An article in The Atlantic made an interesting metaphor yesterday comparing not having a college degree to not wearing sunscreen.
College in today’s economy is like sunscreen on a scorchingly hot afternoon: You have to see the people who didn’t apply it to fully appreciate how important it is. The same way a blistering sun both makes sunscreen feel ineffective and makes it more crucial than ever, recessions can both make a college degree seem ineffective and make it more important than ever.
– Derek Thompson
The article goes on to compare different sunscreens for their efficacy in context with their chemical context. Just kidding. It really goes on to say that college is necessary, and that there are plenty of really sunny days and you need sunscreen, and compares this to college. We all know sometimes the need for sunscreen (or a college degree) can be out shadowed. But there will always be those really hot sunny days when sunscreen is completely necessary. This is apparently similar to the need for a college degree. I’m here to talk to you about those hot sunny days, not about college educations.
If you want to check the database of Environmental Working Group for all their recommended sunscreens – – http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/ — they have an amazing comprehensive guide.
Also yesterday, one of my favorite blogs posted on Facebook asking fans what they use and explaining what is used by themselves — 100 Days of Real Food – Sunscreen. All signs point toward a review. They even have a teen sunscreen guide for those who are “too cool” for sunscreen. I mean, I’m 23 and sometimes feel too cool… I get it.
To be honest I thought I was doing a good job with sunscreen. I had stayed away from the cheap stuff – the stuff that clearly was riddled with chemicals. I’m going to assume that most people understand the importance of sunscreen as a protectant for your skin. As much as we all want to be sun-kissed and glowing, the sun is really dangerous to our skin. It actually has the power to alter our DNA, cause different base pairs to merge together into an irreversible bind and cause many problems in our skin — most commonly, skin cancer.
What to avoid: We want to avoid chemicals that are really dangerous for your body. It is sunscreen and therefore you’re adding a protective layer to your body to ward off the dangers of the sun. There are two ways to do this: using minerals or using chemicals. Either way you want to make sure you’re avoiding anything lower than SPF 15. There will be no benefits to a sunscreen that is lower than SPF 15 and in that case you’re putting chemicals on/in your body for no reason (yes I’m saying avoid tanning oils!!). You also want to avoid any type of continuous spray sunscreen. I know, they’re super convenient and this took me a while to transition from. Once you realize how bad they are for the environment and they are somewhat more inefficient when it comes to protecting ourselves from the sun, they’re easy to let go of. There is one specific chemical we want to avoid — oxybenzone. This is a chemical that is good at absorbing UV rays but at a cost. That cost is it that the chemical is easily absorbed into your skin and can reach your blood stream. The threat of oxybenzone is similar to that of BPA you might have heard of in water bottles (and other plastics). The chemical is able to mimic the hormone estrogen and interact with our lymphatic system, potentially throwing off our normal hormonal responses. It can be really tricky and cause lots of problems, especially with repeated exposure, when chemicals start mimicking hormones. The point is, you don’t need to use sunblocks with oxybenzone to protect your skin from the sun.
Environmental Working Group rates each chemical in sunscreen and then gives each sunscreen an overall rating (it does this for most household and cosmetic products – check out the post about them here: Cosmetic Chemical Database). An example of a sunscreen to avoid is Coppertone continuous spray bottles – or anything similar you might find in the drugstore aisle.
What I use now:
The sunscreen I’ve been using for the past year once I became more aware of the chemicals in my daily life was: CeraVe – it is a mineral based sunscreen – meaning it protects with actual minerals blocking the sun’s rays instead of chemicals absorbing the UV rays. The bottle looks pretty environmentally friendly with “developed by dermatologists” labled on the front. The problem that EWG has with the product is that it contains retinyl palmitate – aka vitamin A. Vitamin A can be really good when you use it at night to prevent wrinkles but apparently when your skin is exposed to sunlight it should not also be covered in vitamin A. Sometimes, it seems like you can’t win. This product is rated 4/10 which isn’t bad. To be honest, I’ll probably finish this bottle and then move on to a lower rated sunscreen next.
What to move onto:
When looking into new products there were two good resources for sunscreen. One of my favorite blogs, 100 Days of Real Food, posted on Facebook about the sunscreen they were using on vacation. The family was using Goddess Garden Sunny Face Natural Sunscreen – a mineral based sunscreen that actually blended in nicely (there is a big problem avoiding white faces because of sunscreens that don’t rub in fully with mineral based sunscreens). I have yet to try it but it seems to be working for them so I can recommend it here.
Another big winner was Kiss My Face Sunscreen – another mineral based sunscreen, inexpensive, available at Whole Foods. They both have an EWG rating of 1, meaning that they’re virtually nontoxic.
One last one that many people were discussing on 100 Days of Real Food and on the EWG website was Badger, which I have used as a lip balm and loved but have never experienced as a sunscreen. I would, however, easily recommend based on all the reviews.
Even two years ago CNN was trying to warn the American public of the dangers of sunscreen chemical exposure: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/16/health/sunscreen-report/.
In the spirit of summer time here’s a head start and some options for avoiding gross chemicals in your sun protection routine. What do you use? Have you had trouble with any of these?