Sunscreen. As kids, we grew up with our moms sloshing it all over every square inch of our bodies. It was a desperate attempt to keep those cancer-causing ultra violet rays off of our delicate skin. Scientists had discovered that the earth’s natural protectant–the ozone layer–had been depleting, putting us all at risk.
As moms, we are now conditioned to do the very same thing every time our little ones are about to be exposed to those deathly summer rays. We trust the Food & Drug Administration (F.D.A.) to have our best interests in mind; and yet, we are now being bombarded with articles telling us otherwise.
The very kids we are trying to protect, may be absorbing harmful chemicals in a single bound. So, now we need the real scoop. What’s the 411 on toxin-free sun protection?
Is sunscreen safe?
In 1988, in response to the increasing solar dangers being reported, the F.D.A. approved a new U.V.A.-filtering chemical. Avobenzone was to be included in the makeup of already-existing sunscreens. Oxybenzone, a light-absorbing chemical, had already been approved in the early 80’s. As with many chemicals that pass through this administration, the thorough testing that we would expect, was never performed.
Instead, a variety of new products was pushed onto the mom market, gleefully gloating about the benefits of slathering your kids in these miracle substances. Meanwhile, non-melanoma skin cancer rates have increased by 77% since 1994; and melanoma rates are estimated to climb nearly 8% this year alone.
Common chemicals in sunscreen
Oxybenzone – or benzonephenone-3, is one of the most common chemical filters found in commercial sunscreens. It provides a UV barrier through its readily soluble, colorless crystals; with the primary function of absorbing UV light.
Avobenzone – a primary agent in commercial sunscreens due to its effectiveness in absorbing a wide range of ultraviolet (UV) rays, specifically the type that is known to cause sunburn.
Octisalate – a colorless liquid that is used to absorb UVB rays and also to add water-resistance properties to a formula. It degrades when it is exposed to sunlight, so it typically appears with other sunscreen agents and needs to be applied frequently. It is used to stabilize avobenzone to extend sun protection.
Octocrylene – a chemical compound often used as an additive in sun screen, and is thought to have skin moisturizing effects because of its emollient properties. What makes this chemical such a popular additive to sun block, is its ability to neutralize UV radiation dissipated by sunlight, and to minimize skin damage from prolonged sun exposure.
Homosalate – an organic compound made from salicylic acid and 3,3,5-trimethylcyclohexanol, it is believed that this substance is able to absorb ultraviolet rays , protecting our skin from sun damage. This especially pertains to the short-wave UVB rays associated with the DNA damage that can increase risk of skin cancer.
Octinoxate – Also known as octyl methoxycinnamate and ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, octinoxate is the oldest and most common sunscreen active used to protect skin, primarily against UVB rays.
Retinyl Palmitate – a synthetic derivative of vitamin A;added to skin products because manufacturers believe it slows skin aging.
Parabens – often added to commercial sunscreens as a preservative
Effects on our bodies
These chemicals that are commonly found in sunscreen all have their own health risks. Oxybenzone has been found to be an endocrine-disrupting chemical. This chemical enters the bloodstream very quickly, putting our kids at risk for lowered testosterone, low birth weight, and a birth defect called Hirschsprung’s Disease.
Azobenzone is an obesogen, which can interfere with a child’s ability to maintain a healthy weight. Octocrylene can damage cells and cause mutations. Retinyl Palmitate is believed to speed up skin tumors and lesions when exposed to sunlight.
Furthermore, there is the issue of Vitamin D exposure. The chemicals in commercial sunscreens also block our ability to receive natural Vitamin D from the sun. This nutrient that 75% of the population has been found to be deficient in, is responsible for helping protect our bodies from cancers and heart disease.
Effects on our environment
Beyond entering our bloodstream and wreaking havoc on our reproductive system, oxybenzone has detrimental effects on our coral reefs. Thousands of tons of sunscreen enter our waters near these reefs each year. This results in coral bleaching, and the deforming and killing off of the baby corals. Just as this chemical acts as an endocrine disrupter in humans, it can have the same effects on sea life, such as dolphins and the fish we eat.
Options for Toxin-free Sun Protection
Thankfully, there are some alternatives to slathering ourselves in endocrine-disrupting, coral reef destroying chemicals. Some sunscreens are better than others, or you can always make your own. Or perhaps you could forgo sunscreen altogether and opt instead for protecting your family using clothing and diet.
Safe Sunscreen Option
EWG’s website offers some great suggestions for some of the best safe options out there for sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens, composed of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are your best bet for protection that won’t harm your body. Instead of filtering or converting the sun’s rays, these products provide a shield for our skin. Most mineral sunscreens are environmentally safe as well. I would highly recommend avoiding spray sunscreens due their ability to enter the lungs.
Worried that homemade sunscreen doesn’t offer your kids enough protection? Well, the trade off is that you are escaping the harmful chemicals. And the thing is, you can simply use them as a supplement to other precautions. Sure, you’re probably going to have to apply it a little more often, and you can’t just let the kids bask in the ocean all day, but they’ll be chemical-free!
Here is a great recipe for easy-to-apply sunscreen bars.
Why not just cover them up? We all know how time-consuming and frustrating it can be to cover a squirming kid who is anxious to hop in the pool, in head-to-toe sunscreen. Very rarely do we feel completely confident in our application either. What could be simpler than throwing on a t-shirt or investing in a super cute rashguard suit, like the one in the above photo.
A Sun-blocking Diet
There have also been studies done that provide evidence to dietary increases in sugars and processed oils and grains, contributing to inflammation in our bodies that promotes sun damage. By avoiding these foods, we can provide our kids with a complimentary sun protection factor. Certain natural supplements and healthy fats have also been found to boost our natural sunscreening abilities. These include Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, and a good quality coconut oil.
Enjoy a Sunburn-free Summer!
We don’t have to trade one health risk for another, and we don’t have to resort to sacrificing the environment our kids enjoy in order to keep them safe. Think outside of the box this summer–or even the tube!
How does your family survive the summer sun?
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