Which Is Riskier: Sunburn or What You’re Putting on Your Skin to Prevent It?

When we had our house repainted, I was surprised that the painters didn’t wear anything on their faces to prevent inhaling the noxious fumes. And when our neighbors have their yard tended to by a different company than the one we use for our garden, the crew, using backpack gas grass blowers, weed-wackers and some sort of chemical spray to try to neutralize the odor on their grass from their dogs, didn’t protect themselves from the fumes either. And when I go to the pool for my swim training, many of the fellow athletes, as well as kids and moms who are there to swim at the pool for fun, are doing something quite similar: exposing themselves in chemicals without really thinking about what they’re doing. How so? One word: sunscreen. We know that being safe in the sun isn’t as easy as it used to be; with the ozone layer depleted by up to about 65%, according to experts (1), which can allow large amounts of ultraviolet B rays to reach Earth, causing skin cancer and cataracts in humans and animals. And with skin cancer being the most common cancer (about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year) (2), it’s no wonder we are told to stay the heck out of the sun for too long and when we’re in it, to be sure to cover up from head to toe. And we’re listening. The sunscreen market generates $686.2 million in annual revenue and accounts for 59.4% of the entire sun care market In the US. ( 3 ) So what’s the point of this article, then? Well… we don’t know exactly what we’re putting all over our skin, on our lips, our ears… and on our kids! In fact, I’ve often wondered what’s worse: applying something which I don’t really know what it is on my skin or risking a sunburn. Sure, we can assume that the tried and true brands we’ve loved and used for years are safe and reliable since they’re familiar and comfortable. But this begs the very same question I often ask when I’m writing about what we’re eating. Do we really know what is in our foodstuff, either? Undoubtedly, no, we really don’t. Even if we’re reading labels, half the time we’re not even sure what we’re looking for and we’re trusting words like ’natural’ or ‘organic’ to indicate these are good choices. And with sunscreen? Chances are we’re not even reading past what the SPF is. Consider this. Last summer, Consumer Reports (4) issued their top four sunscreens intended to be used by people of all ages, as well as two top sprays. They tested to see if the purported SPF on the labels was accurate, but nothing more. So, for curiosity, I decided to check into it myself, using the EWG’s skindeep database (4), which ranks skincare, sunscreen, makeup, haircare… all of it, on a scale of 1 – 10 for ingredient hazard score, for known and suspected hazards of ingredients. Four of the top six rank a 7, on a scale of 1 – 10; one being the most safe and 10, the most dangerous. LOTIONS La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk, $36. (Ranks a 7- high) Vichy Capital Soleil 50, $28.50. (Ranks a 5 -moderate) Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50, $10.50 – (Ranks a 5 – moderate) Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50, a Walmart brand, $9. (Ranks a 7 – high) SPRAYS Banana Boat Sun Comfort Continuous Spray SPF 50+, $11. (Ranks a 7 – high ) L’Oreal Quick Dry Sheer Finish 50+, $11. (Ranks a 7) Not sure about the lotion you’ve chosen for your family? For starters, be on the look out for: Oxybenzone (ranks an 8) Acts like estrogen in the body; alters sperm production in animals; associated with endometriosis in women; relatively high rates of skin allergy Ctinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate) (ranks a 6 ) Hormone-like activity; reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies; moderate rates of skin allergy Homosalate (ranks a 4 ) Disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone; toxic breakdown product But even if your sunscreen doesn’t have these top three, don’t assume they’re fair game; protect yourself and your family by running thorough the ingredients one by one using the SkinDeep Database. What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it. We’re not talking about the risk of a mild skin rash; it’s far more serious. We’re talking about carcinogenic agents, endocrine disruptors and toxic chemicals… all of which we apply on our skin, our biggest organ, ourselves. Do your research; keep what you’re using safe and proactively protect against what is in effect, poisoning yourself. Psst- by the way, Beautycounter’s Protect All Over Sunscreen gets a 1.  The most prized ranking of all! 1 “Ozone Depletion Information, Ozone Depletion Facts, Ozone Layer, Ozone Hole – National Geographic.” National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2016 2 “Skin Cancer Facts.” Skin Cancer Facts. American Cancer Society, n.d. Web. 03 July 2016. 3 Harris, Aubrey. “Sunscreen Market Presentation.” Prezi. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2016. 4 http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/