Is Sunscreen Safe?
It’s finally summer and after a long winter, we can all use a dose of vitamin D. I make it a point of sitting in the sun when I can for up to 30 minutes to dose myself. But longer than 30 minutes at peak sun, can increase your risk for skin cancer and aging. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., affecting close to 20% of people.
Sunscreen is used to reduce our risk of skin cancer by blocking UV light. Most dermatologists recommend using sunscreen daily and liberally. But maybe you’ve heard some negative things about sunscreen too. It can harm the coral reefs, which can impact ocean life and contribute to climate change. It can affect the habitats of birds and turtles. And perhaps you’ve heard it may cause skin cancer! So, what do we do now?
Well, the truth is there are some sunscreens that contain ingredients that may be harmful to the environment and us. Over the past couple of years, a number of popular brands have been found to contain benzene. Benzene is a chemical that is found in petroleum products, cigarette smoke and pollution and is a carcinogen. Long term exposure to benzene can lower your immune system, affect fertility, and cause cancer. It is unsafe at any level. It is not intentionally put into sunscreen but appears to be more common in spray and aerosol sunscreens. The sprays also are more likely to be breathed in or spread into nearby environments.
Furthermore, many of the ingredients in sunscreens were found to disrupt hormones, cause allergies and inflammation. Some readily absorb through the skin and in studies could be found in blood, urine and breast milk of people using these products. The most worrisome ingredient is oxybenzone. Several countries ban the use oxybenzone because it harms the aquatic environment.
So, while we want to get out into the sun and play, we don’t want to burn or get cancer or ruin the environment. What can we do?
Use hats, shade, UV protective clothing, and find a clean, cream-based sunblock.
In 2021, the FDA found that the only 2 ingredients that could be considered safe in sunscreens were titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These are considered “mineral based” products. Get one that is broad spectrum, meaning that it can block UVA and UVB radiation. For a more detailed list of which ingredients to avoid and safer products to use, check out environmental working group’s website: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen
So go enjoy the sun and have fun! Too soon the days will shorten, and the weather will change again.
By: Dr. Jennifer Means ND, LAc