A recent article posted on slate.com by Melinda Moyer shines a light on how confusing buying and using sunscreens can now be. The FDA recently rolled out new labeling rules to manufacturers and the decision making has only gotten more complex. That along with reports from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and even Dr. Oz suggest that certain ingredients may be toxic and possibly cause cancer. One thing is certain the number of skin cancers, particularly melanomas are rising dramatically. Whether it is due to stronger UV rays , the thinning ozone layer or tanning bed usage, it is important that families take this matter seriously.
Since only a few of the compounds used in sunscreens have been thoroughly studied the difficulty of choosing what is safe for your family is a roll of the dice. The EWG recommends avoiding products containing oxybenzone and retinal palmitate but there are many others that raise concerns.
It is important to select products labeled as “broad spectrum” as they purportedly block both UVa and UVb rays. These are often listed as organic, meaning they are carbon based and absorb the rays before deeply penetrating the dermis. The thick white creamy inorganic screens like titanium oxide or zinc oxide work to block both types of UV rays by reflection.
A compound mentioned earlier, oxybenzone, is found in many sunscreens labeled as organic. Studies suggest that this compound disrupts hormone levels and is found in many products such as cosmetics and plastic food packaging. What the cumulative effect of using this compound at this point is unknown. The compound was found in urine samples of 96.8 percent of a study group suggesting that it readily penetrates the dermis and enters the body. These organic compounds also become unstable after exposure to UV rays producing reactive oxygen species which act like free radicals in the dermis. Free radicals attack healthy cells and can have multiple negative effects on body functions. Vitamins E and C are often added to formulations to reduce the effect of the free radicals.
Another confusing aspect of SPF labeling is the numbering on products. The numbers can be very deceiving as a product labeled SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVb rays, while another labeled SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of them. Dermatologists and the EWG suggest using nothing higher than SPF 50 as they lead to a false sense of security and longer exposure.
Scientists also warn against sprays as they can be inhaled or enter the eyes. If you must use these due to esthetics or convenience by all means cover your face or hold your breath when applying. Keep in mind that using insect repellant with lotions can increase absorption of chemicals into the skin. Repellants with DEET should especially be avoided and replaced with those made from natural oils such as rosemary, lemongrass, and eucalyptus as a base.
So now you’re probably thinking what do I do to protect my skin? The best alternative is probably the inorganic oxides but due to the thick, greasy nature of these products they are often rejected. The best method is prevention. Avoiding the midday sun and wearing some sort of sunscreen and reapplying often is one way to go. Another is “sunless tanning”. While there are tanning creams and spray tans available these product offer no protection from UV rays. The results are also not always natural looking with common results being streaking, uneven coloration, orange skin tones, and unpleasant odors.
A new product that has been on the scene in recent years is Melanotan 2 or MT2. This is a synthetic hormone that acts to stimulate the production of melanin in the lower dermis. It has been approved for research in the US and is widely available on the internet. It has also been known to curb appetite and increase libido. Developing a tan in the lower levels of the dermis seems a plausible way to avoid deep penetration of UV rays. Users of the product develop natural looking tans as they are using their body’s own tanning mechanism to darken the skin. This allows one to have a healthy looking tan without the exposure to UV rays.
So with the jury still out on sunscreens and SPF ratings, you should avoid midday sun, use a sunscreen that you feel is the best protection with the least downside or try sunless tanning.