Safe Sun: Sunscreen
Sunscreen has become an increasingly controversial topic which often leads us, unknowingly, to pick our own poison: lather on chemicals that send our toxicity levels through the roof or stay unprotected and increase our risk to skin cancer. Tough call. But, in the vain of leading a more natural lifestyle, it's worth understanding the options so we can make the best decisions for ourselves and our families.
Understanding the controversy.
The sale and use of sunscreen started and increased in the 1950s (nytimes.com, 2010). Paradoxically, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology states that the incidence of malignant melanoma skin cancer in most developed countries has risen faster than any other cancer type since the mid-1950s. While this in no way suggests that sunscreen is the culprit, it does reflect that sunscreen may not necessarily be the win-win solution to the skin cancer epidemic we were looking for.
To add to the perplexity, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) also noted some interesting research findings regarding the most dangerous type of skin cancer, melanoma.
1. Outdoor workers report lower rates of melanoma than indoor workers (Radespiel-Troger 2009).
2. Melanoma rates are higher among people who live in northern American cities with less year-round UV intensity than among residents of sunnier cities (Planta 2011).
3. Higher Vitamin D levels for people with regular sun exposure may play a role in reduced melanoma risk (Godar 2011, Newton-Bishop 2011, Field 2011).
This is all to say that it is not absolutely clear that the "evil" rays of the sun are the sole contributor to the skin cancer problem. Though the science is not definitive, the consensus among researchers is that the most important step people can take to reduce their melanoma risk is to avoid sunburn but not all sun exposure (Planta 2011). Also noted is that regular sun exposure may not be as harmful as intermittent and high-intensity sunlight. Our last blog Safe Sun: Vitamin D gives tips on how to manage and balance time in the sun (getting Vitamin D) while lowering the risk to sunburn. One of those tools is the use of sunscreen, but there’s a lot more to be understood before we go about smothering our bodies with just any product from the drug store.
what is sunscreen
Sunscreens are topical formulas designed to block, at least for a finite period of time, ultra violet radiation (UVR) from entering the body. There are different types of UVR (UVA-1, UVA-2 and UVB), each with different impacts to the body, but they all can contribute to DNA damage and free-radical genesis. UVB radiation are high intensity rays absorbed by the surface of the skin and the primary cause of sunburns, erythema and intermediate skin damage. This is what most sunscreens aim to block. UVA rays are lower intensity but penetrate below the skin surface causing long-term damage such as premature wrinkling. Sunscreens that block all UVR are considered broad spectrum.
Types of Sunscreen
Chemical sunscreens use active ingredients that absorb UV radiation, which create a chemical reaction and work by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
Pros: More easily rubbed into the skin. Tends to stay on longer, so less is typically needed.
Cons: Slowly breaks down over time releasing heat creating a higher internal temperature. This affects people with sensitive skin and rosacea and may make brown/sun spots more pronounced. Requires about 20 minutes of absorption time before being effective. May clog pores. Increased irritation and toxicity due to the amount of chemicals needed to achieve broad spectrum protection.
Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, use UV filters that reflect, scatter and block the sun’s rays. Imagine a mirror; it's like that. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. A handful of products combine zinc oxide with chemical filters.
Pros: Naturally broad spectrum and protects against all UVR. No absorption time needed; works as soon as applied. Less irritating and less toxic. Better choice for sensitive skin. Less likely to clog pores. Better for acne-prone skin.
Cons: Rubs off more easily and less waterproof, so more frequent application is needed. Can leave a white-ish cast on the skin.
The biggest concerns are in the unknown. More and more studies are being published that show links between UV-filters used in chemical sunscreens and hormonal and developmental disruptions.
Margaret Schlumpf of the University of Zurich detected oxybenzone and four other sunscreen filters in Swiss women’s breast milk, indicating that the developing fetus and newborns may be exposed to these substances. She detected at least one sunscreen chemical in 85 percent of milk samples.
Conversely, less information is confirmed from the FDA about any potential negative effects of sunscreens. Notably, a 2015 study completed by the Danish EPA found that 16 of the 19 approved active ingredients in sunscreen had no information on their potential to cause cancer.
For sunscreen to work effectively, we are directed to slather on several, thick coats over large areas. In only 26 seconds, these chemicals are absorbed and filtered throughout the body to be found in urine, blood and breast milk samples. To that end, we ought to be aware of the unintended environmental and health consequences we are receiving in our attempt to simultaneously protect ourselves from overexposure to the sun.
What to look for
For all of us trying to live a preventative and natural lifestyle, here are some resources and tips to ensure we are doing the least harm to ourselves and our families when it comes to sunscreen:
1. Read the 2017 EWG Sunscreen Report
2. Shop for physical (mineral) sunscreens that contain nan-nano, non-coated zinc oxide, and brush up on your active ingredients
3. Know which chemical ingredients are most toxic
4. Make sure sunscreen is not the only mode of protection and check out our Safe Sun: Vitamin D blog for other protection tips
A better choice
The premise of the existence of balm skincare is to provide better (raw) choices for people desiring a higher standard of living and a natural lifestyle. That being said, we are always listening to our customers about obstacles they are having in their pursuit for better product selections, and we are committed to bring more raw choices to the marketplace. A more natural sunscreen was one of them. After spending all summer developing and testing our latest product, we are happy to introduce our Safe Sun Face Cream.
We choose a 12% non-nano, non-coated zinc oxide solution as our UV filter because it provides the best protection for UVA and UVB radiation without the added toxicity of chemical filters and stabilizers. There was a recent trend in using nano-sized particles in physical sunscreens because they helped remove the white-ish cast upon application. Because of the lack of research, however, there is no telling that absorbing these particles into the body won't cause harm. Therefore, we feel it's most safe and least toxic to use non-nano zinc oxide in our formulation. We are, by the way, searching for the most natural option, right?
While most sunscreens excel in filtering out the sun, they aren't necessarily formulated to keep the skin healthy and hydration at the same time. While in the sun, we lose a lot of elasticity; therefore, we felt it was a better option to create a cream that continues delivering long lasting moisture and nutrition while protecting the skin with a non-toxic UV filter. You can expect the same silky, smooth texture when using our Safe Sun Face Cream as you do when using our regular Face Cream options. Apply often and liberally for the best results.
Longer Shelf Life
One downfall to using raw products is that they some times lack a long shelf-life, a convenience we've all become accustomed to. Thankfully, zinc oxide is also a great natural preservative. Therefore, you won't have they same concerns with product degradation as our other Face Cream options may have.
While we still have long days of sunshine, do yourself a favor and layer on a natural AND hydrating sun protectant. This product is only offered for a limited time or while supplies last. Please note that because of FDA regulations, we cannot and do not offer an SPF value to our Safe Sun Face Cream. Use and experiment at your own risk. We cannot in any way claim that this product will prevent skin cancer.