Human swimming under water in the sun

Does your Sunscreen put your Health at risk?

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It is hot, hot, hot this time of year! What better time to protect yourself from the sun’s rays? But let’s make sure you aren’t hurting yourself in the process.

As I mentioned in this post about beauty care, the skin absorbs what you put on it, including makeup and moisturizers. At this time of year, the product we most often find ourselves slathering on is sunscreen.

Sunscreen & your health

A study conducted by the ​FDA​ found that sunscreen’s active ingredients indeed absorb into the body through the skin. Let’s dive into what this means.

Mother in bikini with daughter in swimsuit sitting on a towel at the beach. Mom is applying sunscreen to daughters face.
It’s important to pay attention to the ingredients in your kids’ sunscreen to protect their growing bodies, too!

How chemical sunscreens impact the endocrine system and more

Chemical sunscreens can disrupt your endocrine system. The chemical UV filters ​are associated​ with altered estrogen, androgen, and progesterone activity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and impaired thyroid, liver, or kidney function.

They also pass the blood-brain barrier, causing neurotoxicity concerns such as impairing neuronal transmission and synaptic plasticity. See more ​here​.

That’s enough for me to make the switch to mineral sunscreens!

Our exposure to sunscreen comes not just from our own application.

When we swim in a pool with 20 other people who also have sunscreen dipping off of them, our exposure heightens.

​Multiple studies​ have found that sunscreen UV filters (the chemical ingredients in our sunscreen) appear in our urine and our plasma. They also appear in birds and fish.

So what is sunscreen made of?

Well… that depends on the sunscreen.

Spoiler alert: there are better and worse sunscreens.

As ​Plateful Health​ wrote, there are several sunscreen ingredients that you want to avoid and several that are less harmful. The ​EWG​ also does a helpful review and I highly recommend their Healthy Living app which gives recommendations on products and ranks them according to the health or toxicity of ingredients.

Avoid these Chemical UV Filter ingredients

  • PABA – unsafe!
  • Trolamine Salicylate – unsafe!
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Homosalate
  • Fragrance
  • Parabens
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • ​Phthalates​

Choose these preferred active sunscreen ingredients instead

  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide

Mineral sunscreens will have these active ingredients.

The good news is these mineral sunscreens are becoming easier to purchase! You used to have to order them online or go to a specialty store, but they are becoming more widely available.

Some good brands

  • Blue Lizard
  • Earth Mama
  • Badger
  • Beauty Counter
  • Goddess Garden.

I’ve recently been using Blue Lizard Face Stick and it’s available on Amazon.

See ​EWG​ for a full review of sunscreen brands.

Your choice also affects the turtles!

… and the shrimp, oysters, kelp, coral, and nemos of the sea.

You might be thinking, what does my sunscreen have to do with aquatic life?! Well… a lot.

Sunscreen runs off into whatever body of water we are in and the chemical sunscreens are toxic to many underwater creatures. It even eventually runs off in the shower, contaminating our water system.

This negative impact is more pronounced in the ocean because the sunscreen chemicals kill the coral reefs. Once the coral reefs are gone, the rest of the animals living in them have no habitat and their populations suffer as well.

When swimming in or near an ocean, lake, or river tributary you should strictly use reef-save sunscreen. And encourage your friends and family to do the same!

How to get Vitamin D

​Vitamin D​ synthesizes when your ​skin​ and eyes get consistent daily low doses of sunlight, as long as you get sun exposure consistently every day and avoid burning.

​This section ​of the meta-analysis gives some great details on what that sun exposure might look like for your specific skin type.

A bonus is that the unadulterated morning sun helps stabilize your circadian rhythms!

Why timing matters for more than just sunscreen when it comes to protecting your skin!

For adequate Vitamin D production, it’s recommended to get 10-30 minutes of skin exposure at the equator. This number increases as you move farther away from the equator and as you cover your skin with clothes and sunscreen.

AKA… it’s really hard to get enough sun to create the amount of needed vitamin D in Minnesota in December. And it’s still pretty difficult in the summer if we’re slathered in 70 SPF from dusk till dawn.

Additionally, the most harmful part of sun exposure for skin health is a burn, and we are most likely to burn when we have large bouts of exposure after periods of no exposure. AKA, when we sit inside in the midwest for months and then spend a week at the beach. Our skin is not ready! A gradual increase in skin exposure is better than binge episodes.

Should we be getting more naked sun?

You might have heard that we have an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency that’s partially related to excessive protection from the sun through a combination of sunscreen, indoor living, and protective clothing choices.

According to ​this meta-analysis​ (a comprehensive review of many studies related to sun exposure and health), we should be getting more naked sun. Furthermore, the risks of sun exposure might have been overstated or not telling the full story.

Their conclusion is that:

The message of sun avoidance must be changed to acceptance of non-burning sun exposure sufficient to achieve serum 25(OH)D concentration of 30 ng/mL or higher in the sunny season and the general benefits of UV exposure beyond those of vitamin D.

Per the analysis, regular sun exposure can help prevent diseases like colorectal cancer and Alzheimer’s, among others.

About Alicia

I love cooking almost as much as I love eating so I try to make sure I feel good about what I'm eating. I believe it's always a good occasion for some bubbly and I also love feeling healthy and being outdoors. I try to buy, cook and eat whole nutritious foods that promote a fun active lifestyle.

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