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Sunscreen, Simplified

Sunscreen use is at an all time high, as are new cases of skin cancer. If we’re all doing what our dermatologists tell us, and conscientiously using sunscreen, then what’s going on? 

The answer lies in two possible areas: The dangers of chemical sunscreen and inadequate sun protection.  Many products shield against UVB rays only, though UVA rays make up 95% of the ultraviolet radiation.

Here’s what I’ve learned about the dangers of chemical sunscreens and some tips on replacing them with safer options that actually work:

You spend the day in the sun and come home without a burn. That’s the measure of success for sunscreen, right? Actually, experts are now finding that many commonly used chemical sunscreens may save your skin from burning that day but cause longterm damage. Using these can actually increase the risk of cancer by generating free radicals or highly reactive uncharged molecules, which cause cellular harm.

The skin, our largest organ, absorbs what we put on it. In these sunscreens, compounds have been created which soak into the skin to stop burning via chemical reaction, including Benzophenones, PABA & PABA esters, Cinnamates, Salicylates, Digalloyl Trioleate and Menthyl Anthranilate. Along with free radical generation; they accumulate in our bodies' fat stores and cause hormone disruption.

Not ideal.

Only two sunscreen ingredients available in the U.S. provide protection against long UVA rays: a chemical ingredient, Avobenzone, and physical (or non-chemical) ingredient, zinc oxide. But only one, zinc oxide, also provides comprehensive protection against UVB and short UVA radiation.

The good news is that sunscreens do not need to be chemically-based to work. Experts from dermatologists to researchers will tell you that the most effective sunblock is the natural mineral zinc oxide. This compound creates an actual physical barrier between you and the sun, rather than relying on a chemical reaction. That’s why your skin may stay white after application. The zinc is doing it's job, covering up. Zinc oxide is the most protective and safest compound known to provide sun protection at this time.

So look for products with zinc oxide as the active ingredient. They’re good for your skin and for the planet!

photo credits: louis davidson