Safe Sunscreens

Safe sunscreens

Sorry I have been so quiet this month. Somehow, I blinked and it was already Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start to summer. Between Sajen’s first birthday weekend and rounding out a strong month at work, I haven’t found much time to blog! But there has been a lot on my mind lately, given that it is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and I am truly passionate about the most devastating form of skin cancer, melanoma. There is a growing debate in the healthcare community about skin cancer, starting from the most basic form of the debate –

  1. Does the sun really have damaging effects and does it cause skin cancer?
  2. Does sunscreen really prevent the damaging effects of the sun?
  3. Are there safe sunscreens on the market that don’t cause more damage than the UVA and UVB rays of the sun?

So let me weight in with my research and my opinion; I would love to hear from all of you.

Does the sun really have damaging effects and does it cause skin cancer?

I recently read an article that actually debated this topic, and I was floored. Honestly, I thought that it was common knowledge that everyone knew that the UVA and UVB rays of the sun were damaging to our skin. That we all should avoid the peak times of sun exposure during the day (10am-2pm), and that we should cover our skin with hats, sunglasses, clothing or if needed, sunscreen. Well, shockingly, there are quite a few people out there that believe the contrary, and frighteningly, are spreading this as gospel. And of course, plenty of people want to believe it, so that they can continue to sunbathe to their own detriment. To set the record straight…”Sun protection is essential to skin cancer prevention – about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun,” this from the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website. And according to the Mayo Clinic, the best ways to avoid skin cancer – 1. Avoid the sun in the middle of the day, 2. Wear sunscreen year round (we will get back to this next), 3. Wear protective clothing, 4. Avoid tanning beds, 5. Be aware of sun-senstitizing products and medications, 6. Get your skin checked regularly.

Does sunscreen really prevent the damaging effects of the sun?

The short answer, yes. Sunscreens help block the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun (UVA and UVB varieties), which is ultimately ultraviolet radiation. This radiation is invisible to the eye; UVA has longer wave and causes longer damage, affects aging and can cause cancer, UVB is a shorter wave radiation, causing damage, sunburns and can cause cancer. Sunscreens are labeled with SPF, or Sun-Protection Factor, which is a measure of the sunscreens ability to prevent the damage of UVB rays. For example, if someone can normally sit in the sun for 20 minutes without turning red, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would allow that person to stay in the sun for 15 times longer or about 5 hours. It is important to choose a sunscreen that is ‘broad spectrum,’ meaning it can work on both the UVA and UVB rays. For further evidence that sunscreen does protect, in a recent study of over 1600 patients, researchers demonstrated that those subjects that used and SPF of 16 or higher were able to lower their incidence of melanoma by 50%! When applied properly, sunscreen is an effective way to prevent skin cancer.

The other huge benefit of sunscreen – protect the signs of aging. I know countless men and women looking for that magic serum, that perfect moisturizer that is going to bring back their youthful skin from their 20s. The best fountain of youth – sunscreen. Wearing it everyday will prevent the damage from the sun – sun spots, wrinkles, fine lines, etc.

Are there safe sunscreens on the market?

During my recent skin check at the dermatologist (yes, I get an annual skin check even though I am a woman of color), both the nurse and my dermatologist asked if I wear sunscreen everyday. Yes, of course. Then they asked if I wear a sunscreen containing zinc oxide. Yes, of course. I wear one on my face and body everyday – on the face with an SPF of 20, on my body with an SPF of 30. Don’t get wowed too fast; it has taken me a long while to get there, and there are still many days that I slip. Of course, I always remember to apply sunscreen on the kiddos. So, if I am going to use this everyday, it better be safe for me and for the family, right? Well, after doing some homework, I learned that almost 75% of the sunscreens on the market contain oxybenzone, a known hormone disruptor, and retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that is harmful for the skin. Sunscreens that contain zinc or titanium oxide are much safer for the skin and offer a balance in protection from the UVA and UVB rays.

Also, higher SPFs don’t necessarily mean bigger and better protection from the damaging effects of the sun. This is false advertising and the public is lulled into feeling better protected when they use an SPF 50 or higher. There simply isn’t a lot of difference in anything higher than an SPF 30. When choosing a sunscreen, choose one that offers a high percentage of zinc oxide or titanium oxide, and one that is free of hormone disruptors, especially when you are thinking go your children. Why put them at risk?! If you are uncertain, check out the Environmental Working Group. Their page offers a rating system on all personal care products, evaluating efficacy, safety and environmental toxicity as well. Download their app to scan the products in your bathroom as well (truth – I was a bit addicted to this app about a year ago).

At Focused on Fit, we love the All-Over Protect Sunscreen (SPF 30 with 19% Zinc Oxide) from Beautycounter. While it offers a high zinc oxide content, it goes on smoothly, is easy to rub in, and doesn’t leave those white streaks found in other zinc oxide sunscreens. Even our kiddos love it!

The data and information is a plenty out there, and I could go on and on. What are your thoughts? Where do you stand on the sunscreen debate? Please comment below and start a conversation!


Mayo Clinic

Skin Cancer Foundation

Environmental Working Group

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