Chemical sunscreens are in the news due to the FDA’s call for more safety data on their primary ingredients. This leaves many searching for strategies for safer sun protection to protect ourselves from ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn, skin damage and skin cancer. Oxybenzone, a primary ingredient in chemical sunscreens, is a suspected endocrine disruptor that has been found in the blood, urine and breast milk of people who use sunscreens regularly. Though chemical sunscreens haven’t been proven unsafe, we wanted to explore proven safe alternatives:
The Two Types of Sunscreen
First, it’s important to understand that there are two basic types of sunscreen: Chemical and Physical.
- Chemical sunscreens are those which you rub into the skin and are easily absorbed. Their ingredients act like a sponge to absorb ultraviolet rays, preventing your skin from absorbing them and preventing sunburn.
- Physical (also called mineral) sunscreens are those which you rub onto the skin but aren’t easily absorbed. Sometimes these sunscreens leave a trademark white residue on your skin. That’s because the minerals they contain—usually zinc oxide or titanium dioxide—sit on top of the skin and act as a physical barrier to block rays from being absorbed by your skin.
Mineral sunscreens are proven to be safe. Their active ingredients are not absorbed into the body, and can be easily washed off.
What’s the Safest Sunscreen for You and Your Family?
The Environmental Working Group’s 2019 Guide to Sunscreens lists the safest and most effective sunscreens on the market today. You can find a detailed summary of the best brands of sunscreens on the market here.
One interesting note: many sunscreens available in the United States wouldn’t pass Europe’s standards for blocking the damaging UVA rays. While UVB rays cause sunburns, the more prevalent UVA rays are linked with the development of basal cell carcinoma, melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. For this reason, it’s critical to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15 that protects from both UVA and UVB rays.
Consider Sunscreen As Your Last Line of Defense
While sunscreen is great when you have to be in the sun, with a little planning, you can reduce exposure to damaging UV rays.
Here are some tips for minimizing UV exposure:
- Avoid the sun during peak hours: 10am – 4pm. Plan early morning or early evening outings to avoid sun exposure during its most intense times.
- Invade the shade: Find a shady spot to enjoy the outside. No natural shade? Bring your own portable shade in the form of an umbrella.
- Hat’s on! A wide-brimmed hat is a smart way to avoid excess UV rays on your head, face, neck and even shoulders.
- UPF clothing: With an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of up to 50+, clothing with built-in protection blocks up to 98% of broad-spectrum UV rays.
- Long sleeves: Yes, even in summer. While a typical white cotton shirt only has an SPF of 7 (when dry) and SPF of 3 when wet, darker colors and tighter weaves offer additional protection.
To protect from damaging rays without exposer to potentially toxic chemical ingredients, use combination of strategies for safer sun protection. This could be: going outside early or late in the day, sticking to shaded areas, UPF clothing, and mineral sunscreen.
Small daily adjustments like these can have a significant impact on your health and the health of your family. At PrimeHealth, our health coaches are here to help you make these daily adjustments that can pay dividends for your future health.