Growing evidence points to possible links between chemicals in these products and skin cancer.
With temperatures rising, it’s beach—and sunscreen—season. But do you know what you’re slavering on your skin?
In June, Senator Charles Schumer asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into recent reports linking retinyl palmitate—commonly used in sunscreen products—with skin cancer. “People are soaking up the sun, and the FDA needs to immediately provide guidance and reassurance to consumers,” he says.
The FDA is, indeed, taking its time reviewing sunscreen products—the agency started looking into them 32 years ago, to be exact! While it issued final rules in 1999, these regulation were tabled because they dealt only with products that claimed to protect against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, the prime cause of sunburn, and not ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, responsible for premature aging of the skin.
“It’s truly irresponsible,” says Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environment group that does review sunscreen products. Despite repeated requests from EWG and others, the FDA is “decades late in getting this done,” she adds. The agency has promised its final rule this year—but not until October.
Oh, my! Many of the very products we have depended upon for sun protection are probably more toxic than overexposure to the sun itself! That’s not very encouraging for anyone heading out now to the pool or beach. And even after the FDA rule is enacted, gaps will surely remain.
The safest way to protect against UV radiation? Wear a hat, light-colored clothing, and stay in the shade! But even with my fair skin, I know that’s no fun this time of year.
Here are some natural products that the EWG finds safe (or check out others at here).
• Beach & Sport Sunscreens: Badger Sunscreen Stick; California Baby Sunscreen Lotion No Fragrance; Sunblock Stick No Fragrance: Alba Botanica Mineral Sunscreen (both fragrance-free and kids products)
• Moisturizers with SPF: Devita International Daily Solar Protector Moisturizer
Read the Label
Trouble is, the EWG recommends only 39 products out of the 500 or so on the market. The best way not to get burned buying sunscreen is to look carefully at the fine print on the label—and avoid dangerous ingredients.
Once very popular in sunscreens, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) can cause allergic dermatitis and actually photosensitivity. A PABA derivative, Padimate O appears safer but may still lead to some of the same problems.
Besides retinyl palmitate or retinol, also avoid benzophenone and its derivatives (benzopheonone-3 and oxybenzone), which are linked to hormone disruption. Research in the International Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also calls this substance “one of the most powerful free radical generators known to man.”
In general, titanic dioxide and zinc oxide are among the safest active ingredients to look for in sunscreens. But as manufacturers work to remove the “white paint” look of these substances, they’re using them as nanoparticles, far more easily absorbed—if not yet tested on fragile or sensitive skin. Personally, I’d stay away from nanoparticles in any skin care product—sunscreen or not!
More Than Skin Deep
I’ve long advocated a healthy diet for healthy skin. And recent research suggests that polyphenols and other antioxidants in foods and supplements can help protect against UV radiation.
Substances like grape seed and resveratrol in grapes and wine as well as silymarin in the liver-protective herb milk thistle, have been found to prevent oxidative stress, DNA damage, and UV-induced skin inflammation, according to dermatology researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Because using sunscreen regularly—and blocking the sun’s rays—can inadvertently create a nutritional deficit, it prevents the body from manufacturing vitamin D. It’s difficult to overemphasize the importance of the “sunshine vitamin” when it’s been found to protect against asthma, cancer, diabetes, infections, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, and much more.
Unfortunately, only a few foods—eggs yolks and sardines—provide sufficient vitamin D. The good news is that supplementation “has been shown to significantly improve vitamin D intake across a variety of age, race, ethnic, and gender groups,” finds Kevin Cashman, professor of food and health at University College Cork.
Because some estimates show that 85% of Americans are deficient in the sunshine vitamin, I’ve increased the amount of vitamin D in Female Multiple and Male Multiple. Because many experts (myself included) believe the current dietary recommendations are way too low, I recommend 5,000 IU of D daily—whether or not you use sunscreen.
The Living Beauty Detox Program