Sunscreen has been used for eons to protect skin from the suns damaging rays. Evidence of sun protection methods date back thousands of years and have been revealed in various cultures and countries throughout the world.

Just like today, women thousands of years ago desired younger, healthier looking skin. They utilized various methods of sun protection to maintain a youthful and aristocratic appearance, as pale, fair skin demonstrated that you were not a peasant or farmer who was laboring in the sun each day.

Today, many Eastern countries still hold onto fair skin was a status symbol and women especially, go to extreme lengths to achieve a lighter complexion. It wasn’t until recently that tanned skin became desirable and viewed as attractive in American society. With this new tanning craze has come lots of research, increases in rates of skin cancer and confusion about sun safety.

Sunscreen Today:

According to the National Cancer Institute, rates of new melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have tripled since the 1970’s. However, it seems Americans are very aware that excessive exposure to the sun causes cancer – they report using protective skincare methods and sunscreen sales are on the rise. This doesn’t match up…or does it?

Recent studies on the long term consequences of using today’s chemical sunscreens are revealing some pretty scary and shocking results. Sunscreen, the stuff that is supposed to protect our skin from harmful UV radiation and prevent skin cancers, may in fact be contributing to and accelerating skin cancer and other conditions. As it tuns out there is also little scientific evidence to suggest that sunscreen alone reduces cancer risk, particularly for melanoma.

In addition, the chemical ingredients used in most US sunscreens are extremely troubling and, despite mounting evidence of their health risks, the FDA continues to allow them. While there has been significant improvement in sunscreen ingredients over the past decade or so, more than half of the sunscreens sold in the US still do not meet the standards in countries throughout Europe – yikes!

Sunscreen Ingredients and Myths:

Vitamin A in sunscreen prevents aging: Vitamin A is widely acknowledged for its skin nourishing abilities so adding it to sunscreens probably seemed like a fabulous idea! However, according to the 2009 FDA-sponsored study released by the National Toxicology Program, the synthetic version of Vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, may actually speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when exposed to sunlight. Thankfully this photosensitive ingredient is on it’s way out, but many other skin care products and cosmetics contain retinyl palmitate so read your labels and avoid using those in sunlight too. For more information on retinyl palmitate CLICK HERE

Higher SPF means more protection: Many fair skinned people or those who are just extra cautious about protecting their skin will swear by their Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 50-100 sunscreen. But the truth is, a higher SPF does not mean greater protection. This is because SPF only measures protection from sunburn, and not necessarily UVA which is linked to skin aging, immune suppression and cancer. Using a higher SPF can also mislead users to spend more time in the sun. Plus, these sunscreens generally contain more controversial, sun-filtering chemicals like Oxybenzone, 4- methylbenzylidine camphor, 3- benzylidine camphor and Octinoxate which are toxic to reproductive systems and may interfere with normal development.

Oxybenzone is safe: Oxybenzone is a chemical filter found that is found in most commercial sunscreens. It blocks UVB rays as well as beneficial Vitamin D, and when it penetrates through the skin, it can trigger allergic skin reactions and act as a hormone disruptor in children and adults. For more about oxybenzone and the other chemical ingredients in sunscreen CLICK HERE.

Sunscreen is Destroying Ocean Life

As if our own skin safety isn’t scary enough, the chemicals in the sunscreens we so dutifully put on our skin are rapidly killing coral reefs all over the world. It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers annually in oceans worldwide (NatGeo).

According to the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, recent research has discovered that sunscreens, soaps, cosmetics and body fragrances containing chemical ingredients are highly toxic to coral. These chemicals awaken dormant viruses in the algae that live inside reef-building coral species and cause the viruses to replicate until their algae hosts explode, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater where they can infect neighboring coral communities (NatGeo).

Many popular beach resorts throughout the world are noticing the death of their tourist attracting reefs and are pushing for their visitors to use biodegradable sunscreens.  Protecting the beautiful reefs that bring thousands of vacationers each year is a crucial priority not only for costal towns but also for the fish and other aquatic life that depend on coral reefs to survive.

Are there safe, eco-friendly sunscreens?

Yes! Natural sunscreens have been used for centuries long before the chemical, commercial sunscreens that endanger us and our planet came onto the market. Check out the EWG for hundreds of sunscreens that are offer cleaner, greener and healthier skin protection.

Some things I look for when purchasing a sunscreen:

  • non-nano, mineral based lotion sunscreen with water resistance 
  • broad spectrum sunscreen that protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • biodegradable sunscreen no matter where your swim
  • no chemical fragrances as they are likely petroleum based and have been linked to organ toxicity and allergies
  • no aerosol sprays or powders as they are made with chemicals that have been formulated for use on the skin but not inhalation into the lungs (where many of these products inevitably end up).

Other Sun Safety Tips:

  • Don’t Rely on Sunscreen – people who rely completely on sunscreen tend to burn and burns are strongly linked to increased cancer risk.
  • Mindful Exposure to the Sun -wear a wide brimmed hat, protective clothing, eyewear and seek shade under an umbrella or inside – especially during peak sun hours of roughly 10am to 3pm. You can stay safe in the sun without using sunscreen!
  • Eat a Plant Based Diet – eat plenty of colorful, antioxidant rich fruits and veggies. These foods fight free radicals from sun exposure, protect skin while also hydrating, nourishing it.
  • Protect your Eyes -make sure your sunglasses protect against UV rays which can cause cataracts. Polarized lenses are best!
  • 10 Minutes is Enough – just 10 minutes of mid-day sun can provide a fair-skinned individual wearing no sunscreen with more than enough Vitamin D for the day. Those with darker skin tones may need closer to 15 to 20 minutes.