But do sunscreens actually do any good? Or do they just allow us to stay in the sun longer, thinking we are protected? And what is in sunscreen, anyway?
The answers to those questions: It depends, probably, and a lot of junk.
It depends because for sunscreens to be effective, they must be applied liberally and routinely after swimming or sweating. Probably because some sunscreens only screen out UVB rays, thereby protecting your skin from signs of sunburn while still allowing the deeper-penetrating UVA rays to wreak their own special brand of havoc in the under layers of your skin. As for the junk, well, there's a good chance that your sunscreen contains chemicals that disrupt hormones, contribute to premature puberty, and raise your risks for different types of cancers.
|Source: Skin Cancer Foundation|
Some quick take-aways:
- Just say no to oxybenzone. It's a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin. Unfortunately, oxybenzone, also called benzophenone-3, is found in 60% of sunscreens in the 500 listed in EWG's database. Even worse, one study found 96% of people tested had levels of oxybenzone in their urine and another study found traces of it in mother's milk, showing that this insidious chemical is finding its way into our bodies and that we can pass it along to our littlest kids. Here's the page with lots of science-y background.
- Create a barrier. The safest sunscreens are those that create a physical barrier against the sun's rays using minerals, such as zinc and titanium. These minerals shield your skin from both UVB and UVA rays but remain on the skin, rather than being absorbed by it. Even better barriers, according to the experts, are long sleeves, hats, and shade.
- Nix the sprays. Sprays and powders put tiny particles of sunscreen into the air, which you (and everyone around you) breathe in. If you don't want those chemicals on your skin, you definitely don't want them in your lungs. Cough, cough.
- Don't wear your vegetables. Vitamin A, which is added to many sunscreens as retinyl palmitate, is actually bad for you when applied on the skin. Research has shown that tumors and lesions develop more quickly on skin coated with creams containing vitamin A.
You can learn a lot more about sunscreens on the EWG web site, including the fact that the FDA has been been drafting sunscreen regulations since...wait for it...1978. So don't hold your breath waiting for the government to provide clear guidelines about these chemicals. Do your own research and take control over what you put on your skin, which after all, is the largest organ of our bodies (despite what some college guys will try to tell you).
Have a great break!