5 Dangers of Conventional Sunscreens

Reader Contribution by Susan Melgren and Web Editor
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As the weather heats up in the next month, most of us are likely to spend more time outdoors. Whether you’re hitting the beach or just out working in the garden, summer is the season for sunscreen. But before you slather your body in sun block, take a moment to examine your sunscreen. The market is saturated with sunscreens, but most of the conventional options cause more harm than good.

 Photo By the half-blood prince/Courtesy Flickr. 

How safe is your family’s sunscreen?

Many conventional sunscreens only provide partial protection against damaging rays, and some even include ingredients that can speed up the development of cancer-related skin problems.

1. No federal regulations for sunscreen 

Like other beauty products, the FDA has no regulations for sunscreens, meaning manufacturers are under no legal obligation to disclose their ingredients or prove any claims made on product labels. So while that “waterproof” sunscreen you plucked off the shelf says it offers “all-day protection,” it’s unlikely that the manufacturer can back those claims up with solid evidence.

2. Misleading SPF claims 

When buying sunscreen, you’re more likely to reach for a product offering SPF 75 than SPF 30, right? Because the higher the number, the more protection it offers, right? Not exactly. Many conventional sunscreens offer SPFs up to 100, but studies have shown that SPFs higher than 50 don’t offer any more protection—and could even lure consumers into a false sense of security and cause them to apply sunscreen less often. Don’t fall for the numbers game. SPF 30 sunscreen is adequate for most people. Just remember to apply it every two hours!    

3. Cancer accelerant 

Many conventional sunscreens contain a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate that can speed up the development of cancer. Sunscreen manufacturers use vitamin A for its antioxidant, anti-aging properties, but this compound also has photocarcinogenic properties, meaning it can cause cancer-related tumors and lesions when exposed to light.

4. Little UVA protection 

While conventional sunscreens offer protection from UVB rays, they don’t block UVA rays. What’s the difference, you ask? UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, to the base layer of the skin where most skin cancers occur. UVA rays also play a part in aging and cause wrinkles. UVB rays, on the other hand, only damage the top layers of the skin and are best know for creating the redness associated with sunburns. Conventional sunscreens might prevent sunburn-causing UVB rays from penetrating the skin, but they’re letting through the cancer-causing UVA rays!

5. Sunscreens damage the environment.

Despite their “water-proof” claims, many conventional sunscreens wash off swimmers and into the oceans where they can damage aquatic life—especially coral reefs. Common sunscreen ingredients such as parabens, octinoxate, oxybenzone, cinnamate and camphor cause serious damage to coral. The chemicals activate dormant viruses in algae called zooxanthellae (which live in the coral, feed surrounding animals and give the coral its vibrant colors) causing the algae to explode and die.

Photo By Brandon Christopher Warren/Courtesy Flickr.

Keep your skin fair and free from damage; use natural sunscreens with UVA- and UVB-blocking ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. 

Many consumers might turn their noses up at the white sheen that natural sunscreens leave behind, but these products offer more protection and advantages over their conventional counterparts. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, the common active ingredients in natural sunscreens, block both UVB and UVA rays. Natural sunscreens are also made with biodegradable ingredients and lack chemicals such as parabens that can destroy coral reefs, making them a safe choice for the environment.

Many natural sunscreen companies practice full disclosure of their ingredients and participate in outside testing to prove their claims, making it easier to select a healthy choice. Badger, for example, hired an independent laboratory to test their sunscreens for biodegradability, which they passed.

For a list of natural sunscreen reviews, see Natural Home & Garden’s Summer Survival Guide.

Susan Melgren is the Web Editor of Mother Earth Living.

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