You may have seen the mainstream news story recently that shared information about Vitamin A in sunscreens actually accelerating cancer. To many people, this might be shocking news. Others, like myself, have known for awhile about the MANY dangerous ingredients in common sunscreens.

Thanks to the work of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), this information is starting to reach more people. They just released their 2010 Sunscreen Guide, which shares their top-rated sunscreens along with sun safety tips, a list of Nine Surprising Truths About Sunscreen, and a Hall of Shame (highlighting what’s wrong with the sunscreen industry).

Most Important Ingredients to Avoid:

  • Oxybenzone: Oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen that absorbs through the skin. It is an endocrine disruptor which can affect the nervous system, has been linked to cancer in some laboratory studies, and creates free-radicals when exposed to the sun which are harmful. Scientists have called for parents to avoid using oxybenzone on children due to penetration and toxicity concerns.
  • Vitamin A: Sometimes listed as ‘retinyl palmitate’ on the label, this additive may hasten the development of skin damage and tumors on sun-exposed skin.

Other things to be aware of:

  • No Sprays or Powders: Sprays and powders can leave tiny particles of sunscreen in the air that may not be safe to breathe.
  • SPF over 50: The FDA says SPFs higher than 50+ are misleading. EWG advises sticking to SPF 15-50+ and choose based on your own skin, time planned outside, shade, and cloud cover.

Other Ingredients to Avoid

Here is a list of other ingredients that are common in sunscreens (and other products) and should be avoided:

  • Parabens: There are many types of parabens: methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, etc. Parabens have have hormone-disrupting effects. Topical parabens have been detected in human breast tumors. This is concerning because parabens have been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which can encourage the growth of human breast tumors.
  • Fragrance: Synthetic fragrances often contain phthalates, which are endocrine disrupters that mimic hormones and may alter genital development. Avoid products that list ‘fragrance‘ as an ingredient unless the label states that it’s derived from essentials oils, or look for a phthalate-free label on the packaging.
  • Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): Usually seen on an ingredient label as PEG followed by a number (e.g. PEG-8), PEGs are thought to increase cancer risk, including women’s risk of breast cancer. They are also contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen.
  • 1,4-Dioxane: 1,4-Dioxane is considered a chemical “known to the State of California to cause cancer”, yet you won’t see it listed on an ingredient label on a product; it is considered a ‘contaminant’ or ‘by-product’ of the ethoxylation process, rather than an ingredient. Avoid synthetic ethoxylated ingredients, including those with myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth, any other “eth,” PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, or oxynol, in their names.

What Should I Buy? Make it Easy, Please!

For those of you with little time to research this information yourself, here are some resources that neatly summarize safer sunscreens:

  • EWG lists 39 sunscreens (out of nearly 500) that earned their best rating. Their top-rated sunscreens are the right choice for people who are looking for the best UVA protection without any sunscreen chemical considered to be a potential hormone disruptor. None of the products contain oxybenzone or vitamin A and none are sprayed or powdered.
  • SafeMama, a fabulous website with lots of information on non-toxic and safe items, came out with a 2010 Safer Sunscreen Cheat Sheet earlier this spring. It lists the top safer sunscreens as well as information on ingredients to avoid.

What Would I Buy?

We currently use Aubrey Organics sunscreen and while it is a good sunscreen, I see that there are even better choices. Some of the sunscreens in those great lists still contain lots of “chemical” sounding ingredients, things I am leery about. Looking at their lists, here are a few of the top sunscreens that I would personally choose for myself and my family:

You can easily shop for these items and more in my newly opened Amazon store!

Some Sun is Good!

The sun’s ultraviolet rays do cause skin cancer, but some sun exposure is good for you – it creates Vitamin D, which actually has been shown to prevent cancer and other diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Low vitamin D levels have been associated with increases in cardiovascular mortality, colon cancer mortality and breast cancer risk, and tentatively linked to skin cancer, metabolic disease, hypertension and obesity.

Over the last two decades, vitamin D levels in the U.S. population have been decreasing steadily, creating a growing epidemic of vitamin D insufficiency. Sunscreen use combined with too little outdoor time contributes to vitamin D deficiencies.

  • Your best defenses against harmful UV radiation are protective clothes, shade, and timing.
  • Before you automatically cover your body with sunscreen, it’s OK to spend a few minutes soaking up some sun exposure and Vitamin D. You do not want to burn, though.
  • When using sunscreen, be sure to consult EWG’s list of top-rated sunscreens to choose a safer one.
  • Kids are more vulnerable to sun damage; the best sunscreen is a hat and shirt.

Still Have Questions?

Environmental Working Group is hosting a live chat on Wednesday June 2 from 2pm-3pm EST. They will have a Q&A session regarding their 2010 sunscreen report. Join them to learn more!

Wendy –

Healthy Living SeriesRead all the posts in the Healthy Living series by clicking on the icon on the left.

(Sun image courtesy of ba1969)

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