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Being Safe in the Sun While Still Having Fun

Recently, I was talking with my mom and brother about sunscreen. My parents generation didn't put sunscreen on as kids and I don't remember my mom putting sunscreen on us when we were younger. Now, I see parents lathering their children with sunscreen whenever I go to the park, pool, or beach. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Consumer Reports have warned consumers against use of many conventional sunscreens that are on the market. How can this be? Weren't sunscreens created to protect us from sun damage?

I am not a doctor and I highly recommend everyone does their own due diligence. Doctors and media outlets have encouraged people to wear sunscreen, stating that it can protect against UV rays, skin cancer, and sunburn. As a result sunscreen use has been on the rise. Problem is that not all sunscreens are created equal and the sunscreen market is a huge market.

Even though sunscreen use is on the rise, skin cancer is also on the rise. There could be a possible connection..

Sunscreen can only work in two ways: mineral barrier or a chemical barrier. Mineral options use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These create a physical barrier to protect the skin from the sun. Mineral sunscreens are safe and effective when used correctly. Many of the mineral sunscreens provide water-resistant protection from boh UVB and UVA rays. Most sources and dermatologists agree that sunscreens with non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients are safe and effective way to prevent sunburn if used correctly.

Chemical sunscreens use various chemicals including: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Research by EWG revealed that many of these chemicals may be endocrine disruptors, hormone disruptors, and may interfere with the thyroid.The most common chemical, oxybenzone is considered an endocrine disruptor, can reduce sperm count in men and may contribute to endometriosis in women. In addition, the chemicals can cause skin-related allergies and mimic hormones.

According to the latest FDA sunscreens monograph, the agency needs further data to determine the GRASE status of oxybenzone, given that the “available literature … indicat[es] that oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin to a greater extent than previously understood and can lead to significant systemic exposure.… The significant systemic availability of oxybenzone … is a concern, among other reasons, because of questions raised in the published literature regarding the potential for endocrine activity.” Given the pervasiveness of oxybenzone exposures, we need further study to clarify its association with hormone disruption in children and adults.

Of the 1,400+ sunscreens tested by the EWG, only 5% met their safety standards and over 40% were listed as potentially contributing to skin cancer. One reason for this is because a vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, that is often used in sunscreens was shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells by 21%.

What about spray options? These have additional dangers, especially if they are inhaled. Spray sunscreens should not be used at all on children, and adults should be cautious (avoiding the face or inhaling).

Sunscreens with a higher SPF may also give a false sense of security which can result in people staying out in the sun longer. The FDA proposed limiting SPF to 60, while the EWG suggests we avoid an SPF higher than 50.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the importance of Vitamin D. Some sunscreens completely block the body's ability to manufacture Vitamin D. Many of us are deficient in Vitamin D. A deficiency in Vitamin D has been linked to chronic diseases and cancer (source).

The safest way to be outside while avoiding sunscreens that the EWG says to avoid is to cover up. Stay in the shade, wear a hat, and long sleeves. Mineral sunscreens may be a good option, however, please be sure to read the ingredients and check the EWG website for recommended brands ( We use this brand-Adorable Baby by Loving Naturals.

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