The Skinny on Sunscreen

The Skinny on SunscreenThe dog days of summer are here–and with so much time spent outdoors soaking up the sunshine, at least one sunburn seems almost inevitable.

Whether you’re a sun worshipper (tsk, tsk!) or  you slather on SPF 100 everyday, there is much debate still on how much sun is too much and whether or not traditional sunscreen does more harm than good. Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘Sunscreen is harmful? No way jose! Skin cancer is harmful!’ I get it, I get it, but once I did some research on the chemicals used in my favorite brand of sunblock, I was more than a little concerned. Let me explain…

Most people know by now that when selecting a sunblock, you’re looking for both UVA and UVB protection. This means that your sunscreen is blocking the harmful waves that have been shown to cause melanoma, or skin cancer and squamous and basal cell carcinoma. Chemical sunscreens work by permeating your skin and blocking these waves using a potent combo of ingredients and stabilizers to prevent breakdown. As with anything we put into our bodies, it’s important to be conscious and fully educated. Oxybenzone, for example, is highly effective at preventing a sunburn but has been shown in preliminary studies to disrupt hormones in the body and since this chemical permeates the skin, it shows up in mother’s breast milk, urine, etc…

So what’s a “green” gal (or guy) to do? The most natural form of sun protection in a tube comes from zinc oxide. It’s a singular, mineral ingredient that forms a physical block against the sun. With so many people looking for whole, healthy and natural options, there are nearly hundreds of zinc oxide sunscreens to try out. Fair warning: zinc is notoriously tough to rub into skin and often leaves you looking a little Casper the Ghost-esque. As with everything in life, there are trade offs (sigh) and I consider this a small price to pay for the knowledge that my skin is protected and no unnecessary chemicals are floating around in my bod.

If all of this is just way too overwhelming, don’t forget that manufacturers now make sunblocking garments and a wide-brimmed hat and umbrella can both be super effective as well. Perhaps the best advice comes in the form of an old standby: “moderation is everything.” Getting just 20 minutes of sunlight per day will keep your Vitamin D levels up which boosts overall mood. Still, if you have to be in the sun for longer, come up with a sunblocking strategy that feels right for you and your family. Just one childhood sunburn increases the odds of skin cancer by 50% (yikes) and intense, intermittent sun exposure is worse that just a little every day.

Photo credit: Thomas Pate


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