Summer is underway! It’s time to get outside and enjoy everything the outdoors has to offer from swimming to camping to reading a book in a hammock. But before you dash outside, remember to slather on the sunscreen.
Sunscreen Protection is Mandatory
There should be no argument that the most important product of the summer is sunscreen. In fact, many beauty experts say sunscreen is an absolute necessity all year long to provide protection against the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays.
There are two main types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB. Both can damage the skin, cause premature aging, and increase your risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen decreases the risks of these and other skin issues as well as guards against sun damage.
Safe Sun Behavior
Sunburns and sun damage are no joke. Do as much as you can to shield yourself from UV rays whether you're spending the whole day by the beach or pool, or just going about your everyday errands.
That means applying, and reapplying, sunscreen.
You might be thinking, “I already know all this and I already use sunscreen.” That’s great, but have you given some thought to what's in your sunscreen? Not all sunscreen is created equal. And there are definitely ingredients that you never want to see in your sunscreen. Many have chemicals in their product that aren’t actually safe for you or the environment.
Types of Sunscreens
There are really two groups of sunscreens: chemical and mineral. Each works differently in protecting from UV exposure.
- Chemical sunscreens soak into the skin and absorb UV rays, preventing UVB rays from causing sunburns, but unfortunately, they still allow UVA rays to reach those deeper layers and do damage
- Mineral sunscreen ingredients (like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) that form a barrier on top of the skin and reflect UV rays, preventing UVA rays from finding their way to deeper layers
What You Should Know About Chemicals in Sunscreen
The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDa) oversees sunscreen safety. The latest research by the FDA shows that chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the body and can linger in the system for days and, sometimes, weeks, causing health concerns.
The FDA named six chemicals as the worst offenders. These six have the potential danger of absorption through the skin and a possible negative effect on hormone levels. This information should be used to help you decide on which sunscreen to put in your cart and take home to your family.
Check out this more detailed information on the six most harmful chemicals:
The most worrisome sunscreen active ingredient is oxybenzone. Scientific research leaves no doubt that is easily absorbed through the skin and may disrupt hormone levels. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), this is the ingredient most likely to trigger an allergic reaction. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents it’s best to not use sunscreens with oxybenzone on their kids.
Oxybenzone is of such concern, it is banned in Hawaii to help protect underwater resources. Studies show that sunscreen washes off our bodies and that ingredients like oxybenzone attack the ocean’s coral reefs, harming their growth and health.
- Avobenzone. Not only does this chemical penetrate the skin, but avobenzone has also been found to be an eye irritant and allergen. It is also unstable in the presence of UV light, meaning it breaks down when exposed to sunlight, so it doesn’t offer great sun protection.
- Octocrylene. When used as a synthetic (man-made) UV absorber, octocrylene penetrates the skin and gets absorbed into the body, which can lead to health issues.
- This very common sunscreen ingredient may have unwanted side effects. The FDA limits homosalate to less than 10 percent in sunscreen formulas because it can accumulate in the body faster than it can be eliminated.
- Octisalate. In published research, this chemical has been linked to red, itchy rash, referred to as allergic contact dermatitis.
- Octinoxate. Similar to these other chemicals, octinoxate doesn’t just stay on top of your skin to protect you from damaging sun rays, it is readily absorbed into the bloodstream and has a negative impact on the environment. Octinoxate is banned in several states and countries because it is toxic to many species of marine life.
Other Ingredients in Sunscreen You’ll Want to Avoid
- Fragrances. Many of us want a pleasant smell when deciding on sunscreen. Who doesn’t love the aroma of coconuts or citrus to remind us of summer beach days? Unfortunately, the majority of sunscreen products contain chemically produced fragrances. This often results in allergic reactions on the skin, along with headaches, allergies, dizziness, and rashes. And no one wants to feel this way at the pool or lake.
- Silicones. Commonly found by the technical name of dimethicone, silicones are used in sunscreens to create a smooth feel and to provide water-resistant qualities. But silicones can clog pores and create skin irritation.
Take a moment to check out the formula on the back of the bottle because these are all ingredients you never want to see in your sunscreen.
A Better Answer for Sun Protection
Since it is clear that sunscreen is essential and that harsh chemicals are not a good option, you may wonder where can you turn.
Mineral sunscreens may be the answer. There are naturally occurring minerals that will coat and sit on top of your skin. These are safe alternatives and will not be absorbed into the bloodstream. The FDA recognizes that two ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as safe and effective for sunscreen protection.
Mineral sunscreens usually feature zinc or a combination of zinc and titanium.
- Zinc oxide is an essential mineral that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and is friendly to sensitive skin
- Titanium dioxide acts as a broad-spectrum UV filter and is approved by the FDA for use in children older than six months
Experts remind us to choose a sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 and to make sure the product has broad-spectrum protection (meaning it protects you from UVB and UVA). But the most important thing is to read the label and review the ingredients.
Take Care in the Sun
It is important to keep in mind that sunscreen is just one part of a complete sun protection strategy. There are many ways to protect yourself from the sun, including seeking shade, covering up with clothing, broad-brimmed hats, and UV-blocking sunglasses.
And don’t let your sunscreen go at it alone. Especially in hot, humid weather, your skin needs all the support your can provide. Investing in a lightweight anti-aging moisturizer, rejuvenating eye cream, and skin-brightening cream will help you keep that healthy summer glow.
This season is all about the outdoors. Take a minute to educate yourself on sunscreen ingredients and protect yourself each and every time you go outside.