We’ve heard it over and over again: Wear sunscreen!  But there’s a lot of research and data coming out about the effectiveness and limitations of sunscreen lately that you definitely need to know before you lather it on and run out the door thinking you’re safe.  Besides staying out of the sun completely, protecting our skin from sun damage, even in the Winter, is one of the most pro-active things we can do to prevent premature aging and damaged skin. Because I love being outdoors (it’s seriously my church) as much as I love healthy skin – I am constantly searching out and educating myself on the latest news on sunscreen so I can continue to hike, swim, and enjoy being outside, without ruining my skin. Here are a few important things you should know:

  1. Every major public health authority – the FDA, the National Cancer Institute and the International Agency for Research on Cancer – has concluded that the available data do not support the assertion that sunscreens alone reduce the rate of skin cancer – the evidence that sunscreen use can reduce skin cancer is inconclusive.
  2. Vitamin A is a No-No in sunscreens – Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging. But studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight. Other governments warn that cosmetics may contribute to unsafe amounts of vitamin A, and recommend against using vitamin A-laden cosmetics on the lips and large portions of the body. EWG (environmental working group) recommends consumers avoid sunscreens, lip products and skin lotions that contain vitamin A or retinyl palmitate, also called retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol.
  3. Sunscreen does NOT protect skin from all types of sun damage.
    SPF measures protection from sunburn, but not other types of skin damage. The sun’s ultraviolet rays also generate free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging and may cause skin cancer. American sunscreens can reduce these damages but not as effectively as they prevent sunburn. People can run into problems if they pick a sunscreen with poor UVA protection, apply too little or reapply it infrequently. Sunscreen companies commonly add SPF boosters that inhibit sunburn but may not effectively protect against other sun damage.
  4. European sunscreens provide better UVA protection.
    Nearly every sunscreen sold in the U.S. claims to offer “broad spectrum” protection, which suggests they shield against harmful UVA rays. But many products are too weak to be sold in Europe, where standards are higher. In Europe, sunscreen makers can formulate their products with four chemicals that offer stronger protection from UVA rays. American manufacturers have been waiting for years for FDA approval to use these sunscreen ingredients. The FDA has asked for more safety data, but until the FDA approves these ingredients and lifts restrictions on combining certain active ingredients, Americans will not be able to buy sunscreens with the strongest UVA protection available.
  5. Some sunscreen ingredients disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies.
    Sunscreen is designed to be applied to large portions of the body, several times per day. Sunscreen ingredients soak through skin and can be detected in human blood, urine and even breast milk. Several commonly used ingredients appear to block or mimic hormones, and others cause allergic reactions on sensitive skin such as; Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Homosalate and Octisalate, just to name a few.

Bottom line: use sunscreen – but know that it’s meant to prevent burning more than protection from sun damage that can cause skin cancer and premature aging. The best practice is to cover up, and seek shade, especially during peak sun hours. Oh, and read the labels of your products!

Here are a few of my favorites:

Tizo Sunscreen for everyday.  That’s it – I just don’t leave home without it.  Yes, even on cloudy days. 

Headhunter for sport, swimming and surfing.  Because my happiness and mental health depend on my long hikes, ocean swims and love of nature – but I don’t want to look like it – these guys know how to protect the outdoor athlete.  

For more information, and the latest research findings check out one of our the Environmental Working Group