Why I stay away from all chemical sunscreens?
It’s summertime! Are you excited? For me, it is the best season of the year. There are so many activities we can do together with the kids in this glorious sunshine. But what about protecting your children and yourself from sunburn? I guess a lot of moms out there have already stocked big tubes of sunscreen in the bags and ready to slather on.
You probably heard that if you don’t always wear sunscreens on every day, you are at high risk of skin cancer, and aging. The word “cancer” alone is enough to scare us, right? Obviously, too much of anything is bad, and overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) definitely will harm you. But I hate how they talk about sunlight as if it is a big “No-No” for all human beings, especially women.
I remember the first time I bought a tub of sunscreen for my parents in Vietnam because I know they spend most of their days in the garden. I could read their face saying “What the heck is this?” I believe that was the first time in their fifty years of living they heard of something called “sunscreen”. And you know what? Vietnam is a tropical country!
I know that is very biased. So yes, please take it as my personal experience only. But isn’t it a good example of people who are totally fine without sunscreens on almost half of their lives? The odd thing is not only my parents but most people of their age in my village have never known about the existence of “sunscreen” as well. I did not remember hearing them complain about skin cancer.
Please don’t get me wrong here, I’m certainly not encouraging you to stay all day in the sun without any protection, or ignore other advice. The main point of this post is to raise awareness. I encourage you to do your own research for a safer choice of sunscreens for your own health.
Some thoughts that may make you hesitate before reaching for your chemical sunscreens:
- Vitamin D deficiency is a global health problem nowadays. We learned from biology class that vitamin D is good for bone health, right? Actually, vitamin D is much more important than just that. More research has provided evidence that the lack of vitamin D has been linked to stress, eczema, asthma, leaky gut, diabetes, hormone imbalance, premature labor, and even breast cancer. And, among all sources, direct sunlight is still the main sources of vitamin D for us. A human body needs direct sunlight to synthesize vitamin D. I feel very blessed that I don’t work in an office from 9 to 5, but I know many folks do. If you stay all day in the office, it is very likely that you need more effort to get enough sunlight rather than to avoid it.
- Most people forget that the skin does breath, and the skin does absorb whatever you put on it. According to CDC, more than 13 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. They even say that “studies show absorption of chemicals through the skin can occur without being noticed.” Of course, CDC does not say 13 million people absorb sunscreen through the skin. The point here is you must be careful about what you put on your skin because the chemicals do get into the body via skin exposure. I think “chemical soup” is a good name for most sunscreens. Imagine how much of that “soup” will sink in if you follow the general advice to put sunscreen thoroughly on the whole body, every day, and reapply every few hours? Even worse, for women who have severe acne, I did five years ago, we are advised to put even more sunscreen on around the blemishes. The same advice is given to babies who have eczema. Can you see why it is a problem? When the skin is opened, the chemicals can “sink” in even quicker, and easier.
- Conventional chemical sunscreens are loaded with toxic ingredients. Below are what I have found when I read through the ingredients of some of the most popular sunscreens on the market. Have a look for yourself.
“Aqua (Water), C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Octyl Methoxycinnamate, Cyclomethicone, Glycolic Acid, Isostearic Acid, Niacinamide, PEG 100 Stearate (and) Glyceryl Stearate, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine, Ammonium Hydroxide, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Methylene Bis-Benzotriazolyl Tetramethylbutylphenol, Butylene Glycol, Cetyl Alcohol, Xanthan Gum, Dimethicone, Decyl Glucoside, Methylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Propylparaben, Tocopherol, Propylene Glycol”
“Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride,Isopropyl Palmitate,Isopropyl Myristate,Parfum / Fragrance,Benzyl Alcohol,Benzyl Salicylate,Butylphenyl Methylpropional,Camellia Oleifera Seed Oil,Citral,Citronellol,Coumarin,Geraniol,Hexyl Cinnamal,Limonene,Linalool,Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil,Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate,Punica Granatum Seed Oil,Simmondsia Chinensis Oil / Jojoba Seed Oil,Tocopherol”
“Aqua, Butylene Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Octocrylene, Glycerin, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, Alcohol Denat., Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine, Sodium Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonate, VP/Hexadecene Copolymer, Glyceryl Glucoside, Tocopheryl Acetate, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Polyglyceryl-3 Methylglucose Distearate, Sodium Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Xanthan Gum, Trisodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylparaben, Methylparaben, Linalool, Limonene, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Benzyl Alcohol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Citronellol, Eugenol, Coumarin, Parfum”
“Aqua (Water) C12 – 15 Alkyl Ethylhexanoate Propylene Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate Isostearic Acid Glycerin Titanium Dioxide Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane Potassium Cetyl Phosphate Benzophenone-3 VP/Eicosene Copolymer Ethylhexyl Triazone Phenoxyethanol Aluminium Stearate Butylene Glycol Xanthan Gum Dimethicone Cetyl Alcohol Magnesium Aluminium Silicate Methylparaben Disodium EDTA Propylparaben BHT Parfum”
“Active Ingredients: Avobenzone (2.5%), Octocrylene (8%), Oxybenzone (3.5%). Inactive Ingredients: Water, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Lauryl PEG-8 Dimethicone, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Hydrated Silica, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cyclohexasiloxane, Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), PEG-8 Dimethicone, Sodium Propoxyhydroxypropyl Thiosulfate Silica, Octyldodecanol, Silica, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Disodium EDTA, Microcrystalline Wax, Acrylates/C12-27 Alkyl Methacrylate Copolymer, Sodium Chloride, Polyethylene, Stearoxy Dimethicone, Caprylyl Glycol, Benzyl Alcohol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben”
“Active: Avobenzone 3%…Purpose: Sunscreen, Homosalate 15%…Purpose: Sunscreen, Octisalate 5%…Purpose: Sunscreen, Octocrylene 10%…Purpose: Sunscreen, Oxybenzone 6%…Purpose: Sunscreen. Inactive: Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Acrylates/Octylacrylamide Copolymer, Alcohol Denat., Ascorbyl Palmitate, Cetyl Dimethicone/Bis-Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate, Dimethicone, Dimethyl Ether, Ethyl Methicone, Fragrance, Nelumbo Nucifera Flower Wax, Octyldodecyl Citrate Crosspolymer, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate.”
What do you think of the long lists above? Do you have any ideas of what those chemicals are? Have you ever questioned how much of them actually protect you? and how much they can harm you? The last three are taken from popular sunscreens for the kids. Do you feel comfortable to put all of those chemicals that you are not sure about on the young, and fragile skin of your babies?
The Environmental Working Group provided a list of harmful ingredients which I found very helpful. If you want to know more, please check their website. But it is not difficult to spot popular problematic chemicals such as Paraben, Benzoate, Oxybenzone, Octylmethoxycinnamate, Homosalate right way on the list, is it?
Since the day Nam got his allergies and eczema, I have learned to read every single product label that I intend to buy. That habit does not exist in my mind before, but once I started to pay attention I can never stop. My rule of thumb is: Never put on the skin anything we cannot eat. What is yours? Please write comments below, I would love to hear it.
Alternative ways to protect from sunburn?
- Cover up with long-sleeve shirts and hats. If you have a chance to visit Vietnam in the summer, you will see girls cover themselves from head to toes with sun protective clothing, face masks and hats. They may look a bit like a Ninja, but they can protect their health naturally, protect the soil from being poisoned with plastic, and save money as well. What could be better than that?
- Don’t play outside when the sun is peak from 11 am to 3 pm. Or if you do, try to go to a shadow place every hour or so to avoid too much exposure at once.
- Eat lots of phytonutrient dense food which will help boost your own natural protection. It is not coincident why we have so many vibrant greens and fruits with different colors in summer. Mother Nature knows best, doesn’t she? My favorite are green smoothies, watermelon, and dark chocolate.
- Choose a sunscreen with natural ingredients which can benefit your skin such as aloe vera, olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter etc. There is the time you cannot hide in the shade, forget your hat and your shirt, or you don’t want to look weird in a summer party. So, get a natural sunscreen on hand is necessary.
- My lazy and cheapest natural sunscreen is organic coconut oil. I just rub a bit of the oil on my face and my arms when I need to.
- Drink a lot of water to keep you hydrated. I forgot to bring water when taking Nam to the park with a friend yesterday because I think we just drink a lot of water at home and the park is very nearby. After half an hour or so, I realize that is the biggest mistake of the day. Even you are a minimalist, you should never leave your water at home on a summer day.
- As always, know your skin, know your body. If you feel wonderful in the sun, then it is good for you. But if you feel overheated, then it’s time to leave and find a cooling place.
- Opt for physical sunscreens (mineral sunscreens) if you need a high level of protection. Physical sunscreens often contain only Titanium dioxide and/or Zinc oxide. But, try to stay away from nanotechnology products though because their safety is still controversial.
H., F, M., C., & C, T. (2008, April 01). Vitamin D deficiency: A worldwide problem with health consequences | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic.