What you will learn from this article:
– There is an unjust fear of the sun causing skin cancer
– An industry that thrives on this fear
– What chemicals to look for in a sunscreen. Worse, not so good, just OK
– What do these chemicals do to us?
– Recommended sunscreen brands
– Worst sunscreen brands
Healthy sun exposure will help to increase vitamin D levels and rebalance you hormonally. For extended sun exposure, you need a safe brand of sunscreen that does not contain any endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
In my advertising days, I used to work as a strategic planner for the marketing of many Fortune 100 brands, including Neutrogena, an American skin care, hair care, and cosmetics company. One of the goals of advertisers is to stimulate consumers to take action. Instilling fear is one of the methods they use.
At Neutrogena, my job was to make you frantically afraid of the sun. I totally believed in the dangers of sun exposure then – after all, skin cancer is a real concern and companies like Neutrogena had a number of scientists and dermatologists working for them. Sometimes they would join us for marketing meetings and it was clear that marketing led the meetings and the narratives, not the scientists.
But then I started doing this work – helping women rebalance their hormones naturally and had to re-educate myself on this topic.
A few things I want to share with you:
Australians are the highest users of sunscreens, yet they have the highest number of skin cancers in the world per capita. They also happen to have 88% vitamin D deficiency (source). What’s going on? Turns out, according to research, vitamin D deficiency is now rampant globally (source); we are talking 41.6% of Americans overall (source) and up to 96% (!) African Americans being vitamin D deficient (source).
Vitamin D is a hormone that is required for calcium and magnesium to be absorbed. If you have a deficiency in vitamin D, it will be pretty difficult for your bones to get stronger even if you are taking calcium supplements.
Unfortunately, most people take calcium without the complementary magnesium and without good quality fats (from food) and their vitamin D levels are below the ideal lower end of 60 ng/ml.
Sun and Vitamin D
Sun exposure is the best source for replenishing your vitamin D levels. I have written an article about the critical importance of vitamin D in hormone balance, Hashimoto’s, breast cancer and inflammation. The article includes healthy ranges, doses, and forms of vitamin D – you can read it here.
Does sun cause skin cancer?
So what about skin cancer? Doesn’t sun exposure cause skin cancer? No, not at normal, reasonable levels. Obviously, if you are doing anything that is causing blistering and pain to your body, where you are damaging tissue, it’s a warning sign and it’s plain silly to allow such damage.
The idea is simple: sunbath sensibly. Don’t go overboard. It’s just like weight-bearing exercise or eating — it is possible to do too much and hurt yourself, but both are good and necessary for health.
For more education on this topic and how sun exposure actually prevents skin cancer (in part due to the increase in vitamin D production), I recommend reading this article to understand that normal, regular sun exposure does not cause cancer.
And tanning beds? William B. Grant, Ph.D., re-examined a 2007 study that suggested the use of tanning beds increased melanoma. He found that the interpretation of data from the original study was flawed and that there was actually no association between the use of tanning beds and an increased risk for skin cancer. Tanning beds can be used if you live in the northern regions of the world, but the real thing (sunshine) is always best.
Should we still use sunscreen?
I’m not saying do not use sunscreen at all. Do so, but after getting some 30 minutes (or till lightly pink) of love from the sun. It’s summer now for those in the Northern Hemisphere; this is your vitamin D moment. The Universe’s gift to you. Come fall and winter, we will talk about supplements and vitamin D-rich foods and the right supplements (my favorite which I personally use is Vitamin D3 Maximus).
In summer months, get some sun. Be sensible.
Our skin is the largest exposed organ that absorbs everything and anything we put on it. It would be naive to assume that we can prevent the countless number of chemicals (many are xenoestrogens or synthetic estrogens) from entering the bloodstream and not impacting our hormonal balance.
So, which sunscreens are good? My favorite and trusted go-to source will always be the Environment Working Group aka EWG, an independent and not-for-profit research organization. They have an updated section for sunscreen brands right here.
What chemicals should we look out for? (And what they do to us)
WORST Sunscreen chemicals:
Oxybenzone: This is the worst. It can cause allergic reactions in the skin and is also an estrogen mimicker, and blocks testosterone. Avoid this one like the plague. It is not hormone balance friendly and EWG recommends avoiding sunscreens with oxybenzone. (source 1, source 2, source 3) Read more here.
EWG Hazard score = 8 (10 is most toxic).
Retinyl palmitate (synthetic Vitamin A): You’d think vitamin A wouldn’t be so bad, but the synthetic version really is. Applied topically, as in a sunscreen, retinyl palmitate may increase your likelihood of getting skin cancer. Several studies are referenced here.
EWG Hazard score = 9
NOT-SO-GOOD Sunscreen chemicals:
Octinoxate: This chemical also has hormone-like activity and messes with reproductive hormones as well as the thyroid. Some people may have allergic reactions to it. Find studies referenced here.
EWG Hazard score = 6
Homosalate: It can create a hormone-like activity and messes with reproductive hormones, including estrogen, androgens, and progesterone. It also bioaccumulates in your body. Find studies referenced here.
EWG Hazard score = 4
JUST “OK” Sunscreen chemicals:
Octisalate: Some people may have allergies/sensitivities to it, but it is generally thought to be safe. Find studies referenced here.
EWG Hazard score = 3
Octocrylene: Some people may have allergies/sensitivities to it, but it is generally thought to be safe. May bioaccumulate in the body. Find studies referenced here.
EWG Hazard score = 3
OKAY/APPROVED Sunscreen chemicals:
Zinc Oxide: Some people may have allergies/sensitivities to it, but it is generally thought to be safe. May be a lung irritant when in aerosol form (opt for a cream). May bioaccumulate in the body. Find studies referenced here.
EWG Hazard score = 2-3 (depends on usage)
Titanium dioxide: Pretty safe sun screening ingredient. May be a problem if inhaled (opt for a cream). Read more about it here.
EWG Hazard score = 2
Avobenzone: Pretty safe sun screening ingredient. Main concerns are around this ingredient being contaminated. Read more here.
EWG Hazard score = 2
Mexoryl SX: You’ll probably only come across this one in a handful of sunscreen products. So far, it seems to be safe. Read more here.
EWG Hazard score = 2
For more information on how to use safe chemicals to keep your hormones balanced, check out our FREE workshop below:
1. ONLY these two minerals: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide should be “active” ingredients in the product.
2. No retinyl palmitate (synthetic Vitamin A).
3. No parabens, synthetic or unlabeled “fragrances” – that’s a general rule for all body products.
4. If you can NOT pronounce the other ingredients, don’t buy it.
What brands to buy
Option 1: Go to the EWG Sunscreen section to check brand’s toxic load and recommended brands if you are planning to buy a new one.
Heads up: all large brands that you see sold or advertised in major retail outlets won’t be considered clean and safe for the kind of lifestyle I’m advocating here.
Option 2: Sun Love – My personal brand recommendation
I love and use Annmarie Skin Care’s product called Sun Love. It’s not cheap, but the quality is outstanding. It’s fully natural, includes avocado and sunflower oil, only contains zinc oxide and… smells like chocolate.
Be Natural Organics SPF 30: This one gets an EWG ranking of 1 (Low hazard), and they have a fair amount of data to make that assessment. It does contain Polysorbate-60 but still ranks very low on toxicity.
Some of the worst brands
Neutrogena I buried my Neutrogena Ultra Sheer (had bottles of them) a few years ago – it just had too much toxicity in it. The EWG gave it a ranking of 7 (10 is most toxic). It also received a moderate-high ranking for overall hazard.
Most of the Neutrogena sunscreens score 10 for most toxic, including the ones formulated for babies! You can go to the EWG’s Cosmetics Database sunscreen section and type in Neutrogena to find out all the toxic ingredients and negative health effects.
Banana Boat, which is widely popular, isn’t any better. You’ll find a ranking of 10 for Banana Boat products as well. Some of the concerns include changes at the cellular level (think cancer) and bioaccumulation, where it just builds up in your body over time. Not good.
Coppertone. The Coppertone UltraGuard Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70+ also gets a ranking of 10 for most toxic. It also causes cellular changes and acts as a hormone disruptor. Some products may rank at 2 or 3. They range from 2-10. It just depends on the formulation.
And here are the EWG’s 14 Worst-Scoring Sunscreens for Babies and Kids.
Check out those healthier sunscreens mentioned above, and don’t forget to get your 20 minutes of sun before you slap anything on, to replenish your vitamin D levels. Thank goodness picking a bikini is a little simpler….