Summer is here in the northern hemisphere! Chicago had its first string of hot days – the lakefront path is crowded, kids are playing in the water and the air smells of sunscreen and B.B.Q’s. With the sun shining down and the urge to take off all but my bottom layers, comes the inevitable question – Should I put on sunscreen today or not?
I’ve been asked by many parents in the past few weeks “where The Green Mama stands on sunscreen.” I wish I had a quick answer, but I don’t. What we can provide is some background on the issues, as well as some encouragement to choose what is best for yourself and your family based on your skin and what we know of sun exposure.
What We Know
There are no federal standards for cosmetics; even wipes, lotions, and sunscreens marketed to children may contain toxins. A recent Huffington Post article focused on the toxic truth of sunscreen, and highlights some of the risks associated with using them. At a minimum, avoid any sunscreen with synthetic fragrances, which can contain phthalates – chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors.
Cancer rates, including skin cancers, are on the rise even with increases in sunscreen application.
Some sunscreens contain toxic ingredients, including nanoparticles and ingredients to enhance absorption that have health risks of their own. Friends of The Earth offer a guide to sunscreens without nanoparticles. (Note: The Green Mama plans to be researching more into this emerging science soon) In 2008, Consumer Reports asked the FDA to review mineral based sunscreens because their research showed sunscreens claiming not to contain nanoparticles did contain them.
Sunscreen can have ingredients that physically block the sun’s UV light, minerals like zinc and titanium dioxide, or ingredients considered chemical blockers. These chemicals react with the sun’s UV light after they’ve absorbed into your skin, and create chemical by-products while preventing the rays from penetrating. Examples you might see on the label are avobenzone, Oxybenzone, octisalate, and benzophenone.
The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. It’s best to avoid prolonged sun exposure during this time. Look for parks and outdoor activities that offer shade from trees and structures.
Clothing can offer slight UV protection – black or dark colored cottons can be the equivalent of 10 SPF, lighter colors and whites about the equivalent of SPF 4. Read the ingredient list on any laundry additive designed to add UV protection in the washing machine.
Sunlight helps our body to produce Vitamin D, needed for healthy bones, immune systems and pregnancy. Steaming from research from Weston Price and others, studies show many Americans are low in Vitamin D, and some believe this can be a big factor in disease prevention including cancer prevention.
So what can we do??
The International Agency for Research on Cancer recommends wearing protective clothing, spending time in shade, and timing your direct sun activity, instead of relying solely on sunscreen for protection.
And if you are going to apply sunscreen, pick a brand that is highly rated by Environmental Working Group in their 2010 Sunscreen Guide. We also encourage parents to learn more about the concerns surrounding sunscreen and sun exposure, this looks to be an issue we’ll be hearing more about.
By Green Mama contributor Cecelia Ungari.