We are constantly barraged by the media about the dangers of sun exposure and the need to wear sunscreen basically any time we are setting foot outside. We are not disputing that the sun does damage to our skin and can contribute to dangerous skin cancers. But popular brands of sunscreen are not necessarily the best answer, and new research suggests that they might potentially be doing us considerable harm as well.
Dangerous Chemicals Found in Sunscreen
The study, which took place at the United States Food and Drug Administration in Silver Spring, Maryland, found that several chemicals commonly used in sunscreens are absorbed into the body to such an extent that they could become toxic.[fn]Matta, Murali K.; et al. “Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients.” JAMA. 6 May 2019. Accessed 15 May 2019. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2733085.[/fn] These results are based on an investigation that included 24 men and women who were asked to apply sunscreen to three-quarters of the surface area of their body four times a day for four days to simulate recommended use of the products. They were either provided with a spray, lotion, or cream form of sunscreen.
In a laboratory, the researchers collected blood samples from the subjects several times over the course of a week. The testing showed that levels of four chemicals in the sunscreens—oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule—all increased significantly after the sunscreen use.
While the size of the population sample included was too small to be totally conclusive and the lab conditions don’t exactly mimic a real-life environment, the outcome is nevertheless very concerning. None of the active ingredients in sunscreen have been tested for safety, despite the fact that these products were created to be rubbed into and absorbed by our skin—but only into the outer layers. No one was anticipating their being absorbed into the bloodstream. What’s more, a 2012 study at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that the chemicals in question are associated in animals with problems to the reproductive system as well as the hypothalamus, pituitary, and thyroid.[fn]Krause, M.; et al. “Sunscreens: Are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV-filters.” International Journal of Andrology. June 2012. Accessed 16 May 2019. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22612478.[/fn]
Problems with Sun Exposure If You Don’t Use Sunscreen
So, what’s the best course of action to take now that we have this knowledge? First off, it will depend on how long you will be outside in the sun. As Jon Barron has pointed out on numerous occasions, a brief 15 or 20 minutes in the sun, unless it’s in the middle of the day, won’t result in a sunburn or do us harm, and it is actually essential to help our bodies produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D is quite dangerous, as it is linked to the development of cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions.
Protecting Yourself from the Sun Without Using Sunscreen
On the other hand, if you know you will be in the sun for a longer period of time, not using protection is not a safe option. One way to go is covering up thoroughly. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, choose larger wrap-around style sunglasses, and don loose-fitting SPF-treated clothing such as those from Coolibar and Solumbra that effectively block the sun’s rays.
The Better Choice When You Do Use Sunscreen
Of course, there are other times when you are going to be swimming or it’s simply too hot to be covered head to toe that call for sunscreen protection instead. But rather than choosing the brands most of us grew up wearing like Coppertone and Banana Boat, start reading their listed ingredients. Put anything that contains oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, or ecamsule right back on the shelf.
While we don’t endorse any specific brands, we have looked to the recommendations of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that focuses on advocating for protection from toxic[fn]Matta, Murali K.; et al. “Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients.” JAMA. 6 May 2019. Accessed 15 May 2019. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2733085.[/fn] chemicals, pollutants, and more. They create an annual list of the safest brands of sunscreen, and their latest compilation includes:
- All Good
- All Terrain
- Bare Republic
- Blue Lizard
- Goddess Garden Organics
- Kabana Organic Skincare
- True Natural
And, if you don’t burn easily or will be in and out of the sun, Jon Barron suggests using almond oil and coconut oil, which offer a natural SPF between 4 and 6. Who knew your cooking oil could serve such a handy purpose?
Hi Jon, where does taking (higher) dose Vitamin A before and after, fit in?