When the brown foliage of winter begins to turn green, humans begin spending more time outdoors. Spring and summer signal all sorts of activities, such as gardening, reading outdoors, outdoor sports and exercise, as well as spending time on the beach, by the pool, or on the river. This is also the time when the local Wal-Mart boasts a huge section dedicated to one product: sunscreen.
People are inundated with choices and advertisements about how to keep their skin safe from the sun. We’ve all heard of how the sun causes melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer, and we believe we must arm ourselves with the best sunscreen to keep our skin healthy. In general, sunscreens are marketed to consumers as the best prevention for skin cancers and premature aging caused by sun exposure.
Yet, many of the sunscreen manufacturers market their products to consumers in varying ways such as claiming that the high number of SPF (sun protection factor) in their sunscreen makes it the best option to protect your skin. And others tout that their UVA plus UVB protection is the right combo to keep your skin youthful and cancer free. The problem is that these claims are confusing and exaggerated, if not completely false.
The biggest problem with most of the sunscreens available on the shelves is that they offer very little protection for the skin from all broad-spectrum rays and people stay in the sun for prolonged periods because of the false feeling of protection.
Most of the mainstream sunscreens help to prevent sunburn because they block UVB rays which cause the skin to burn. An issue here is that the only cancer caused by sunburn is squamous-cell carcinoma (SCC), and it only accounts for sixteen percent of skin cancers. But most do not protect from UVA rays, which go through the barrier of the skin and create free radicals in the body. Therefore, while some sunscreens may offer protection from SCC, users are still vulnerable to cancers such as melanoma, which come from UVA rays.
Another puzzling fact is the SPF that seems to increase each year. Data shows that it is misleading to use sunscreens with SPF over 50 because the protection level does not actually increase and there are not any real benefits.Also, the minimum SPF should be 15 instead of SPF 4 or any very low number. There is also very little data that demonstrates the ability of sunscreen to prevent any type of skin cancer without other methods implemented in order to protect people. Therefore, people run the risk of sun damage when the only method they use to protect themselves while in the sun is sunscreen, especially the mainstream brands available at most stores.
Another problem with many of the sunscreens available today is the inclusion of vitamin A. Vitamin A, such as retinol, is often found in skin care products that claim to help reduce the signs of aging in people.
On the labels of these products is often a warning to stay out of the sun while the retinol is on the skin. Vitamin A is included in approximately 40% of mainstream brands of sunscreen available. The reason vitamin A is a hazardous ingredient in sunscreens is because it may increase the growth of cancer cells with prolonged sun exposure. There is no reason that this vitamin should be included in sunscreens and this is a huge cause for consumer concern when purchasing sun protection.
As with vitamin A, there is another vitamin that sun exposure effects, but in this case it is something that people need to obtain from the sun. It is very important to get enough vitamin D, yet many people are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is important for bone health, to keep depression at bay, and it helps protect against some cancers. Exposure to sunlight is the best source for vitamin D. Sunscreen prevents most absorption of vitamin D from sunlight into the body. It’s important to spend at least ten minutes outdoors without wearing sunscreen in order to get vitamin D or to take a high quality supplement.
The ingredient list of most sunscreens is also something of concern to consumers who want to protect their skin. There are many chemical additives and preservatives included in most brand name sunscreens. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters and are believed to be linked to hormonal disorders.
Chemical ingredients to avoid in sunscreens are anything with the word paraben, such as methyl paraben or butyl paraben. Also avoid products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient in sunscreens because the ingredients of the fragrance used are not disclosed and could be very harmful chemicals. Oxybenzone is found in many sunscreens which is a known allergen for some people and may also cause hormonal problems in people when absorbed through the skin.
Always choose sunscreens that do not contain aforementioned vitamin A, which may be listed as retinol or retinylpalmitate, and be sure to avoid much contact with the sun when using any products that contain either. Petroleum oils and alcohols are also chemicals to avoid when choosing a sunscreen. This list probably seems long and you may find it difficult to find a brand name sunscreen that does not list at least one or two of these chemicals.
Spray-on sunscreens are also something to avoid when choosing the right sunscreen. In general, people do not use enough of the sunscreen to get protection. It is important that people apply them thick and rub them in, but most users are not doing this. They also may contain toxic fumes, so it is very important to avoid inhaling them when you spray.
Yet, this is easier said than done considering that the wind can blow the fumes directly into your face (and some people spray the sunscreens on their faces or their child’s face in order to get coverage in that area). Also, you must be particularly careful around flames because these spray sunscreens are very flammable which could mean big problems under certain circumstances, such as a 4th of July barbeque pit!
In an effort to avoid using harsh chemicals, many people opt for sunscreens that are made primarily from minerals such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. This seems like a wise option because most people associate the word “mineral” with natural. Yet, these sunscreens contain nanoparticles, particles that are very small which allow the sunscreen to rub into the skin rather than being chalky and laying on top of the skin. Nanoparticles are dangerous when inhaled and may cause problems if they are unstable. Mineral sunscreens have proven to be a better option than chemical laden sunscreens, but there is still some risk associated with them.
There are many studies that demonstrate the risk with conventional sunscreens yet many of these toxic sunscreens still reside on the shelves of retail stores.Some of the studies that demonstrate the dangers associated with sunscreen were done by the FDA. One example was a study done by coating lab animals with vitamin A and exposing them to sunlight. The test animals developed skin tumors and lesions at a higher rate than animals without the vitamin A.
Many researchers are performing studies to find what sunscreen prevents and what it does not prevent. A study done in 2011 examining Australian citizens who spend a lot of time in the sun, showed that with a combination of SPF 15 sunscreen and wearing protective clothing these people reduced their risk of developing melanoma.
Yet there are many studies that show that sunscreen alone is not effective at preventing melanoma and while under the faulty protective veil of sunscreen, people often increase their risk by staying in the sun for longer periods of time. An abundance of research is done by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This organization offers a tremendous amount of information regarding the toxicity of different sunscreens and concludes which sunscreens are the least toxic as well as which are most effective.
Navigating through the sunscreen aisle at Wal-Mart is likely to leave an informed consumer at a loss for something to purchase for adequate sun protection. This predicament is worsened because purchases are often made at the last minute typically when people are en route to an all-day event in the sun. This leaves consumers little room for choice and pressure to “just buy something.” If you want to make the best choice for your body, then purchasing sunscreen is something that should be done with careful thought and planning.
The EWG has a list that reveals the safest and most effective sunscreen brands, but many of these must be purchased at specialty stores or online. Badger, All Terrain, and California Baby are three brands that have a selection of products that are rated high for safety on ewg.org. Browse through this website to locate the product that meets your needs for cost, availability, and efficacy when choosing a sunscreen. After you have chosen the best sunscreen for you and your family, don’t forget to apply it to your lips, earlobes, and your feet because these areas can accrue a lot of sun damage even when the rest of the body is protected.
Sunscreen is not the only way to protect from sun damage and skin cancer that is caused by broad-spectrum rays. A very effective way to help mitigate sun exposure is to eat an antioxidant rich diet. Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals which, as previously mentioned, are created by UVA sun rays and are the cause of melanoma and other skin cancers. Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants, as well as many other fruits and green leafy vegetables. Taking the supplement astaxanthin, which contains fat-soluble carotenoids, helps to increase the natural sun resistance already present in skin cells.
Many natural oils and plant extracts help to strengthen and protect the body from the sun when they are used regularly. Some of these include coconut oil, neem oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E. Each can protect the skin and repair some of the damage done by overexposure to the sun.In addition to creams and oils, protective clothing and hats are good ways to protect from sun damage. When at the beach, it may be wise to bring an umbrella to relax under instead of lying directly in the rays.
Most of these practices will help prevent or reverse damages done from the strong rays of the summer sun, but the best option is to practice them together in order to get the most protection. Purchase a natural, highly-rated sunscreen, wear a hat or sit under an umbrella, and eat a diet rich in antioxidants to circumvent the powerful effects of too much sunshine. Also, add a natural moisturizer made with some healthy oils into your routine, especially during the sunny, summer months. Lastly, don’t forget the benefits of getting enough sunshine and always allow your body to absorb the all-important vitamin D.
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice.
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