Picture this. It’s day 3 of our relaxing trip to Punta Cana. As we were participating in a resort game the entertainment staff asked us if it was our first day of vacation because we were still so “white”. When we informed the staff that we had already been in the sun for 3 days, they laughed and gave us new nicknames that followed us for the entire trip: Chico Blanco and Chica Blanca. And no, we did not leave our vacation any less fair than when we arrived thanks to our love of sunscreen. My love for sunscreen started in grade 9 on a family cruise. I attempted to get a tan that ended oh so badly. While basking in the warm sun, I could feel my porcelain skin starting to burn. With limited effort I applied my sunscreen only to wake up with burnt blotches all over my body! Yes, poor sunblock application led to a hand print shaped sunburn among other interesting patterns. It was so bad that a young kid asked me if it was a birthmark… that’s when I accepted that as much as I love the sun, the sun doesn’t love me back.
Now I’m sunscreen obsessed. Whether it’s a trip to the beach, a Caribbean vacation, staying poolside, or simply going for a walk, I make sure I’m protected. Am I being overly cautious? No. With a family history of skin cancer, and having a few biopsies myself, I do my due diligence to make sure I am protected from harmful UV rays. Plus, who doesn’t want to prevent early signs of skin aging?! Because we go through SO much sunscreen, I like to buy what’s cheap and on sale. I mean why fix what isn’t broken. Surely, all sunscreen is the same right? Wrong!
I’ve recently been taking a new interest in my skin care routine (blog post to come). During my google searches, and product reviews, I’ve uncovered some very scary facts about common ingredients used in most sunscreens. Our skin is a large organ, and while the primary function of the skin is to act as a physical barrier from outside world, the skin is porous and absorbs whatever you put on it…including sunscreen. My findings were validated by my doctor at a recent skin evaluation. She strongly advised us to not use sunscreen…what?!
What’s a girl to do? Use sunscreen and risk health complications from the questionable chemicals…or don’t use sunscreen and increase my risk of skin cancer? That’s when the doc recommended making the switch to mineral based sunblock. But let’s rewind. What’s so bad about the normal sunscreen that I’ve used for years…in fact my whole life?
Most sunscreens on the market block UV rays using chemical filters. These products contain a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These chemicals are easily absorbed into the skin, and can be measured in blood, breast milk, and urine samples. Due to new research, experts suspect that these chemicals are hormone disruptors (mimic, block, or alter hormone levels), which can throw off your endocrine system. Research by the CDC shows that 96% of the U.S. population has oxybenzone in their bodies which has been linked to reduced sperm count in men and endometriosis in women. And you guessed it…their research indicated that the main source of this chemical found in our bodies is due to the use of chemical sunscreens. Additionally, some of these chemicals (such as octinoxate) have shown to be a culprit for premature aging as it produces free radicals that can damage skin cells. While pre-mature aging is a downer, a scarier concern is research showing that some of these chemical filters break down and produce destructive free radicals that are toxic to cells, damage DNA, and may lead to cancer. In fact, FDA studies have shown that some of the ingredients used in chemical sunscreens speed up the development of malignant cells and skin tumors when applied to skin before sun exposure. Scary! So why do we continue to put these ingredients in our sunscreen?
Lack of Information
The truth is, these chemicals have not been actively or recently reviewed by the FDA for evidence of potential hazards since the 1970’s back when these chemicals were considered safe. However, other regulatory bodies, such as the Danish EPA recently reviewed the safety of the active ingredients used in sunscreen and concluded that most ingredients lacked sufficient information to ensure their safety. And as more research is conducted, the more we see the harmful effects of chemical sunscreen. Don’t believe me? Look it up for yourself…or better yet ask your doctor!
Tell me about Mineral Sunscreen
Unlike chemical filters which absorb UV radiation to dissipate it, mineral sunscreens use physical blockers, either zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. These two minerals form an actual barrier on your skin to reflect UV rays like a mirror to protect skin. Again, the key here is that the active ingredients don’t absorb into the skin. Mineral based sunscreens use cleaner and more natural ingredients which are more gentle on the skin compared to chemical sunscreens. They are non-irritating and a great option for those with sensitive skin. Mineral sunscreens are also photostable meaning they don’t break down in light like chemical sunscreens (which is kind of important when your’e out in the sun!). And if your worried about the thick, white appearance of mineral based sunscreen, new formulations use nanotechnology to make these sunscreens easy to rub in and translucent (yay!).
My Go-To Mineral Based Sunscreens
The one and only downside to mineral based sunscreen is the cost. You will definitely pay a premium for safe sun protection…but with your health at risk, the cost is totally worth it! I will NEVER go back to chemical sunscreens. For face protection my absolute favorite go to product is Drunk Elephant’s Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30. It’s a sheer, physical sunscreen that delivers powerful broad spectrum protection. It’s safe for use on normal, oily, combination, dry, and sensitive skin types. This product is free of essential oils, silicone, and irritants. For the rest of my body I like to use a product with a SPF of 40 or higher. To shop my favorite products simply click on the image below!
Happy and safe sunning!