Natural Health and Wellness for the Whole Family

The Pros and Cons of Sunscreen: How to Protect Your Skin Naturally

By Diana Milling June 23, 2016

Woman With Suntan Lotion At The Beach In Form Of The Sun

Summer is here and it’s that time of year where most of us are trying to soak up as much sun as possible.  With this comes lathering on the sunscreen to prevent that painful dreaded sunburn that often accompanies outdoor summer activities.

We have all become accustomed to routinely applying sunscreen with varying amounts of SPF for protection against brown spots, wrinkles, and skin cancer.  There’s no doubt we need to be protecting ourselves against sun damage. Statistics show one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.  Nearly 145,000 of these cases per year will be melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer.  The question is which sunscreens to use and which to avoid?

Lets talk about the ingredients that are potentially harmful and should be avoided.

  • Oxybenzone (UV filter) and Octocrylene (an emulsifier)

Sunscreens that contain these chemicals are shown to be possible hormone disruptors.  Studies indicate they have been linked to sperm disruption in men and estrogen dysfunction in women.  Sunscreens that contain these chemicals are most effective when applied about 30 minutes before going into the sun. However, the organic chemicals bind with our skin when they absorb the suns harmful rays and get into our bloodstream.

A way to avoid these chemicals is to aim for using inorganic (physical) sun protection with sunscreen containing titanium dioxide or zinc dioxide.  The advantage of these is they don’t need to be applied in advance to be effective.

  • Retinyl palmitate (form of Vitamin A)

Certain forms of retinoids can be used to prevent skin cancer and for anti-aging purposes, but when added to sunscreen they can be dangerous.  Research shows that retinoids can thin the skin making it more permeable to the suns harmful rays.  This particular form of retinyl has been found to be potentially carcinogenic.

  • Those ever so convenient sunscreen sprays

Although spraying on a sunscreen can be convenient and allows for easy application there is large concern for these sprays causing harm as they contain nanoparticles that can be inhaled into the lungs.  Further research is being conducted on the safety and efficacy of this but if the FDA has concern it should be avoided.

So what are some alternatives to sunscreen? As mentioned above, opt for mineral based lotions with zinc or titanium dioxide.  Having broad- spectrum protection is crucial.  Look for lotions that have both UVA and UVB protection.  Search for sunscreens at a natural pharmacy or grocery store and read the ingredients carefully.

Don’t be fooled by high-SPF sunscreens.  Studies have found that many high SPF products are misused.  This is often because they are too trusted by consumers and compliance with reapplying falls to the wayside.  In addition, studies show there was no difference in many high SPF sunscreens compared to lower SPF sunscreens in terms of protection.  Most high SPF products pose a greater health risk as they have higher amounts of sun-filtering chemicals that can penetrate the skin and cause (the earlier discussed) hormone disruption, as well as being carcinogenic and triggering allergic skin reactions.

Consider using plant oils as an alternative as they contain a certain amount of their own SPF.  Examples of these are: coconut oil, olive oil and almond oil.  Recipes are available for homemade sunscreens using these oils.  Remember these do not provide an equivalent amount of sun protection but can protect your skin for short time periods.  Longer periods of sun exposure need a reliable sunscreen and remember,  reapplying is the key!

It is important to keep in mind that sunscreen is a last line of defense and being cognizant when out in the sun for long periods is crucial.  Make sure vulnerable areas are covered such as your scalp, tips of the ears, nose, tops of feet, chest and back of the neck.  Lastly, if you are going to be in the water use a water resistant sunscreen and reapply every 40-80 minutes.

Enjoy all that is summer & happy, safe and healthy sunbathing!
Food as medicine is a tenant we hold true at Lakeside Natural Medicine. Here are some anti-aging super-foods for the skin.

Other articles by Diana Milling, ND:

Wired and Tired: The Road to Adrenal Fatigue

Naturopathic Approach To Restore Cortisol Balance

Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


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