Summer is upon us. Kids are soon to be out of school. Barbecue units are being dusted off, or loaded up in the back of trucks and taken home from Home Depot. Flowers have bloomed, the lawns have been cut, some kid has drunk from a water hose. So what about those sunscreen ingredients and what is the best natural sunscreen?
How was that for a fancy introduction? I felt good about it. One thing which has bothered me about summer for all my life is that summer is also the introduction of massive sunscreen and sunblock marketing. The truth is, I’ve rarely in my life worn sunscreen and I’ve spent a lot of time in the sun. I’ve likely pushed the limits of my sun exposure, no doubt, by hanging out in some of the more intense sun exposure times without cover. I was a bit of a sun rebel, I suppose you could say.
But something never made sense to me. I never could understand why the sun was such a villainous monster. The sun, which fuels the earth with life. The sun, without which we’d all be dead, is apparently (and ironically) killing us on a massive level. But I suppose, there are plants which grow from the earth that nourish us, and others that can potentially kill us. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is good.
But the sun?
I was told for years that my only defense from falling victim to the devastating effects of the sun was to slather on this creamy oil stuff known as sunblock and sunscreen. I could even choose my levels of sun I’d prefer blocked. Now THAT’S fancy.
Wait, are you telling me not to wear sunscreen or sunblock? No, I’m not. More than 2 million people are diagnosed with a form of skin cancer every year. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a guy putting my intuition out there to the great big world. Skin cancer incidents are increasing on an annual basis. You need to figure out what your best approach to the situation is. You need to consult your doctor.
My issue with sunscreens has always been, what the heck is in them and is that going into my skin? There is a lot of science that says what we put on our skin ends up inside of our bodies. And lo and behold, a study derived from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Manitoba, Canada, attempted to figure out how much sunscreen chemicals penetrate into our bodies.
The study demonstrated that significant amounts of sunscreen ingredients penetrated the skin. The researchers performed urine tests to determine how much of the sunscreen’s ingredients were penetrating into the body. Again, according to the study, “clinical study demonstrate significant penetration of all sunscreen agents into the skin.” That’s not my intuition speaking candidly, that’s a study for your reference.
Sunscreen Ingredients (let’s talk about that)
One study may not be enough to say with absolute confidence that sunscreen ingredients penetrate the skin into the body. But at this point, we’d be amiss not acting under the idea that they are. I don’t rub anything on my skin and assume it’s not going to penetrate my body.
Naturally, this leads us to ask the questions, what are sunscreen ingredients?
Well, sit back and make sure your coffee is hot and full (and maybe with some cinnamon in it) because things are about to get real. Using the Environmental Working Group’s research as a reference, we can break down every sunscreen ingredient and relate it to what toxicity effect it may have. The following ingredients, according to the EWG, are 9 FDA approved ingredients used in major sunscreen brands.
Sunscreen Ingredients To Avoid?
The two bad ones.
Oxybenzone: An EWG hazard score of 8. This chemical is known to act the same as estrogen does in the human body. It has been shown to alter animal sperm levels. Oh, it is also associated with endometriosis. It is linked to higher rates of skin allergies. It has been found in breast milk via penetration through skin.
Octinoxate or Octylmethoxycinnamate: Animal studies have shown thyroid, reproductive system and behavioral changes. Moderately linked to skin allergies.
Still bad, but maybe not AS BAD.
Homosalate: Found to be disruptive to estrogen, progesterone, androgen. Found in breast milk.
Octisalate: Penetrates skin, but no solid proof it has any disruptive effects on the human body.
Octocrylene: Found in breast milk via penetration. No solid proof of disruptive effects on the human body.
Two more sunscreen ingredients are listed to have “inhalation concerns,” but no evidence is shown either way in terms of toxicity. There are many more ingredients, all of which you can find on the EWG’s list, however, I chose to focus only on the potential main culprits.
Now, here’s the thing. This all comes down to your comfort and trust levels. I trust FDA approved chemicals like I trust swallowing nails. I don’t. Hopefully, you got that. But that’s just me and my personal phobias which are deeply empirical resulting from my own experiences.
Skin Cancer Rates and Sunscreen Use
Ah, now the biggie. Let’s start with the million dollar question: what the heck causes skin cancer? The answer is, no one seems to know. Therefore, in a way, the sun becomes the villain. Skin cancer and melanoma are drastically rising, yet the real causes seem elusive. But here’s some potential factors: Your family’s DNA or history, you have freckles, you get severe sunburns, you use tanning beds, you have a fair version of skin. There are definitely a number of preventable actions in this list, which is great. You don’t have to use a tanning bed (I sure hope that you don’t). No reason to get a severe sunburn (see below).
But you are a slave to your skin tone and your DNA. Not much room to negotiate there.
But then comes that good old “conspiracy theory.” According to IBSWorld, the sunscreen market is exploding. It generates $394 million annually.
The FDA, in 2012, began to creep around the sunscreen industry, most likely due to “conspiracy theories” that sunscreens WERE the elusive contributor to rising skin cancer rates. They essentially regulated what type of claims sunscreen manufacturers could make. In other words, “with proper use, sunscreen use may help lower cancer risk.”
The conspiracy, of course, is that the rise of skin cancer coincides with the rise in sunscreen use. I didn’t want to knock you over the head with such obvious narrative.
Over the course of the past few years, sunscreen manufacturers and mainstream media have been on the defensive, attempting to cut losses. In 2016, a Reuters article essentially admitted that sunscreen may, at the very least, be ineffective (this isn’t saying they cause harm directly, more that they cause harm indirectly by making people feel “safe” from the sun’s potential effects). And they have a lot of experts telling people not to give up on sunscreen.
Like this one.
“Lack of high quality experimental evidence should not be equated with evidence that such interventions are ineffective and it is important that patients and consumers do not stop protecting their skin until better quality evidence emerges,” lead authors Dr. Ingrid Arevalo-Rodriguez and Dr. Guillermo Sanchez of the Instituto de Evaluacion Technoloica en Salud in Bogota, Colombia told Reuters Health by email.
The article would also go on to claim that an Australian study found no signifigant difference between sunscreen users and non-sunscreen users in terms of developing skin cancer. It was a small study done on 1,600 people.
How do I Protect Myself From The Sun?
So the big bad sun is out there, looming and lurking, waiting to pounce on me and destroy me. And what am I doing? It sure sounds like a lot of nothing. Well, that’s not exactly true.
No, I don’t think the sun is a big bad monster. But maybe there is something to the fear.
I spent a lot of my youth not caring about the sun. I’m in my mid-40s now. I’ve not knowingly had any skin issues as a result. But that doesn’t mean I won’t. However, sunscreen has nothing to do with my protective measures. My common sense tells me that if the sun is blazing at 3 pm on a summer day, it might be best to cover up. I wear long sleeves, hats, even my jeans. I tend to bare more during morning or evening hours because I do think I need some naturally produced vitamin D.
Natural Sunscreen Alternatives
There are two rays of note: UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA are said to cause both skin cancer and wrinkles. UVB rays are said to cause sunburn. So really, if you want to make use of natural sunscreen options, you’d need to find ingredients which block these rays.
Titanium oxide and zinc oxide are both said to do just that. They are said to create a wall that blocks out these two types of potentially harmful rays.
Here’s one you could order right now that’s a heavy zinc oxide base.
Badger Damascus Rose FaceSunscreen
This product is essentially made up of 14% uncoated zinc oxide.
Here’s a link to their website, but with summer coming up, they are out of stock. You can set notifications and they will let you know when they get more in stock. You can find it on Amazon, but in all honestly, you pay about $13 more. Thing is, though, you have to decide when the manufacturer will actually get it in. You could order on Amazon here and then set up the notifications.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Sunscreen
Vitamin D deficiency is a real thing. I really bad thing. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to lots of various cancers. Yes, you can supplement with vitamin D (here), but the purest form of vitamin D production in the body is a result of the sun. That’s just a known fact. So does sunscreen contribute to the widespread vitamin D deficiency issues we currently have? I’ll opt to not answer that.
If vitamin D deficiency is found in a great many cancer diagnosis and sunscreen were to prevent sun exposure, might we have more logic to play with?
I would hope this article didn’t come off as a form of fear mongering. That was not the intention. But maybe it can serve as a healthy conversation starter.
Photo by planetc1