Get Out There

Picking the Best, Safest Sunscreen

It might seem late in the season to be discussing sunscreen. But the sunny weather isn’t going anywhere. And, when the days start to cool off, people spend more time outdoors. Even on overcast days, sunscreen is essential outdoors because UV rays can still damage your skin.

Someone on our social media team recently had an interesting interaction with her brother. When going out for the day, she offered the man sunscreen, and he said, “No thanks; I’ve heard that stuff can be really dangerous. I’ll take my chances with the sun.”

The statement might sound pretty out there to ardent fans of sunscreen. But how often do we learn about things we thought were healthy that turn out to be hazardous? He’s got a point. Some sunscreens might not be as healthy as you would expect.

Oxybenzone, for instance, is found in many sunscreens. It’s known to cause cancer in rats, is suspected of being a hormone disruptor in humans and is readily absorbed through the skin. The chemicals from sunscreen can build up in your blood, staying in your system for three weeks. If you use it daily, that compounds the problem. The FDA has safety levels for chemicals in sunscreen like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate. If you use them frequently, you will quickly be over the safe limit.

We slather these ingredients on our skin, but many of these chemicals haven’t been adequately tested,” said Carla Burns, Environmental Working Group (EWG) senior director for cosmetic science. “Despite the known toxicity concerns, oxybenzone is still widely used as a non-mineral active ingredient in sunscreens. The long-term use of these chemicals, and especially chemicals not adequately tested for safety, could be problematic.”

Most sunscreens contain one or more chemicals the FDA says need more research. “We found only 25 percent of sunscreens on the market offer good broad-spectrum protection without troublesome chemical ingredients,” said Emily Spilman, Healthy Living Science program manager for the EWG.

The EWG tested 1,700 sunscreen products for their 17th Annual Guide to Safer Sunscreen. The good news is that in 2019, oxybenzone was in 60 percent of predicts; now, it’s only in six percent. The bad news is they only recommended 229 products for days spent playing in the sun, 51 for children and babies and 128 for daily use.

Mineral sunscreens have been mocked for leaving white streaks on the skin. But the fact that they don’t skin into the skin is a good thing! You don’t want to absorb it.

The brands Beautycounter, ATTITUDE and Babo Botanicals came out on top for safety and efficacy. Well-known names like Banana Boat, Neutrogena, Australian Gold and many others failed.

Still, it is important to remember that the sun is dangerous. “Any sunscreen is better than none,” says Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). “We know that the sun can you give you cancer. There is thus far no proven data that says sunscreens can give you cancer.”

We don’t like the ingredients in many sunscreens but go with them if it’s them or nothing. You can buy safer stuff later. Don’t swear off sunscreen because a brand isn’t as safe as we would like.

You can review the complete list that the EWG recommended here. If you are in the supermarket and don’t have access to the list, you can remember some rules. Pick a mineral sunscreen, not one that is “mineral-based.” Mineral-based ones may be mixed with chemicals. Be sure to read the ingredients. Don’t buy ones with phthalates, sodium laureth sulfate or stuff ending in “-paraben.” A sunscreen can have mineral active ingredients and still have harmful additives.

We all want to stay safe this summer. We can protect ourselves from the sun and harmful chemicals with some knowledge. It’s worrying to think that something as innocuous as Banana Boat can be dangerous. But it’s best to know what’s in your sunscreen so you can have fun in the sun safely!    

Banner: Kindel Media via Pexels

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