There is a lot of controversy surrounding sun exposure, the use of sunscreen, as well as how to select a good sunscreen. We know that sun exposure is healthy in reasonable doses. For example, we need it to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. Yet, too much sun exposure can lead to accelerated aging, sun damage, as well as an increased risk of cancer.
Many people turn to sunscreens to prevent these negative side effects. Interestingly enough, although we all find ourselves slathering on the sunscreen before heading into the sun, the research is actually mixed as to whether or not sunscreen actually protects against cancer and some studies are showing that the chemicals in some sunscreens may actually INCREASE the risk of melanoma – obviously not the desired effect!
The chemicals found in sunscreen have been found in 75% of a mother’s breast milk, in our water sources and even in fish and algae.
The FDA actually states that that the evidence does not support that broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF greater than 15 reduce the risk of skin cancer. As of now, its stance is as follows: “To date, there are no clinical studies demonstrating that use of any sunscreen alone can prevent skin cancer.” (FDA: 2011). The National Cancer Institute also says that “It is not known if non-melanoma skin cancer risk is decreased by staying out of the sun, using sunscreens or wearing protective clothing when outdoors. This is because not enough studies have been done to prove this.” (National Cancer Institute: 2011).
What this means is that the jury’s still out. This doesn’t mean we should all skip the sunscreen and run into the sun unprotected. It means we need to make smart choices. So, let’s try and understand sunscreens a bit better, so we can make informed decisions to keep ourselves and our families protected.
1) What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays?
There are two forms of ultraviolet (UV) light, UVA and UVB, both of which are harmful to our skin. UVB rays can only penetrate the outer layer of our skin and are more likely to cause immediate damage that we see in the form of sunburns. These rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, can’t penetrate glass and are pretty low in exposure on cloudy days.
UVA rays are the rays that cause more long-term damage. These rays are strong all day long, can penetrate glass and clothing and DO NOT cause redness (sunburns), so you don’t actually know when you’ve had too much exposure. These rays penetrate deep into the skin and are responsible for the damage seen years later, in the form of sun spots.
2) What’s the deal with SPF?
The SPF is an indication of how much longer you can stay in the sun when you apply the sunscreen v. going into the sun without sunscreen before it starts to burn.
Many people find themselves buying SPF 60, thinking it will offer even greater sun protection. The truth is, the greater the SPF, the smaller the difference of protection the sunscreen will offer.
E.g.: an SPF of 10 already reduces the rays by 90%, SPF 20 by 95%, and SPF 50 by 98%. So, between SPF 20 and 50, you only get an extra 3% protection, but with more chemicals in the sunscreen the higher you go!
In 2001, the FDA proposed banning the sale of SPF sunscreens with a value of 50+, stating there is an “absence of data demonstrating additional clinical benefit.” (FDA: 2011a). The FDA is also concerned that people will have a false sense of security when using higher SPF sunscreens and will therefore stay out in the sun longer!
3) Broad Spectrum Sunscreens
The SPF value refers only to UVB rays. Unless a sunscreen states “broad spectrum”, then it only protects against UVB, not UVA (the more harmful ones)! And, in case you were wondering, tanning beds use UVA rays.
The problem is that not all broad spectrum sunscreens are created equal! In the past, the key ingredient in these sunscreens, Parasol, was not very stable. It used to break down when exposed to the sun and lose its protective ability in 30 minutes!
They’ve gotten a lot better and now use a more stable product, Mexoryl SX, which blocks UVA rays. However, Europe is one step ahead of us and offers sunscreens containing Mexoryl XL, which offers even greater protection. So, ordering sunscreen from Europe is always a great option!
4) How Do I Pick a Good Sunscreen?
When it comes to sunscreen, our options really come down to two: 1) Chemical sunscreens, which are not very stable, may cause hormonal disruption, environmental burden and have been linked with increased cancer risk; or 2) Mineral Sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) completed extensive research on chemical and mineral sunscreens and determined that mineral sunscreens are the safest. They can be found 100% organic, are extremely stable in the sun and do not penetrate the skin, so won’t be found in breast milk!
According to the EWG:
- Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, Mexoryl SX, or Avobenzone (3%) (for those who dislike mineral sunscreens)
- Minimum SPF 15
- Water resistant for the beach or pool
- Lotions, not sprays
- Vitamin A (retinly palmitate): causes skin cancer in lab tests
- Oxybenzone: a hormone disruptor
- Avoid use on children due to toxicity concerns.
- High SPF: misleads consumers
5) How Else Can I Protect Against Sun Damage? Supplementation!
New research is showing that supplementation may protect the skin!
Antioxidants, such as green tea and vitamin C, may protect the skin from sun damage and may counteract free radicals produced from skin damage. They may also help protect your skin’s natural protection against the sun. CoQ10 and vitamin C can also confer these benefits.
Try TrueCoQ Plus, TrueC or TrueANTIOXIDANT / PROTECT to help save your skin this summer! And, don’t forget to use your mineral sunscreens.
Enjoy the sun, worry-free!