After the long, grey, cold winter every morning I walk out the door, lift my face to the sky and give thanks for how amazing the sun feels on my skin…it lifts my spirit and mindset. Medical science has proven that limited exposure to the sun can boost your levels of Vitamin D, and there is significant documentation that Vitamin D is linked to increased protection against diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers such as breast, prostate and colon. Sunlight has other hidden benefits like protecting against depression, insomnia and an overactive immune system.
But I quickly remind myself of the dangers overexposure to the sun can cause such as premature aging, skin cancer and an increase in dry skin – at times the negative benefits can outweigh the positive ones. Experts suggest that lighter skin tones limit unprotected sun exposure to 5 minutes or less daily, darker skin tones can go as long as 15 minutes.
Beyond exposure times, it is important to buck up on our knowledge of sunscreen ingredients before we catch some rays.
Mineral and chemical sunscreens
Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms–mineral (or physical) and chemical. Each uses a different mechanism for protecting skin; mineral sunscreens reflect and block the sun’s rays, while chemical sunscreens absorb them. Most sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters including some combination of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
Most of these ingredients have huge data gaps–we simply don’t know what they might be doing to humans or to the environment. But what we do know should give us pause.
Studies indicate that some chemical UV filters may mimic hormones or cause skin allergies, and oxybenzone (the most common one) is toxic to coral reefs and marine life. In addition, according to a new study tiny particles used in sunscreens and other consumer products may harm marine creatures by disabling the defense mechanisms that protect their embryos.
Environmental Science and Toxicology reported small amounts of microscopic metals in some sunscreens, toothpastes, cosmetics, and boat paints can alter the cells of sea life in ways that make the animals more vulnerable to damage inflicted by other toxic pollutants.
In May 2018 Hawaii lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting the sale of over-the-counter sunscreens containing chemicals they believe are contributing to the destruction of the state’s coral reef and other ocean life. The chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. which are used in more than 3,500 of the world’s most popular sunscreen products such as Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone and Banana Boat, are now prohibited. As our beloved Lake Erie beaches are a popular summer destination, we should be uber-sensitive to the sunscreen we apply before taking a dip in the water.
Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to protect against UV rays. Many of the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens contain nanoparticles which are tiny particles that are one-twentieth the width of a human hair. Sunscreen makers use nanoparticles to make the product sheer so that it leaves less of that chalky white or purple hue. These particles can still block UV rays, but they can also be absorbed into the skin. Scientists do not know much about potential long-term health effects of nanoparticles.
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a number given to sunscreens to inform consumers on how many hours of protection from harmful UV rays can be expected. Customers should look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen—these protect against both UVB and UVA rays. However, higher number SPFs can lull users into thinking that they are safe for longer periods of time, and that they might not need to reapply. In reality they are not much more protective than SPF 30.
It is essential that you apply sunscreen all over your body, and reapply after swimming, sweating, or at least every two hours – the most common measurement is about a shot glass full of product. Of course, the best protection is to stay out of the sun for long periods of time and during the middle of the day. Seek shade, cover arms and legs, and don’t forget the hats and sunglasses.
Out of caution and to help reduce the negative impact of sunscreens on the environment, renew bath + body carries Coola Sunscreen and Juice Beauty that uses non-nano, plant-based mineral active ingredients.
The bottom line, summer is almost here, and we want to enjoy it completely. In the words of the late Anthony Bourdain “ Move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. Open your mind, get off the couch, move.” but I ask that you be thoughtful about what you put on your skin and make sure it’s friendly to your health and the environment.
Photos by Michael Constantine, follow @renewedlense