Choosing Sunscreen

Dr. Jeannie Achuff, ND

Sunscreen: Friend or Foe ?

We may be back under the clouds for now, but the recent weeks of blazing sun and warm afternoons outdoors has my family contemplating how best to protect our very bald one year old’s head. While covering up in light clothing and donning a potentially un-hip sun hat may be the best option for us grown ups, it seems certain individuals and situations warrant another approach. But is sunscreen really doing its job to protect us from ill health?
Sunscreens do prevent sunburns, but the jury is still out as to whether they prevent skin cancer. Furthermore, several of the ingredients in sunscreen may actually be cause for even higher concern. Chemical sunblocks are popular because they don’t leave you looking like Caspar the Ghost, but ingredients such as oxybenzone, homosalate and octinoxate, with their estrogen mimicking effects, may be damaging our endocrine systems more than we currently understand. Of particular concern is the use in our children whose endocrine systems are still developing.
In addition to these chemicals, there are other unsuspected offenses committed in the use of sunscreens. Vitamin A (as retinol or retinyl palmitate) is an anti-oxidant and anti-aging compound in the shade, but when applied to the skin in direct sunlight it actually increases the skin’s tumor-growing capacity, which is troublesome for pre-disposed individuals. Next, is the decreased production of Vitamin D from the use of sun-block. And lastly, these lotions trick us into thinking we can spend far more hours in the blazing sun than is healthy for us. As a result, we are increasing the oxidative damage while not experiencing the indicative symptoms that would communicate to us that it is time to seek shade.
My best advise this sunny season? Mineral-based, Caspar the Ghost formulas are the top choice: Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Next, cover up as best you can. Play in the shade, drink plenty of water and increase your intake of antioxidants through fresh fruits and vegetables and/ or supplementation.