FOR YOUR HEALTH: The Skinny on Sunscreen
Plus, Four Tips for a Sun-Safe Summer
Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. But your forearms may not benefit from just any sunscreen. Many of the products on the market today may include harmful chemicals. And it now appears that some popular chemical-based sunscreens may actually increase the risk for certain types of cancer by generating free radicals.
For example, oxybenzone, a common compound found in many brands of sunscreen, is a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and may inhibit healthy cell growth and increase the absorption of other chemicals through the skin and into the bloodstream.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), oxybenzone is also linked to hormone disruption and low birth weight in babies, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that over 97 percent of the U.S. population is affected by oxybenzone.
In their 2011 Annual Sunscreen Report, the EWG also recommends avoiding retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A derivative commonly used in about 30 percent of chemical-based sunscreens. In a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers concluded that retinyl might speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin and introduced to sunlight.
Fortunately, at Sprouts you will find many natural alternatives to chemical-based sunscreens. We offer an array of sunscreens that use minerals and other natural ingredients to protect the skin from sun damage. The FDA enforces very strict guidelines on sunscreen, with a list of acceptable active ingredients. In the past, this has been an obstacle for natural sunscreen manufacturers, as there are only a few FDA-approved natural ingredients on that list, but many chemical ingredients.
Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, sun-deflecting minerals that help protect against UVA and UVB rays and are commonly found in natural sunscreens, are FDA-approved, and have recently come into common use. Most natural sunscreens, such as Aubrey's Natural Sun SPF 30+, also contain other ingredients like emollient oils and botanicals to offer further protection while nourishing and moisturizing the skin.
Natural sunscreen manufacturers also work hard to produce safe, non-toxic products that go on smooth without the streaky, white mess that was typical with natural sunscreens of yesteryear.
"Colorless sunscreen is important to consumers these days. They don't want the white noses but they still need the protection," said Karen Ress, Aubrey Organics, Executive Director National Sales. "This can happen when using zinc, but Aubrey has made a great product that goes on evenly without the white mess."
Use Sunscreen Early and Often
The first step to sun-protected skin is easy: simply slather on a generous amount of sunscreen. Use an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher, thirty minutes before heading outdoors, and be sure to reapply at least every two hours while out in the sun. According to the American Cancer Society, we don't apply enough sunscreen and we don't apply it often enough. Be sure to heed the ""every two-hour rule"" and use a shot glass-sized amount (about an ounce) of sunscreen each time. Apply more frequently if your outdoor activities involve swimming or sweating. Strenuous activities or sports that involve water reduce sunscreen's effectiveness and longevity, leaving you in danger of unhealthy sun exposure. You'll also want to reapply more frequently if you are outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Consider All Terrain AquaSport, a natural sunscreen ideal for active lifestyles. AquaSport is sweat/water-resistant and is proven effective even after 80 minutes in the water.
And keep this in mind: the SPF rating applies only to UVB rays and not UVA rays, which are also known to contribute to skin cancer. According to the EWG, three out of five sunscreens offer inadequate UVA protection. So to be sure you have full-spectrum protection, check the labels and look for a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen that offers protection from both kinds of damaging rays. Full-spectrum sunscreens found at Sprouts include those by Badger, MyChelle, All Terrain, Aubrey Organics and several others.
Sunscreen is NOT a Beach or Poolside Exclusive
Sun damage can occur anytime you're outside and exposed to the sun, even on a cloudy day. Incidental exposure can occur when hanging out at the park, walking your dog, jogging in your neighborhood, driving in your car (as the windows provide only minimal filtering) or just browsing your local outdoor farmers market. In fact, most exposure occurs throughout the year, in every season, adding up to increased risk for skin damage and skin cancer.
Don't be fooled and think that your t-shirt will protect you from the sun's harmful rays. Although a hat and a shirt can provide some sun protection, the average white cotton T-shirt offers only about 50 to 80 minutes of protection, provided that all body parts are covered.
Sunscreen and Beyond: Four Tips for a Sun-Safe Summer
- Find shade...or make it. Picnic under a tree, bring an umbrella, set up a canopy, or simply avoid the sun. If your schedule is flexible, enjoy the outdoors early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to avoid the strongest rays. UV radiation peaks at midday, when the sun is directly overhead.
- Choose a natural sunscreen. Look for mineral-based protection made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and avoid oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (sometimes listed as vitamin A) since they might increase the risk for health problems.
- Eat to boost your skin's natural protective properties. Add key antioxidants to your diet to help increase the body's production of natural sunscreen.
- Tomatoes and tomato products contain lycopene, shown to reduce the risk of sunburn.
- Carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash are an excellent source of beta-carotene, another antioxidant with skin-protecting properties.
- Watermelon, apricots, strawberries, and blueberries provide an abundance of antioxidants that help to increase the skin's resistance to sun damage.
To make it easy: just choose fruits and veggies that are rich in color, and eat lots of them!
- Fake it! Self-tanning gels, sprays, and lotions have come a long way from their orangey and streaky beginnings. Check out Alba Botanica's Sunless Tanning Lotion, available in the Sprouts Health and Beauty Department. This moisturizing lotion will give you a healthy golden glow without the harmful effects of the sun. Keep in mind that even with a "fake" tan, you still need to apply sunscreen when you'll be exposed to the sun.
For more information, see the Environmental Working Group sunscreen list .from the July, 2011 edition of Fresh Off the Press