How To Be Sun Smart Naturally
Summer is in full swing, and we are all out enjoying the nice warm weather. We are relishing in our picnics at the beach, our outdoor workouts, pool parks, and long walks in the warm summer evenings. It is easy to remember how dangerous the warm, toasty rays of the glorious sun can be. But you don’t have to sacrifice your fun outdoor activities to be sun smart naturally.
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Did you know that there are two types of sunscreens available?
There are chemical and physical sunscreens on the market, but the higher profit margin for companies lies within the chemical versions. Why? Because they are cheaper to produce and easier to market to consumers who are fearful of leaving their skin health to chance. Chemical sunscreens are made from more complex ingredients created in a laboratory to absorb and neutralize the damaging ultraviolet rays that the sun produces. The most common of these are oxybenzone, avobenzone,
Chemical sunscreens are made from more complex ingredients created in a laboratory to absorb and neutralize the damaging ultraviolet rays that the sun produces. The most common of these are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, Mexoryl, homosalate, octycrylene and octinoxate. (Go check your sunscreen ingredient list now. I’ll wait.)
Physical sunscreens, while still technically chemicals according to the Food and Drug Administration, are made of tiny naturally occurring metal particles found in sand and rocks that block UV radiation by creating a reflective shield. The active ingredients in these physical sunscreens are most commonly titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
The most common concern about sunscreens is if chemical sunscreens can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream¹. Our skin is our largest organ, and is our protective coating, so to speak, so keeping the skin healthy should be a major concern. There have been studies showing trace amounts of the chemical oxybenzone in clinical patients urine about topical application of chemical sunscreens. This means that the chemical is getting absorbed and processed by your body. No one has yet determined the results on how damaging that intake may be, but some scientists suggest that the absorption can create free radicals on the skin that could act as carcinogens and even alter hormone levels, leading to fertility issues.
However, there have also been studies by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review², the FDA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program and the European Union Cosmetics Directive³ showing that oxybenzone has no effect on the human body.
So, there (as usual) and conflicting reports and data. Make your own decision on whether you use oxybenzone for yourself and your family.
Should I Just Not Use Sunscreen?
No matter how dangerous the chemicals in your sunscreen are, the greater risk is unfiltered sun rays and unprotected skin.
Grandma always said that you need sunlight to be healthy…
While it’s true that you can help your body get some vital Vitamin D by spending time outdoors, honestly unprotected exposure is still more dangerous than any vitamin absorption or production your body may experience while in the sun. Making sure that your diet is high in similar bone and immunity strengthening ingredients will garner you much better results than any amount of time in the sun. Make sure your diet includes eggs, fortified milk and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and trout.
So why did Grandma say that? It’s entirely possible that lack of access to these foods created a vitamin deficiency for our forefathers. They nearly always had access to the sun while not having the ability to catch and consume fish and other foods high in vitamin D. Times have changed.
Can I Make Sunscreen At Home?
While you will find recipes and the like online to make your own sunscreen, research (and common sense) warns against it. This is a very complicated and intense process. Keeping the ingredients stable and properly distributed is a science. Would you attempt to make ibuprofen in your kitchen? Sunscreen itself is also technically a chemical compound, or a drug, just like pain relievers. Please leave this to the chemists.
Are There Any Options Other Than the Drugstore?
Sure! There is now clothing available with a built in Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). An example can be seen here. Some other manufacturers are Mott 50, Coolibar, Athleta, Parasol and Patagonia with a UPF 50, or an SPF of 30, which means that the fabric blocks up to 97% of UV rays. Make sure to still use sunscreen on any exposed skin even when wearing a UPF fabric.
Decoding a Sunscreen Label
In 2011, the FDA launched new and updated requirements and regulations on sunscreen labels. Make sure you never purchase a product using the title Sunblock. This is illegal, and you should automatically be concerned about what is in this questionable bottle. Every water-resistant product must include how long they remain effective during swimming or other activities. Make sure you know how long this lasts, and make sure to re-apply at the recommended intervals. Also, make sure you don’t pay more for a product claiming to have over 50 SPF. There is absolutely no increase in effectiveness of a SPF75 or SPF100. So why pay more for something that is not going to be worth more?
What To Know… at the very least
Your best bet for sunscreen purchases are of the physical variety, meaning the ones who’s active ingredients are titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Avoid relying on only your makeup that contains an SPF factor. (Unless you are drastically overapplying, the SPF isn’t truly effective.)
Avoid spray sunscreens- not because they are less effective, but because there is always the risk that you are not getting an even coverage in order to protect your skin. Also, most of these contain avobenzone and/or oxybenzone, so they are not of the “natural” type. Never inhale the product as you apply these, as inhalation of the chemicals is far more dangerous than the possible absorption. Lastly, if you absolutely love the convenience of your spray sunscreen, go ahead and use it… just make sure that you are using more than you need. A single bottle should only last one weekend at the beach.
1. See more from the CDC on this here: http://www.ewg.org/news/testimony-official-correspondence/cdc-americans-carry-body-burden-toxic-sunscreen-chemical