Sunscreens are chemicals that are designed to be absorbed by the skin in order to form a sun barrier so you do not get first-degree or even second-degree burns (blisters). Many of the chemicals have been broken down into tiny particles so that they can be sprayed or absorbed more easily. There is clear evidence that they prevent sunburn, but there is very little known about the safety of these chemicals and their effectiveness in reducing skin cancer from sun exposure. There are also studies whose statistical evidence shows that in some cases these chemicals may actually increase your risk of cancer. There are three primary concerns with the chemicals in sunscreen:
1) They are free-radical generators which breakdown the DNA in cells and potentially make them more prone to cancer.
2) They often have strong estrogenic effects, meaning the chemicals could actually interfere with normal sexual development.
3) They are synthetic chemicals that get stored in the fat cells of the body and accumulate over time. When you apply sunscreen, you are putting these chemicals directly into your system.
On the other hand, sunblocks are products whose ingredients are primarily designed to sit on top of the skin and form an external barrier to block the rays of the sun. However, they may include many of the same chemicals as sunscreen.
Tips for Buying Safer Sun Protection:
1) Be aware that any product labeled as sunscreen contains chemicals.
2) Avoid products with the following chemicals:
-Benzophenones (dixoybenzone, oxybenzone)
-PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB, glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA)
-Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate)
-Salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate)
-Avobenzone [butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane; Parsol 1789] - This is the only chemical sunscreen currently allowed by the European Community. However, its safety is still questionable since it easily penetrates the skin and is a strong free-radical generator.
3) Avoid mists and sprays. Most of the chemical ingredients in these products have been broken down into tiny nano-particles, which are more dangerous internally, and may cause risk to lungs when inhaled as well.
4) Check out the research on the brands you are considering by going to the Environmental Working Groups Sunscreen Guide. The EWG's Sunscreen Guide ranks the safety of more than 1,700 sunscreens, SPF lip balms, moisturizers and makeup. It also lets you know what kind and quantity of information is available about a given product.
5) Buy mineral sunblock whose active ingredient is zinc and/or titanium dioxide.
By definition, sunblock is meant to stay on top of the skin and block the sun's rays. It is not designed for total absorption. A good brand is Coola, which is also all natural and contains many organic ingredients as well.
Remember this: Sunscreen isn't necessarily better because it is more expensive. In fact, some of the highest-rated sunscreens are actually the store brands.
Consumer Reports tested 22 different sprays, lotions and creams. The top three on the list were Target's Up & Up Sport SPF 30 (spray), No-Ad with Aloe and Vitamin E SPF 45 (lotion), and Equate Baby SPF 50 (lotion). These provided "excellent" UVB protection and "very good" protection against UVA radiation, which can cause tanning and aging of the skin.
An article in the Dermatology Times implied that the difference between a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 vs. 100 is very small, since the SPF 50 product already blocks 98% of UVB radiation from sunlight. The SPF 55 and higher formulas, however, do include Helioplex - an additive that stabilizes UVA-screening avobenzone, allowing this product to protect the skin for longer periods.
Perhaps one of the more important points about choosing a sunscreen is to find one that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. This actually sits on top of the skin forming a barrier against the sun's rays. One pediatric dermatologist we talked to says that sunscreens made with these ingredients work as a sun block and start protecting as soon as you put them on.
An Australian study also finds by using sunscreen daily you can reduce the chance of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by half.
If you still want specific sunscreen or lotion, check out this list from Consumer Research.
* Best Sunscreen: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 30
* Best Cheap Sunscreen: No-Ad Sunblock Lotion SPF 45
* Baby Sunscreen: Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30+
* Sport-formula Sunscreen: Banana Boat Sport Performance Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 100
* Natural Sunscreen: Badger SPF 30 for Face & Body
Remember that spray lotion is much easier to put on, but it doesn't necessarily protect as well as the rub-on sunblock. The spray tends to be thinner, so you must reapply it more frequently. Do not forget to apply to the lips and ears too.
Here are some other suggestions on staying safe from the sun:
* Check the expiration date. Sunscreen that is expired or old may not be as effective as it once was.
* Do not rely on sunscreen alone. Wear protective clothing and limit time in the sun.
* Reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.
* Use enough. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of a lotion on most of your body, or spray as much as can be evenly rubbed in and then go back and spray completely again.