Because there has been SO much rain in our area this spring, whenever the sun decides to show its shiny face, everyone flocks to the great outdoors to soak up its glorious rays. Of course, a day out playing and working in the sunshine means slathering on sunscreen first to protect delicate skin from the damage sun exposure can cause. Due to the chemical makeup of many popular sunscreens, these days many people are questioning whether these products are actually safe to use, or whether they may be harming us rather than protecting us.
All over yesteday's news were stories of the potential dangers to fetuses of a common sunscreen ingredient, retinyl palmitate, as was mentioned in the July issue of Consumer Reports. Medical professionals reassured the public that there is no conclusive evidence of any connection between the quantities of retinyl palmitate used in sunscreens and harm to humans, and that the proven benefits of sunscreens outweigh any potential risks, thus pregnant women should continue to use them. Despite this reassurance, the seeds of doubt have once again been planted in the minds of many cautious consumers, and in my opinion, there is just cause for this concern.
According to the Environmental Working Group, an organization of professionals committed to exposing and finding solutions to threats to our health and the environment, retinyl palmitate is only one of the ingredients we should be wary of in many of today's sunscreen products. Research has linked oxybenzone, another common sunscreen chemical, to allergies, hormone disruption and skin damage, and has shown it to actually enhance the ability of other chemicals to penetrate the skin. Another ingredient of concern is parabens, chemical preservatives that have the potential to harm our reproductive systems. With skin being the body's largest organ, it makes sense to be concerned about what chemicals it comes into contact with; any of those chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin may have unhealthy effects on our body's other organs and systems.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to chemical sunscreens (a fact which, interestingly enough, I did not hear mentioned in any of the news reports yesterday). Mineral sunscreens are made from either zinc or titanium; they do not penetrate the skin and are stable in sunlight, a claim that many chemical sunscreens cannot make. They also offer good broad spectrum protection, blocking both UVB and UVA rays. While you typically will not find mineral suncreens in your usual department and grocery stores, they are readily available in health food stores and from online companies like well.ca.
We have been using the Badger brand of mineral sunscreen since last spring and are very happy with it. It's unscented, made from natural ingredients like olive oil and beeswax, and does not irritate the boys' sensitive skin. While zinc-based sunscreens like Badger are very "white", we find that if we rub the sunscreen between our hands to soften it up before applying it, and then smooth it well on our skin, the white sheen is much less visible.
To find out how your usual brand of sunscreen (and other skin care products) rate safety-wise, check out the Environmental Working Group's informative Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You might be surprised (and alarmed) at what you discover.
Enjoying the hot sunshine after so many months of cool, gray weather is a welcome delight for many this time of year. It's important to remember, though, that when we take the necessary precaution of protecting our skin, we should protect the rest of our bodies from harm as well.