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How many times do you slather sunscreen on while you’re at the beach? Even with all the sunscreen we put on, skin cancer rates are rising. The sunscreens commonly sold in the states are full of chemicals banned in the sunscreen of Europeans because of their potential risk to humans. Hawaii is trying to ban many ingredients in conventional sunscreens because they are killing reefs and causing DNA damage at a cellular level. Don’t worry — we have some natural options that won’t do any of that! 

WHICH CHEMICALS IN SUNSCREEN SHOULD YOU AVOID? 

Like many personal care products, sunscreens have nasty chemicals with limited testing. Lack of proof that the chemical harms you is not proof that the chemical is safe. There are potential endocrine disruptors and chemicals linked to cancer in most sunscreens. Here are some ingredients to look out for: 

Oxybenzone 

Oxybenzone (also seen on labels as benzophenone 3) is one of the chemicals being banned from beaches to protect reefs from DNA damage. It has estrogenic effects on the body and has been connected to low testosterone in men and endometriosis in women. A 2002 study found it to linger in the urine for five days after use. [1] That shows the body stores it making the potential effects more likely. A 2018 study found oxybenzone in 97% of people tested. [2]  

This chemical has also been shown to cause male fish to become female fish. [3] Because water treatment plants aren’t effective at filtering this chemical out of the water, rinsing it off in the shower doesn’t take it out of the question – merely returning it to drinking water and rivers where fish we later eat absorb it. Oxybenzone also reacts with chlorine. This reaction produces hazardous by-products that can build up in pools and water-treatment plants, as both use chlorine.  

Retinyl Palmitate 

Retinyl Palmitate is a form of Vitamin A often used in cosmetics and sunscreens. In animal studies, this ingredient speeds up the formation of tumors and lesions when applied in the sunlight – quite the opposite of why we use sunscreen. [4] While this ingredient’s usage has decreased, it is still in 14% of sunscreens. 

Other ingredients to look out for 

These are just some of the ingredients you want to avoid. We also suggest you avoid phthalates, parabens, isothiazolinones, PEGs, and especially fragrances, which can harbor many chemicals. These can be found in many personal care products like shampoo, too.  

This can be a lot to keep track of, and some chemicals go by many different names. The Environmental Working Group has a list of safe sunscreens every year, or you can use their database to check out any sunscreens you are considering purchasing. 

BURNED BUT NOT RED 

While many sunscreens protect your skin from UVB rays that keep you from getting red, many do not protect you from UVA rays. UVA rays account for 95% of the UV radiation that can hit your skin, and those rays go deep into the body, causing damage. [5]   

Until recently, scientists believed only UVB rays were responsible for skin cancer, but that was incorrect. UVA rays can also cause skin cancer. Those slathering up in sunscreen, not realizing they aren’t protecting themselves from these rays, are likely spending more time than they should in the sun. 

Zinc oxide is an ingredient in many mineral sunscreens that protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays. [6] The NIH suggests titanium oxide in the same breath as zinc oxide, but we recommend avoiding titanium in sunscreen and deodorant for many reasons. It’s that ingredient that adds whiteness to the stereotypical white lifeguard nose. You might look a few shades pastier, but it will supply a higher quality of protection. You want that whiteness.  

Skip the mineral sunscreens made with nanoparticles; they get absorbed through your skin and cause other problems. 

REMEMBER YOUR BODY NEEDS VITAMIN D 

Sunshine is the best way to get vitamin D. Unfortunately, due to lifestyles that keep us indoors, many people across the U.S. are Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D has a multitude of benefits and is needed to keep people healthy from a wide range of illnesses. 

One benefit is the antioxidant potential that can reduce your risk for different types of cancer. The NIH even points out that outside workers and those living in the South have less melanoma than their counterparts. [7] People with the potential to get more Vitamin D have lower risks of getting skin cancer. What does that mean for our sunscreen-slathering routines? 

When your body is exposed to sunlight, it makes Vitamin D and takes that to make a hormone that regulates 1,000 genes. It destroys cancer cells. Studies show just taking a supplement reduces your risk for cancer and death from cancer. [8] Sunscreen prevents your body from getting the sun it needs to make Vitamin D. 

No one enjoys getting burned, and that burn can increase your chance of skin cancer. However, you do want to ensure you’re getting some Vitamin D. It’s challenging to get enough Vitamin D from food sources alone. That’s why playing outside, grounding yourself, and feeling the sun on your face is essential. Even 20 minutes of sun time will help you get the D you need to help protect that body! 

EAT YOUR SUNSCREEN 

You should be able to eat your sunscreen, or you shouldn’t put it on your body. Beyond that, what you eat can affect how the sun treats your skin. Some foods can increase your likelihood of getting burned, while others can reduce it. 

We recommend a non-inflammatory diet for everyone to avoid chronic illness. Even better? A non-inflammatory diet will make it harder for you to get burned. Avoid processed sugars, grains, dairy, soy, and your food allergies. Inflammatory foods leave you more susceptible to disease and to getting burned. 

Other foods have components that can help keep you from getting burned. Omega 3’s are a noninflammatory food found in fish with many protective factors. Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in blueberries and red grapes that neutralizes free radicals and supports cell and tissue health. Eating half a cup of blueberries (give or take) each day may lower your risk of burning. Coffee and teas have catechins — antioxidants that scavenge for and neutralize the free radicals, protecting your body from damage. 

As always, staying hydrated is a fantastic way to help your body! Aloe juice and water with Himalayan sea salt mixed in are full of electrolytes and exceptionally good at keeping you hydrated. 

WHAT TO DO NOW 

Most sunscreens have chemicals that are bad for humans and the environment around us. If you don’t want to eat your sunscreen, you shouldn’t put it on your body. Not to mention, we all need Vitamin D, and many of us are deficient to begin with. That doesn’t mean that getting burned is good or pleasant for you. So, what should you do instead?  

WHAT’S IN WELLNESS WAY BEACH BAGS? 

If you’ve been around the Wellness Way for any length of time, you know we’re big on making your own self-care supplies with minimal ingredients. That way, you know what is going on or into your body and can control scents, amounts, and more. Of course, that’s not to say buying clean products is off the table – it just takes more homework. 

Whether buying or making your own, the following base oils are good stand-bys: 

  • Coconut oil – Coconut oil might as well be called “old faithful” around here. As long as you aren’t allergic to coconuts, this is an excellent base for just about any lotion or sunscreen. It’s great as a moisturizer, can have anti-inflammatory effects, and is fantastic for skin health in general. [9] 
  • Shea butter – Shea butter is one of our best follow-up suggestions to coconut oil – even better if someone is allergic to coconut. Shea butter is also anti-inflammatory, which can help with skin barrier repair and moisturizing skin! [10] [11] 
  • Cacao butter – Pure chocolate has many health benefits, and cacao butter does, too! Cacao butter has many fatty acids like coconut oil and shea butter, making cacao butter a fantastic moisturizer. Plus! You’ll smell like chocolate afterward. 

Using any of these three oils as a base, mix in some essential oils with SPF benefits to create a good homemade sunscreen. Bump it up even more with some of the zinc oxide mentioned above! If it’s too thick, mix in some avocado or olive oil to thin it as needed. Both oils are good for your skin, too. 

If you find a sunscreen with ingredients other than the above, we recommend using the EWG resource above to scan the label and ensure the product is clean and good quality. 

Don’t underestimate a good old sunhat, either! 

WHAT IF YOU DO GET BURNED? KEEP THIS IN YOUR BEACH BAG, TOO! 

We have good news on this front! Coconut oil, shea butter, and cacao butter all help soothe burns, too. Aloe – from a bottle or the plant – silver gel, and ACV also work wonders. You can use any of these on their own or mix in a bit of lavender or peppermint essential oils. 

DON’T GET BURNED 

Have you checked your sunscreen yet? Does it have chemicals that are putting you and the environment at risk? You may not have a reef in your backyard, but that doesn’t mean the sunscreen isn’t affecting the environment around you. Those chemicals also disrupt fish hormones. The more sunscreen we slather on, the more harm we do to ourselves and them. 

You want to feel good about what you put on your body. Your skin is your biggest organ, so it’s essential to keep it healthy. Give it some sun and protect it from getting burned. What you put on it can either protect you or damage you. Don’t get burned by conventional sunscreens again. 

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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