School's out! Summer is here! That means lots of time spent outdoors for adults and kids alike.
Here are 8 things you may not know about sun protection so that you can make an informed decision for yourself and your family members this summer:
1. There's no proof that sunscreens prevents most skin cancer.
Rates of melanoma have tripled over the past 35 years despite promotion of widespread sunscreen usage. Every major public health authority has concluded that the available data do not support the assertion that sunscreens alone reduce the rate of skin cancer.
Puzzling fact #1: Melanomas do not usually appear on parts of the body that get daily sun exposure.
Puzzling fact #2: Some studies have even suggested that sunscreen users are at increased risk of melanoma.
Puzzling fact #3: Outdoor workers report lower rates of melanoma than indoor workers.
2. Don't be fooled by high SPF.
A Sun Protection Factor of anything over 50+ provides marginal amounts of further protection, has poorer UVA/UVB balance, and causes users to wrongfully misuse the product, thinking they are invincible for long hours of sun exposure. Don't bother with any higher than SPF 30. (Reapply more often, use hats and clothing, get in the shade).
3. Sunscreen doesn't protect skin from all types of skin damage.
The majority of sunscreen chemicals mainly block against UVB rays (which are a cause of sunburns). UVA rays, however, penetrate deeper into the skin, creating free radicals that damage DNA and promote skin aging and cancer.
4. The common sunscreen additive Vitamin A (aka retinyl palmitate) may speed development of skin cancer and lesions.
It is added as an "anti aging" ingredient but can react unfavourably when exposed to sunlight.
5. Some common sunscreen ingredients disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies.
Toxic ingredients from most sunscreens are absorbed into the body and can be measured in the blood, breast milk and urine (think of fetuses and newborns).
Oxybenzone is the active ingredient found in 95%+ of products. It acts as estrogen in the body (a reproductive hormone) and has potent anti-androgenic effects (has been found to decrease testosterone in males). It has also been found to alter sperm production in men and be associated with endometriosis in women.
Of the inactive ingredients: methylisothiazolinone, a commonly used preservative, has been labelled "allergen of the year" because of its skin irritating properties and has even been banned in Europe... deemed "unsafe at any concentration."
6. Keep taking your Vitamin D!
Sunscreen inhibits production of Vitamin D (technically a hormone). Avoiding the sun also minimizes vitamin D levels. The majority of us are deficient, yet we NEED vitamin D for strong bones and for our immune system to function (among many other things).
Adequate vitamin D levels prevent against breast, colon, kidney and ovarian cancers. This is also good to know: Higher Vitamin D levels in people with regular sun exposure may play a role in reduced melanoma risk.
7. Mineral based sunscreens are the way to go.
Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are the major filters in mineral based sunscreens. Less than 0.01% penetrates into the body, they have excellent UVA protection, and do not act as hormone disrupters.
8. The science is not definitive but the most important thing to know is this: avoid sunburn, but not all sun exposure.
Relying on sunscreen alone can often backfire - you think you've applied it properly and so you spend more time exposed to the sun than you should... you may not burn but you've incurred mass amounts of UV exposure.
In one study, people who relied on sunscreen alone actually had more sunburns than people who reported infrequent sunscreen use but wore hats and clothing to shield themselves from the sun.
Now that you're equipped with more knowledge, go out and enjoy the sunny summer weather!