What You Need to Know About Sunscreen’s Dangers
By Dr. Molly Casey
Summer is coming. It’s easy to get excited about being outside into the spring and summer sun -- and we forget it can, does, and will burn us if we don’t take proper precautions. While sun exposure is great for the spirit, mind, and body, cumulative exposure and burns are linked to an increase in developing melanoma (skin cancer). Protection is wise and necessary for optimal health and fun in the sun without worry. Here’s the wild thing: did you know the very thing most people use as protection, sunscreen, is commonly riddled with chemicals harmful to your health?
Common commercial sunscreen -- found easily in any drug store, pharmacy, chain store, or online -- is laden with chemicals that are harmful to your body and health. So while you are trying to protect yourself from increasing your skin cancer risk, you’re simultaneously harming your body in other ways. Many of the chemicals found in sunscreens are what are called hormone disrupters. This means they mimic hormones within your body and block or interfere with the normal hormone function. Hormone or endocrine disruptors, as they are also called, can create many types of problems, including:
- Negatively affect immune function
- Linked to some cancers
- Early puberty and early menopause
- Issues with sperm quality and fertility
- Abnormalities in sex organs
Reading the label is a necessary behavior if you are looking for the cleanest and healthiest version of sunscreen. As with food, if you can’t pronounce the name of the ingredients, it is wise to not put it on your skin; you should, at least minimally, do your research to see what it is and decide from there whether it’s to be used. While there are more harmful chemicals present in the sunscreens than what is listed here, these are among the chemicals known as hormone or endocrine disruptors commonly found in sunscreen.
- Oxybenzone or benzophene-3
- 5 Cylcopentasiloxane/xyclomethicone
- 3 Homosalate
This is by no means a complete list, these are simply some common ones. I invite you to go to the cabinet where you keep sunscreen, take out the bottle, look at the label, and see what you find; my guess is that at least a couple of these will be listed.
Natural Sun Protection
There are ways to protect yourself from the sun and not harm your body and health in other ways. It’s actually quite simple.
- Limit time in direct sunlight - Be conscious of exactly when you go out into direct sunlight and set a timer to remind yourself to take breaks. I personally go no more than about 20 minutes at a time in direct sunlight. Find shade under a tree or tent, or go inside for a 20-minute break before returning.
- Cover up - Maybe limiting time in direct sunlight sounds awful to you. That’s OK. Wear a light long sleeve shirt over your bathing suit; if you’re on a poolside chair, put a towel over your legs instead of going back inside. Make sure to don a hat and sunglasses because the head and eyes can burn as well. Enjoy the sun with a light barrier.
- Choose natural sunscreens wisely if you’re determined to lather up - Check out either this article or this one here as they offer plenty of natural, chemical-free options for the whole family.
Enjoy the summer and the sun. Be conscious and present to your engagement with it -- how long you’re out, whether you’re in direct sunlight or not, and your choices for protection. Go the extra mile in reading labels, tossing out chemically laden lathers, and be willing to cover up or purchase natural ingredients. Here’s to summer and sun fun!
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