COMMENT: This summer protect yourself from the sun...screen?
As the days get red hot this summer, so does unprotected skin. We’re all taught as kids to lather up when hitting the beach or pool, and we’ve all felt the sting of a bad sunburn after not heeding that advice. Until recently, there haven’t been too many questions asked about what is in the concoction that we that we absorb into our skin to keep us from burning. Some of the new information out there may have you searching for an alternative method to protect yourself.
Studies within the last decade have shown that chemicals found in a large percentage of commercial sunscreens can have serious negative effects on health. These effects range from skin irritation and allergic reactions, to hormone disruption and an increase in skin cancer risk. Most sunscreens block the absorption of Vitamin D into the body. Ironically, it has also been shown that vitamin D deficiency can lead to skin cancer.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an American not-for-profit organization, has compiled a guide based on their research into the different chemicals commonly found in commercial sunscreens. Of these chemicals, one of the most widespread and problematic ones is oxybenzone. The EWG website states, “EWG recommends that consumers avoid oxybenzone because it can penetrate the skin, cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones.” There is also evidence that retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A that is found in many moisturisers and face creams, may speed up the growth of cancerous tumors when put on skin exposed to sunlight. Retinyl palmitate is an active ingredient in many beach and sport sunscreens.
Another issue of interest is the misleading marketing of high SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreens. Higher SPF = better sun protection right? Well, kind of. SPF works by absorbing, reflecting or scattering the sun’s rays on the skin. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks about 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. SPF 50+ only protects marginally better than SPF 30, but with a higher price tag. Higher SPF sunscreens also require more concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals, which, when absorbed into the skin, carry with them a higher risk of the negative effects mentioned earlier.
What consumers may not know, is that SPF doesn’t factor UVA rays into the equation. They can cause skin aging and invisible skin damage. UVA rays also cause DNA damage to cells deep within the skin, increasing the risk of malignant melanomas. A person may get a false sense of security when using a high SPF sunscreen and extend their exposure time, causing potential long term damage.
So what can be done to protect yourself from the suns rays, and sunscreens chemicals? There are many options out there for alternative and natural sunscreens. All of them have their drawbacks, so make sure to do your due diligence in looking into them before experimenting. A popular alternative that has been used for centuries by tropical island tribes is coconut oil. It has an SPF of 10, which blocks about 90% of UVB rays, and it protects against UVA rays. It also allows the body to absorb some of the beneficial rays, which are necessary for vitamin D production.
There are many different combinations of oils that can make up a natural sunscreen. Zinc Oxide, when paired with coconut oil is even more effective. So, the next time you’re buying sunscreen, make sure to have a look for those chemical ingredients, and look into non-toxic, alternative sunscreens. They may just save your skin!
Arlen Maclaine is the lead reporter for the Rossland Telegraph.