With the days getting longer and the nights shorter, summer has finally arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. We have been enjoying wonderful weather consistently for the past 3 weeks here in Vancouver and with that I am now declaring summer here.
Summer activities such as barbecues, picnics, water parks, camping or just plain lazing in the sun is just around the corner. However with all this merriment and enjoyment, our exposure to environmental contaminants is likely to increase. From sunscreens to lawn care, summertime is prime time for increase exposure to chemicals that may have an adverse effect on our health and that of our children. This blog will focus exclusively on sunscreens since there is so much information to be covered.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), melanoma (the most deadliest skin cancer) rates are on the increase and sunscreen alone cannot reverse this trend. The rate of melanoma has steadily increased in the past 35 years despite approximately 60% of adults claiming to apply sunscreen while out in the sun. While most sunscreens offer protection against sunburns, they are not effective at preventing DNA damage from exposure to UV rays.
Sunscreens are made of either physical or chemical barriers. Chemical barriers contain ingredients such as Oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate, are readily absorbed by the body and have been known to cause allergic skin reactions and disrupt hormones. Not something you want for your children or yourself for that matter if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Physical barriers have mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They tend to contain nano particles which make the product non whitish when applied to the skin.
Tips for decreasing toxic exposure while in the sun.
1. As mentioned above, choose physical barrier sunscreen instead of a chemical barrier. Avoid spray sunscreens because they contain nano particles that are not safe when inhaled and they get applied to the skin too unevenly.
2. Don’t be fooled by a higher SPF. Anything higher than SPF 50 does not offer additional protection and may actually make you stay in the sun longer and not re apply as often.
3. According to the healthy child healthy world website, it is best to avoid the sun between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm when it is the strongest. For children, wear breathable clothing that covers their hands and legs, put on a sun hat and stay in the shade. Of course adults can follow this recommendation. There are several companies such as Hanna Andersson who sell SPF clothing and sun hats. Sunscreen is not recommended for children younger than 6 months. I am aware that there are now new recommendations that say it’s ok but I say better safe than sorry. There isn’t any research looking at the link between toxicity in infants and sunscreen use.
4. Avoid any sunscreen with Vitamin A (i.e retinyl palmitate or retinol). While Vitamin A and it’s derivatives have been used for anti aging, research has shown it to accelerate the development of skin tumors and lesions on sun exposed skin
5. Have your Vitamin D level checked by your health care provider. Higher levels of Vitamin D has been linked to a decrease rate of melanoma.
6. Increase consumption of foods such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, flax seeds, green tea, spinach, pomegranate, almonds, dark chocolate, broccoli, celery, apples, cherries. You get the point; a plant rich diet is chuck full of antioxidants that help reverse and at times prevent the DNA damage that occurs with UV exposure. Diet can offer significant protection in the fight against skin cancer.
7. The University of Maryland Medical Centre recommends herbs such as milk thistle, ginger, turmeric, billberry, ginkgo and hawthorn for their skin protecting abilities. Please consult a trained/licensed practitioner to prevent adverse reactions if you decide to take herbs.
8. Visit the EWG website to see if your sunscreen is safe. The database has over 1000 different products that can be looked up. While you are at it, don’t stop at your sunscreen, check out other personal care products that you use on a daily basis and see if they are affecting your health negatively.
What are your favourite healthy sunscreens?