Protect Yourself From the Sun, Not Your Sunscreen

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Check your sunscreen label. If the active ingredients include one or more of the chemicals listed in this article, you need to look into a mineral based alternative.

In 1927, 12,745 physicians endorsed smoking Lucky StrikeĀ® cigarettes as a healthful activity; by 1999 smoking-related illness had become the number one cause of death in United States. Similarly, the rate of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has been on the rise since the first sunscreen arrived on the market in the late 1960’s. Worldwide, the greatest rise in melanoma has been experienced in countries where chemical based sunscreens have been heavily promoted.

While it is important to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it may be just as important to protect yourself from the chemicals used in most sunscreens. Chemical-based sunscreens include ingredients that absorb UV radiation from the sun. These chemicals get into the skin and absorb UV radiation which leads to free radical release. Free radicals can damage cells and are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and aging.

Health-related U.S. government agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all have important information about potential dangers of these chemicals.

The good news is avoiding chemical-based sunscreens may be easier than you think. Below is a list of some potentially dangerous sunscreen chemicals.

Oxybenzone Oxybenzone is a chemical that can be absorbed by the body and mimic or block hormones thereby disrupting their normal functions. Oxybenzone was found in 96.8% of human urine samples analyzed as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2008. The same study found a lower birth weight in baby girls whose mothers were exposed to Oxybenzone during pregnancy.

Oxybenzone is a photo-carcinogen, a chemical that can potentially cause cancer when exposed to light. Known as a powerful free radical generator, oxybenzone is used to destabilize chemicals in a number of industrial processes. In addition Oxybenzone has been known to trigger photo-allergic reactions. These allergic reactions are caused by exposure to UV radiation.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization that specializes in environmental research and advocacy, identified nearly 600 sunscreens sold in the U.S. that contain Oxybenzone, including leading brand names like Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone, and Banana Boat, and many facial moisturizers as well.

Avobenzone Similar to Oxybenzone, Avobenzone is a chemical that absorbs UV radiation and is easily absorbed through the skin, potentially releasing free radicals. Avobenzone has been shown to degrade significantly in light, resulting in less UV protection over time.

Octocrylene According to recent studies, Octocrylene, causes bleaching in the algae that lives on coral, often killing the entire structure. The UN World Trade Organization estimates 78 million tourists visit coral reefs each year, releasing between 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen into the water. Several marine reserves in Mexico have banned sunscreens that use oils and chemical ingredients.

Octinoxate

The little amount of data on Octinoxate noted estrogenic effects as well as disruption of the thyroid hormone and brain signaling. Estrogenic effects can potentially increase cancers, cause birth defects in children, and cause fertility and other developmental problems.

Homosalate

Homosalate is a penetration enhancer that may promote the absorption of other harmful chemicals. Very little data exist on the effects of homosalate exposure, but preliminary data has found it to be a possible carcinogen.

Octisalate

Alone, octisalate may not be harmful. However, similar to homosalate, octisalate is a penetration enhancer and may promote the penetration of other harmful chemicals.

Solution

Although these reports are alarming, safer sunscreens do exist. Most physicians continue to support the use of sunscreen, but now advocate using physical barrier sunscreens instead of chemical based sunscreens. Rather than absorbing into the skin, a physical barrier sunscreen reflects or scatters UV radiation. It’s like wearing millions of tiny mirrors. Most physical barrier sunscreens contain either zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Click on any of the sunscreen ads located in this blog to purchase a safe and healthy sunscreen.

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