I have been meaning to sit down and write this for weeks. I have a ton of clients with the same question and I know there’s a lot of readers out there who are wondering the same.
Are sunscreens safe? Do I need them?
A little background on sunscreens first. Simply put, there’s 2 types. Physical, and chemical. Physical sunscreens are those that contain titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, they physically block UV radiation. Chemical sunscreens act as filters and have chemicals in them to absorb UV radiation. Chemical sunscreens can contain zinc or titanium dioxide but overall they have a different active ingredient with a higher percentage.
Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher for daily use.
Now, what’s all the issues with the lack of Vitamin D out there, and the dangerous chemicals put in sunscreens? Well, you’re going to have to weigh the pluses and minuses for yourself. Having a parent and a parent in law who have both had skin cancer I am a big proponent of sunscreen. Do I slather my children’s entire bodies with it everyday? No. Somedays do I forget to apply any at all? Yes. When we are going to be outside for longer than a 30 minute increment, do I apply sunscreen? Yes. Do I apply sunscreen to my face and neck every single day? YES. Do I do this because I am vain and I want to avoid pigmentation and wrinkles later in life? YES.
The controversy with sunscreens is in the chemical sunscreens. I personally do not use chemical sunscreens on my children. I choose to use mineral (physical) blocks solely on them. I do this because my kids don’t care. They don’t care if they have a white sheen on their face or it’s a little harder to rub in. The reason most women or men do not like physical sunscreens is because they are thicker. Because they are a bit thicker they can also clog your pores. This is where you have to decide for yourself what is important. For me, I have gone back and forth between the two types of sunscreens for years. I have read the reports about the chemicals in the sunscreens and have talked to numerous companies about it. This is what I have found from questioning them. When you look up for instance ‘harmful ingredients in sunscreens’, and it sends you to a page that tells you about how oxybenzone or another chemical is dangerous for pregnant women or that the ‘study has found …xyz’ they are not necessarily referring to a sunscreen with that ingredient being applied properly on your skin. They could be referring to a study where an animal was INGESTING the chemical and it had harmful effects. Well, of course. I could spray hair spray on my hair and it be perfectly fine, but if I INGEST the hair spray it may be another situation.
The reason I am making this clarification is because sunscreens are not allowed to penetrate the dermis. Therefore they cannot enter your bloodstream. This is by law from the FDA. Cosmetics, which are sunscreens, legally cannot have an ingredient where it can pass through the epidermis (top layer of the skin) and into the dermis (deeper layer of the skin). If a product in fact does penetrate the skin and can enter the bloodstream, then that is a drug. So if a sunscreen is doing that, then it cannot or should not be on the market and the FDA would make the company change the formula.
I have seen sunscreens be pulled off the market because of various reasons, sometimes it’s not a stable formula and they don’t get a consistent SPF, or the packaging alters the formula.
So what do I use on myself and my family?
Personally, I don’t think anything above an SPF of about 40-50 makes a difference. I am a big fan of reapplication. I do not use or own any of the aerosol sprays that deliver sunscreen. I stay away from the Banana Boats, and the Bull Frogs and all the cheap stuff on the shelves. I prefer brands like Blue Lizard, Neutrogena Pure and Free, California Baby, Burts Bees, when it comes to my kids. For myself, I am pretty picky. I don’t mind applying the kids’ sunscreens on my body, which I do all the time on vacation. But for my face I use professional products only. There is one brand I have tried and CVS carries it online, however it is not cheap at all. It’s a company called 100% Pure and they have a tinted sunscreen that I use on my face. I also use chemical sunscreens on my face by Bioelements, Dermalogica, SkinCeuticals, etc. It all depends on the season and my skin. But I must say, I never ever go on vacation, or to the beach without a sunhat. I am a firm believer in protecting my face and neck. I have no problem with my body’s vitamin D intake being from my feet and ankles.
I think the benefits of sunscreen far outweigh the risks and will continue to use sunscreen on my family. I also feed my family healthy foods rich in Vitamin D and think that unfortunately we have damaged our earth so much that the sun is harmful now. I hope that this may clarify some questions or reservations you may have about sun protection. All in all, be safe and healthy!