• Tamra Coveau

Is your Sunscreen Dangerous?

Asked on Quora:

Is sunscreen hazardous with daily, generous application during Summer months?

Answer by Tamra:

Sun and Sunscreen Safety: Is your Sunscreen dangerous?

We put sunscreen on to protect our skin from UV radiation, but almost 75 percent of the more than 1,350 products tested in the Environmental Working Group’s “Sunscreen Guide for 2016” were concluded to be unsafe, ineffective or both.

The EWG further warns against using any sunscreen aerosol spray or powders containing oxybenzone (may cause allergic reactions and mimic estrogen) and retinyl palmitate (a form of Vitamin A, which may speed development of skin tumors/lesions when applied to the skin in sunlight) because it is almost unavoidable to not accidentally inhale them. Some of these offenders include Banana Boat, Coppertone, CVS and Neutrogena.

Many other lotions and sunscreens contain metal-based nanoparticles, which studies now link to both environmental and animal toxicity. SPF 50 and up have the most toxins.

Do we need sunscreen?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is highly energetic electromagnetic radiation from light waves below that of the visible light spectrum. Our earth's ozone layer currently blocks about 98% of UV radiation from penetrating our atmosphere, but a small percentage of UV, can reach us, and be harmful. There is also growing concern with the depletion of the ozone layer that this danger will increase.

Depending on the time of exposure to sunlight, the harmful UV-A/UV-B effects include immediate pain from blistering sunburns, and long-term concerns of skin cancer, melanoma, cataracts and immune distress. UV radiation induced DNA mutation is one of the leading causes of skin cancer, with more than one million cases diagnosed annually resulting in 11,590 deaths in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society. Sunscreens, work by combining ingredients to reflect, scatter or absorb UV radiation.

Inorganic UV filters, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide particles, are the ones that give the skin a white tinge. Nanosize metal oxide particles have been introduced into cosmetics products recently because they offer better protection without the white tinge, but the safety of these metal-based nanoparticles and potential toxicity is under scrutiny. Studies raise significant concerns about the prolonged use of these metal oxide nanoparticles, which may lead to augmented skin aging, pathological effects in the liver, and particle accumulation in the brain. Once in our blood stream, nanomaterials are circulated in the body and taken up by our organs and tissues: brain, liver, spleen, kidney, heart, bone marrow and nervous system.

What can we do?

Due to the potential toxicity associated with prolonged use of metal oxide nanoparticle sunscreens, it is necessary to seek alternative ingredients that are non-toxic, biodegradable and effective at blocking UV. Look for broad-spectrum protection from zinc oxide combined with organic ingredients including anti-oxidants. Do not forget that even "healthier" sunscreen contains inorganic materials absorbed by our bodies and they only provide partial protection from the sun.

Alternative Methods of Protection:

1. Wear the right clothing, such as long sleeves, pants and wide-brimmed hats. 2. Sunglasses with UV absorption up to 400 nm and wraparound styles protect best. 3. Shade is your friend! Don't forget to bring a shade structure/umbrella to outdoor events. 4. Play or work outside early or late and limit time outdoors 10am-4pm. 5. Avoid getting burned and get out of the sun immediately if you notice redness. 6. Know the UV Index for your area here from the epa. 7. Remember that water reflects and amplifies UV rays. 8. Plant trees in your yard on the South and West sides. 9. Keep hydrated and stay cool to avoid sunstroke. 10. Share sun safety knowledge with those you love.

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