Nicholas School Internship Blogs

Shielding Yourself from the Sun with Toxic Sunscreen?
by -- June 21st, 2013

Oh summertime! The time for barbeques, beach parties, fishing, boating and chilling out on the back deck!  Sure, we’ve all been lectured by our parents, doctors and overly health-conscious friends about the importance of using sunscreen during the summer months, but what you probably haven’t seen is a comprehensive analysis of the ingredients in sunscreens and the effects those ingredients may have on your health.  Until now, that is.  Based on the information in the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2013 Guide to Sunscreen, here are the four most shocking facts that stood out to me:

  • Using high-SPF products does NOT equate to superb protection.
  • Many products provide weak protection from UVA radiation.
  • Using sunscreens containing vitamin A (retinol/retinyl palmitate) could promote tumor development.
  • Common chemicals used in sunscreens may cause hormone disruption and skin allergies.

The trouble with high-SPF sunscreens is that they give consumers a false sense of security. People who use products with high-SPF ratings may stay in the sun far longer and reapply sunscreen less often than those using products with low-SPFs. Also, products with higher SPFs contain more sun-filtering chemicals. Without a known health benefit, it is prudent to minimize the use of chemicals that can potentially cause hormonal imbalances, skin allergies and even damage skin! Don’t be fooled and bamboozled into unsafe sun behavior by ads for high-SPF sunscreens.

Under the Food and Drug Administration’s new sunscreen regulations that went into force this year, sunscreens used in the United States and advertised to provide broad-spectrum protection must reduce both UVA and UVB radiation. SPF ratings only measure a sunscreen’s capacity to block the UVB radiation that causes sunburn. But strong UVA protection is also critical because UVA plays a role in causing skin cancer and skin aging. Unbeknownst to the average consumer, many products provide weak UVA protection.

In 2012, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded that exposure to “retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight” (as cited by EWG, 2013). This is really appalling, since vitamin A is used in many anti-aging products across the globe. EWG publicized NTP experiments that showed that lab animals smeared with a cream containing vitamin A and exposed to nine minutes of sunlight daily for a year experienced “dramatic accelerations” in tumor growth (as cited by EWG, 2013).

Shocked yet? There’s more.

Oxybenzone, a chemical found in about half of all sunscreens, has the ability to “penetrate the skin, cause allergic reactions and may disrupt hormones” (as cited by EWG, 2013). This is worrisome because preliminary epidemiologic studies suggest that elevated levels of oxybenzone may be linked to endometriosis and low birth weight in girls (as cited by EWG, 2013). Equally alarming was a study that found oxybenzone and other sunscreen chemicals in mothers’ breast milk. These findings could have troubling implications for the development of the fetus and newborns.

Does this information have you totally freaked out and enraged? No worries. The Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen guide offers suggestions of safe sunscreen brands, their availability in stores near you, pricing and more details on toxic ingredients. Check out their site http://www.ewg.org/2013sunscreen/!

In the meantime, STAY INFORMED. Here is EWG’s list of what to AVOID:

  • Avoid sunscreens with SPFs above 50.
  • Avoid products with retinol/retinyl palmitate,
  • Avoid oxybenzone.
  • Avoid spray sunscreens.
  • Avoid loose powder sunscreens.
  • Avoid combined sunscreen/bug-repellents.
  • Avoid tanning oils
    • Avoid sunscreen towelettes.

 

Most of all, EWG advises people not to rely on sunscreen alone but to make sunscreen use a part of a sun protection strategy that includes covering up and seeking shade.

Based on the information presented here, I plan on using Yes to Cucumbers’ sunscreen stick. How about you? 🙂

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Kenneth Revere
    Jun 27, 2013

    Very informative. Even though I don’t use sunscreen that often, It is great to have useful knowledge about what I should look for in sunscreen if I happen to come across a situation where I needed it. Very helpful for sunscreen shopping for my wife as well. Great Article! 🙂

    • Brit'ny J. Hawkins
      Jul 7, 2013

      Thanks KJ! Let me know what Shanieda thinks!

  2. Cassandra James
    Jul 1, 2013

    Wow!!! Very interesting. I’m an avid sunscreen user and enjoy being out in the sun. I was under the impression higher SPF = HIGHER PROTECTION. Wonderful and helpful article.

    • Brit'ny J. Hawkins
      Jul 7, 2013

      Thanks so much for the support Mrs. Cassandra! I am so happy the informational was beneficial for you! Be on the lookout for more blogs posts soon!

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