With summer quickly approaching (or it’s already here) one of the biggest topics I get asked about is sunscreen. Sun damage, skin cancer, and painful burns are on everyone’s minds as something to prevent, and that’s GOOD because at this point in time it is estimated 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. In case you’re like me and not great at math, those aren’t great odds for something that everyone wants to avoid!
There was an article entitled Excuse Me While I Slather My Kids in Toxic Death… that has been shared a silly number of times over the past few years, and the idea is that there are so many rules to parenting these days (like using non-toxic sunscreen) that the author is fed up. She concludes that everything everywhere is trying to kill us, so why even try?
The first summer I read that article I was all about it, sharing it like everyone else. But now I can’t, and here’s why: yes, we will all die someday of something. If we have options to make safer choices that make it easy to do better, if we have the desire to do better and the capacity to learn what IS better, and if we care deeply about our time here on Earth and desire to make it last and make it count? Well, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to at least try.
So let’s just jump right in to sun care, shall we? I’m going to change up today’s Better Beauty post by doing more of a Q&A of the most frequently asked questions I get when it comes to caring for our skin in the sun.
Q: When it comes to sunscreen I need the highest SPF possible. Right? If I’m wearing SPF 100 there’s NO WAY I could get skin damage or develop cancer…right?
A: Actually, no. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “In vitro tests have shown that SPF 15 sunscreens filter out 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 protects against 97 percent and SPF 50 98 percent.” Essentially using a higher SPF only provides marginally more protection, but is more likely to contain ingredients that you do NOT want on your skin. It can also provide a false sense of security, keeping people from following application and reapplication protocol that would truly protect them from the sun’s rays.
Q: I keep seeing the term “broad-spectrum” and have idea what that means. Is it important?
A: YES, and to know why we need to learn about the actual rays of the sun. First, there’s UVB rays, which are largely responsible for burning the skin and are the largest indicator of skin damage. UVA rays are more undetectable, but penetrate the skin at a deeper level and are not filtered out by the clouds or glass. When a sunscreen claims to be broad-spectrum, it is essentially claiming to block both of these damaging rays. However, there’s now a new ray that is being researched a TON for its roles in even more skin damage and signs of aging – blue light. It’s not only emitting from our screens, it’s literally everywhere (blue light refraction is what makes the sky blue). Blue light rays can be as much of a concern as the other rays because they can break down skin proteins and lipids and cause loss of elasticity, wrinkles and age spots
Q: I have heard a lot about oxybenzone and octinoxate lately. What are those?
A: Those are both ingredients used in a massive number of sunscreens worldwide (3,500+) and have actually both been banned by Hawaii in a groundbreaking new bill. Oxybenzone has been shown to leach the nutrients from coral reef and bleach it white. Additionally it can interfere with the development of fish and other ocean life. Even one drop of sunscreen with these ingredients is enough to cause damage to reef, and 14,000 tons of sunscreen winds up in coral reef every year.
In regards to human safety, they are known toxins with studies that show they are involved in the development of cancer, endocrine and reproductive disruption and DNA mutation.
Q: What kind of sunscreen SHOULD I be using then?
A: The best kinds are going to be sunscreens that block all three of the rays mentioned (UVB, UVA and blue light), that utilize non-nano zinc oxide and that don’t contain other harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, PEG compounds, and synthetic fragrance.
Q: OK so that’s cool and all, but what if I can’t afford the better sunscreens? Or what if I forget to pack the sunscreen and we’re already at the beach/pool/lake/river/etc?
A: One thing to keep in mind is that limiting sun exposure is probably the most effective way to avoid the harmful rays and sun damage in general. Wearing hats, clothing that blocks UVA/UVB rays, sitting under and umbrella or overhang or tree, etc. And truthfully if I was at a location and realized I forgot my sunscreen and/or had no other options? I would probably cut the trip a little short for the day (or go back for the sunscreen). For me it’s not worth risking my health to use products that can do more harm than good, and it’s not worth it for me to play roulette with my kids’ health by using those products either.
As with every time we learn more about chemicals and issues with personal care products, it can be scary. The effects of these ingredients are very very real, and many of us (about 80%) don’t even know that there’s an issue in the first place. When you learn about this stuff you can’t unlearn it, but you CAN choose safer! And thanks to some brands that are doing better you can make smarter choices when it comes to sunscreen. The one thing I would remind you of is the fact that higher SPF doesn’t necessarily mean better, so don’t be afraid to use SPF 30 sunscreens and thoroughly reapply every 60-90 minutes.
Some great sunscreen options:
- Beautycounter sunscreen (options are our new mist, a traditional lotion, and a stick). Out of all the sunscreens on this list this is the only one I know of that blocks UVA/UVB AND blue light rays.
- ATTITUDE 100% Mineral Sunscreen
- California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen
- Adorable Baby Sunscreen Lotion
- True Natural All Natural Sunscreen