You put on sunscreen because it is important for your skin’s health, right? In this day and age of skin cancer, most of us have been taught to wear sunscreen daily, especially on our faces, in all weather and all seasons.
Lately, however, some concerns have been raised regarding the safety of the sunscreen itself. Just what’s in that sunscreen, and is it safe?
For years we have been told that exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause skin cancer. Ironically, though, moderate sun exposure may actually prevent the development of certain types of cancer, and the chemicals in sunscreens may increase your risk of skin cancer.
One of the concerns is that certain chemicals in sunscreens produce free radicals, and the formation of free radicals is strongly implicated in cancer. Free radicals cause cellular damage, and cancer is, essentially, the proliferation of damaged cells.
Chemicals of Concern
* Titanium oxide is a reflective substance that is not absorbed by the skin, which is why it has historically been used alongside zinc oxide as a sunscreen. However, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, titanium oxide may be a human carcinogen.
* Nanoparticles are extremely small versions of chemicals like titanium or zinc oxide, but they are manufactured, not naturally occurring. The use of nanoparticles (or nanoscale particles) is what makes clear sunscreen possible. The nanoscale is so small that it is measured in nanometers – one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Such a small scale raises concerns about increased absorbability through the skin.
* Oxybenzone, an endocrine hormone disruptor, is readily absorbed through the skin. It is, however, approved by the FDA for use in sunscreens. Thankfully, the sunscreen industry is moving away from including this chemical in their sunscreens. However, some manufacturers still use it and older sunscreens are more likely to have it. So check the ingredients in that years-old bottle of sunscreen in the back of your bathroom cabinet!
* Parabens and fragrances are common ingredients in sunscreens that have raised health concerns.
What You Can Do
Some sources note that human beings have been living and working out under the sun for millennia, and suggest the rise in skin cancer cases is due to the use of sunscreens rather than increased exposure to ultraviolet light. Regardless of your views on sun exposure, if you want to protect yourself from excessive sunlight, there are things you can do that do not involve chemicals.
1. Wear hats and loose, light-colored, cotton clothing that covers exposed skin while still keeping you cool.
2. Carry a small umbrella or parasol – remember the pale complexions so prized in Victorian times? Ladies of those days did not have sunscreens, but carried shade-making parasols. They are still available today, or you can use an umbrella.
3. Consider natural, mineral sunscreens that contain little more than zinc oxide for your family. There are organic sunscreens available that are biodegradable and do not contain synthetic materials. Your local health food store is a good place to start, and many online companies offer organic sunscreens.
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