I’m not talking about Grandpa’s Hammond—I am talking about your skin. It’s kind of strange to think of skin as an organ, but that is really what it is. With a total area of about 20 square feet (give or take), our skin protects us from outside elements and microbes, it regulates body temperature, and gives us the sense of touch.
In the natural foods world, often the focus is on what we put in our bodies through our mouths, but more and more folks are paying attention to what we put in our bodies through our skin. Working in the Wellness department at Willy Street Co-op, I talk to a lot of customers who are looking for skin care products that are safer for sensitive skin issues such as psoriasis, eczema, celiac, dermatitis, and more. Lots of folks without those conditions would still like natural options. For the most part, we’re able to find basic items for folks—like cleansers and moisturizers. When looking for sun protection, that can get a little more challenging.
When looking at sunscreens, you may find that some of the ingredients in these products meant to protect your skin may be doing more harm than good. Organizations such as Environmental Working Group (EWG) have a database called “Skin Deep” which ranks bodycare ingredients by how much research is out there that correlates the ingredient with health concerns. Some ingredients found in common sunscreens have been connected to melanoma, can disrupt hormones and may cause skin allergies.
Here are some common ingredients that are of concern according to the EWG:
- Oxybenzone: This chemical acts like estrogen once in the body, and has been linked to endometriosis and if used by pregnant women, low birth weight in newborns. It can also trigger allergic reactions.
- Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate): According to government research, on sun exposed skin, this ingredient may speed up the formation of tumors.
- Nano-particles: Particles of Zinc Oxide and titanium dioxide that are a twentieth the width of a human hair—designed to reduce the white tint that these mineral leave on the skin when the particles are large. Not enough is known about what these particles can do once absorbed in the skin.
There are other problems with sunscreens too. There are some forms of sunscreen that EWG recommends against and some other bad practices:
- Combined sunscreen/bug repellent, which can enhance the absorption of repellent ingredients into the skin.
- Spray and loose powder sunscreens—active sunscreen ingredients can be dangerous if inhaled. It’s also easier to miss spots.
- Very high SPFs (over 50): These can lend a false sense of security, and often only protect from UVB rays (the ones that give you sunburn) and not UVA rays (the ones that are linked to cancer).
- Folks often do not apply as much sunscreen as often as they need to protect the skin. Follow directions on the bottle carefully.
Use it properly
Don’t let all these warnings scare you away from using sunscreen—when used properly, it could be helpful in reducing your exposure to UVA rays. Here are some ways to maximize your sun safety and some tips from EWG:
- Do not use sunscreen as a tool to prolong your time in the sun.
- Cover up! Hats, shirts and sunglasses are the best protection.
- Avoid sunburn.
- Do not use a tanning bed or sunbathe.
- Protect kids! Early life sunburns are worse, so keep little ones out of the hot sun.
- Pick a sunscreen with strong UVA protection.
- Use the SkinDeep website or mobile application to help you find a sunscreen with the fewest ingredients of concern (www.ewg.org/skindeep).
- Get vitamin D. There is speculation but not proof that adequate levels of vitamin D can reduce the risk of melanoma. But we know that vitamin D is good for combating other types of cancer. Commit to getting screened for vitamin D deficiency.
- Examine your skin. Check your skin regularly for new moles that are tender or growing. Ask your primary care doctor how often you should see a dermatologist.
At Willy Street Co-op, we’re always reviewing the products we carry, and sunscreen is one we are trying to pay particular attention to. You’ll find that the majority of sunscreen options we have are all ranked very well on SkinDeep, and we are striving to go from the majority to the entirety by next summer. Stay safe out there!