If you’re like me you understand the dangers of excessive sun exposure and recognize the importance of wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 when you’re going to be outdoors. BUT, I worry about the potentially harmful chemicals in these mass market sunscreens. Is there an alternative?
Conventional sunscreens you buy at your drugstore come in two different types. There are “chemical” sunscreens and “physical” sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens are the ones most commonly purchased by the consumer. They contain a mishmash of chemicals that have in studies been shown to have the potential for adverse effects. Physical sunscreens have as their primary ingredients titanium dioxide and zine oxide. They are commonly perceived to be a bit safer since they lack some of the chemicals that have been called into question.
Just what are these substances in chemical sunblocks that have earned such a bad reputation? They have important sounding names such as octylmethoxycinamate, octocrylene, benzophenone-3, padimate-o, and avobezone among others. What is disturbing is these chemicals have been shown to generate free radicals when exposed to sunlight which may play a role in damaging skin cell DNA. And that’s not all. Some of these chemicals in question have been shown to have estrogen like properties meaning they have the potential to behave like estrogen at certain receptors in the body such as the breast or ovaries. This raises the question as to whether these substances could raise the risk of breast or ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, it appears these chemicals are able to penetrate the skin deeply enough to reach these important receptors and exert their estrogenic effects. No wonder, the world is ready for a natural sunscreen!
Do the physical sunblocks fare any better? While many think so, there’s also evidence that titanium oxide and zinc oxide both have the potential to generate free radicals on the skin surface. Unfortunately, zinc oxide gives a strong white discoloration to the skin surface which reduces it’s marketability. Because of this sunscreen manufacturers have started to use nanotechnology to form minute particles that don’t leave a visible white residue. There is some concern about the safety of using these nanoparticles in sunscreens and cosmetics.
So where does this leave you if you want a natural natural sun protection? Is there a safe, natural sunscreen?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a natural sunscreen on the market that meets all of the safety criteria. Probably the safest choice would be to select a zinc oxide based sunscreen. Zinc oxide seems to have shown the least potential for toxicity. Unfortunately, most formulations use nanotechnology, but it seems to be the best compromise. You can get a sunscreen called UV Natural that has as it’s only active ingredient, micronized zinc oxide. Although it may not be 100% safe, it’s probably the best alternative out there.
You may want to consider use of other sun protective strategies in order to minimize the times in which you have to use sunscreen. Consider dressing in loose, long sleeve clothing that’s light in color to block the sun and still keep you cool. Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. Also, try to limit your hours in the sun to before 10:00 A.M. and after 3:00 P.M. when the sun’s rays are the weakest.
Hopefully, the future will yield a natural sunscreen formulation we can all fee comfortable with from a safety standpoint!