sunscreen altogether? In NZ with our beach culture and proximity to the 'ozone hole", I don't feel this is possible. We can however save it for the times of day when the UV index is at its highest and when we are at the greatest risk of getting sun burnt. Such as the middle of the day in summer, and in or on the water.
So which sunscreen is best ? Well keep in mind that the largest organ in our body is our skin. Anything that comes in contact with it can be absorbed into the body. Hopefully we are able to detoxify adequately to remove any harmful products we are exposed to. But with thousands of man made chemicals, our body is under constant toxic stress. So I feel it is important to reduce toxic load whenever we can.
Here are my top tips for choosing a sunscreen:
Jump on the Environmental Working Groups (EWG) site to check your sunscreen's rating
This site has everything you need to know. You will be surprised by some of the ratings, especially with many of the sunscreens marketed for children.
Choose a mineral based sunscreen over a chemical one
Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays before they can do damage. But expose us to more chemicals.
Physical sunscreens, contain either the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which form a film on top of the skin that reflects or scatters UV light. They are stable in sunlight, offer a good balance between protection from the two types of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) and don’t often contain potentially harmful additives.
But what about nano-particles in mineral sunscreens? You can check out EWG's stance on this here, but ultimately they do not feel there is an issue. The size of the particles also determines how transparent the sunscreen goes on. But a balance must be found, as smaller particles mean less UVA protection.
Spray sunscreens are not recommended .
EWG is concerned that these products pose an inhalation risk and may not provide a thick and even coating on skin.
A SPF over 50+ is not necessarily better
A SPF rating over 50+ can be misleading and higher SPF ratings don’t necessarily offer greater protection from other UV-related skin damage. The SPF factor only tells you how effective a sunscreen is against UVB rays which cause sunburn.
What are the worst chemical offenders? Avoid any products that contain:
Oxybezone - a hormone disruptor and allergen. Some research studies, while not conclusive, have linked higher concentrations of oxybenzone to health disorders, including endometriosis in older women and lower birth weights in newborn girls.
Octyl methoxycinnamate - OMC kills cells in mice even at low doses! It is also particularly toxic when exposed to sunshine. Crazy stuff! It is a possible endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen and can disrupt thyroid function. (It is also known as Octinoxate or ethyl-hexyl p-methoxycinnamic acid)
PABA or Para-aminobenzoic acid - releases free radicals, damages DNA, has estrogenic activity, and causes allergic reactions in some people.
I also like to avoid parabens, artificial fragrance or colour, and vitamin A in my sunscreens. See the EWG website for more info.