Sunscreen, also called suntan lotion or sunblock, is a topical product one applies to protect against sunburn. Sunscreen may be physical or chemical, or a combination of the two. Physical sunscreen (technically sunblock) uses ingredients to physically block UV rays from penetrating the skin. Standard commercial sunscreens use chemicals to filter and absorb a percentage of the sun’s UV rays.
Please keep in mind: when you use sunscreen, you prevent your body from producing Vitamin D. Research by scientists at Nebraska University showed that Vitamin D can reduce cancer by up to 77 percent. In addition, Vitamin D is essential in weight regulation and prevents a whole host of other diseases and disorders. So why would you want to stop your body from producing this essential nutrient?
Toxic Ingredients in Sunscreen
Unfortunately, chemical sunscreens are filled with… well, chemicals. There are several downsides to using these sunscreens: namely, the toxic chemical exposure and the potential risk factor of extended UVA exposure. When a user feels protected, he or she tends to stay out longer. This is not good when the sunscreen does not block cancer-causing UVA rays. Unless the sunscreen is “wide spectrum” or says “protects against UVA and UVB,” it only protects against UVB (the radiation that causes sunburn). In addition, the SPF of the sunscreen only refers to the strength against UVB, not UVA.
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Active ingredients found in many sunscreens may include:
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Mexoryl SX and XL
- Para amino benzoic acid (PABA)
- Retinyl palminate
- Tinosorb S and M
- Uvinul T 150
- Uvinul A Plus
Side Effects of Sunscreen
According to research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), some chemical ingredients in commercial sunscreen can be absorbed, with toxic side effects. EWG tested over 1800 different sunscreens; over 75 percent of them contained toxic ingredients that can cause many ill effects, including cancer.
Since 1978, the FDA has not reviewed the safety of these ingredients. Recently, a government-funded study determined that retinyl palminate, combined with sun exposure, increased the risk of cancer in rats. No human studies have been done to this point, but it’s probably safe to assume you should avoid it.
Some of the ingredients in chemical sunscreen may:
- act like estrogen;
- cause skin irritation;
- cause allergic reactions;
- release free radicals;
- absorb into the bloodstream;
- disrupt hormones; and/or
- cause cancer.
Physical sunblock uses minerals (titanium or zinc) to block the harmful UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin. The sun’s rays bounce off these mineral particles and prevent sunburn. These are safe, as long as the sunblock does not also contain chemical ingredients. Of course, other ingredients in the sunblock can cause allergic reactions, so be vigilant about reading the ingredients list.
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Non Sunscreen Alternatives
It should be noted that the sun does not cause cancer. Over-exposure or extensive, repeated sunburns can cause damage to your skin that may lead to cancerous cells, but that doesn’t mean you should protect yourself from all sun exposure. Instead, exercise moderation and get your body producing Vitamin D to help PROTECT against cancer. An average of 20 minutes of sun exposure each day should be long enough to help you produce and store adequate amounts of Vitamin D. The latitude at which you live, as well as the color of your skin, can affect the amount of exposure you need: people who live in colder climates or those with darker skin need more exposure to produce enough Vitamin D.
There are other things you can do besides wear sunscreen or sunblock. When you eat lots of antioxidant-rich foods, your body arms itself against cancer-causing and aging agents. These foods include Omega-3 oils, Vitamin E (almonds, asparagus, and pumpkin seeds), astaxathin (salmon and fish oil), resveratrol (blueberries, red wine, and red grapes), catechins (white and green tea), and beta-carotene (red bell peppers and carrots).
When you know you’re going to be in the sun all day, there are some things you can do to help reduce your exposure. Wear long sleeves, stay in the shade as much as possible, and use physical sunblock free from chemicals.