What You Don't Know About Your Sunblock Could Hurt You

We all know it's important to put on UV protection before heading outdoors, but the chemicals in your sun block could be doing your skin more harm than good.

Many holistic health care practitioners recommend 20 minutes of sun exposure per day for optimum health and a daily dose of vitamin D. However, during the past few decades doctors have become increasingly aware of the rise in skin cancer and the need to protect ourselves from ultraviolet radiation, which is intensified by the effects of global warming. The harm caused by UV rays can include premature aging (such as wrinkling and age spots), skin cancer, and permanent, sometimes blinding, damage to the eyes. In addition, certain over the counter drugs like antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics and retinoids can cause increased sensitivity to the sun. As such, it’s critical to apply UV protection anytime you head outdoors.

Unfortunately, most sunblocks that are designed to protect our skin actually contain dangerous chemicals that have been linked to degenerative diseases and even skin cancer. For example, traditional brands like Banana Boat, Bain de Soleil and even many so-called “natural” and “organic” sun care brands like Avalon Organics and Zia are made with chemicals like oxybenzone and parabens. A derivative of benzophenone, oxybenzone serves to absorb ultraviolet rays. However, when exposed to sunlight and penetrated into the skin, this compound has been known to cause malignant melanoma, which according to recent studies, is responsible for 75% of all skin cancer related deaths.

Parabens are chemical preservatives commonly found in most shampoos, shaving gels and lotions, including sunscreen. Traditionally, parabens are used for their bacteriocidal and fungicidal properties. However, when rubbed into the body or washed down the drain into drinking water, are known to disrupt the function of the body’s endocrine system (which includes the hypothalamus, ovaries, and thyroid) and mimic the hormone estrogen, which has been linked to the development of breast cancer.

Given the health and environmental risks, it’s best to avoid sunblocks—or any cosmetics for that matter—containing oxybenzone or parabens. The good news is, there are many suncare brands on the market that offer adequate sun protection without these chemicals, so it’s easier to make a more conscious choice. Be an educated consumer, and look for products that are certified organic (which means a minimum of 95% of ingredients are organic), as well as sunscreens containing titanium dioxide. Since they remain on the surface of skin, sunblocking agents like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide serve to naturally reflect--not absorb--the sun’s powerful rays. Here are a few of my favorite brands that are free of scary chemicals and safely offer a full range of sun protection:

1. Dr. Hauschka. This is hands down my favorite skin and sun care line. Their organic and biodynamic skin care line protects the skin from the sun’s rays with titanium dioxide, and natural botanicals like sea buckthorn, ice plant, jojoba oil and quince seed extract sooth skin and keep it hydrated and supple. They offer suncare products for all skin types including sensitive skin, and their waterproof SPF 30 is great for kids and those with burn-prone skin. I love their Sunscreen SPF 15 Spray, which makes application as easy as one or two pumps. Or, forego the sun altogether and try their mineral-based Translucent Bronze Concentrate, Bronzing Powder, or Toned Day Cream for an all-natural glow.

2. Juice Beauty. This USDA certified organic line is infused with natural skin enhancers like skin brightening hydroxy-acids and fruit juices, and age-defying DMAE, CoQ10 and vitamin antioxidants. If you like a little color with your sunscreen, try their 2-in-1 SPF30 Mineral Tint Moisturizers, which offer light coverage for age spots and blemishes, and can be worn under or instead of your favorite foundation.

3. DeVita Natural Skin Care. This aloe vera based skin care line is infused with rare essential and vegetal oils that sooth and normalize all skin types. DeVita’s Daily Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30 is a deeply moisturizing daytime cream for normal to dry skin containing two different sun screens for ultimate solar protection. This moisturizer goes on soft and smooth and absorbs into skin flawlessly, so it’s light enough to wear undetected under makeup.

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