We have been working recently on being more careful about what we put ON our bodies, as well as what we put IN our bodies. This summer we are being a lot more careful about putting on sunscreen, both on ourselves and the children. Jon and our older son have always had sensitive skin that not only needs sunscreen, but needs oil-free sunscreen so they don’t break out. Our daughter and I have skin like my mother, it barely tans, let alone burns. I’ve never been particularly careful about putting on sunscreen, but last year my mother had a small skin cancer removed and I have a number of brown spots on my face that I’m going to have a dermatologist look at soon. Suddenly we are much more interested in putting on protection and what that protection contains.
The sun protection that is best for your body is actually to wear clothing that has UV protection built into it. The boys have had sun shirts for a while, but for this beach trip Jon and our daughter also got sun shirts and my mom bought all three kids funny protective sun hats. Luckily, they don’t think the hats are funny at all and are relatively happy to wear them.
Avoid the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body. Look for active ingredients zinc, titanium, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. These substances protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin, with little if any penetrating into the body. Also, skip sunscreens with insect repellent – if you need bug spray, buy it separately and apply it first.
Also, Vitamin-A has recently been shown to be photo sensitive and can accelerate tumor growth.
Another thing to note is the concerns around the ingredient item “fragrance” that may be found in just about any product you use on your skin. We wrote an entire blog post on that recently: Toxins in Your Life – Fragrance.
We have found that the zinc oxide, otherwise known as “mineral based”, sunscreens are often more expensive than what we are used to paying for Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens, but we feel that it is worth it. These sunscreens are becoming more mainstream and easier to find in regular stores. I was at the Mets game in CitiField recently and one of the huge billboards in the stadium during the game was advertising one of the brands we used at the beach: Alba Botanicals.
Based on the idea that oxybenzone and vitamin A are not good for your skin, it is not good enough to simply buy sunscreens that say “organic” or “all natural”. You need to check the active ingredients to be sure what they are, and it is best to check the whole ingredient list and avoid the ones that include “fragrance” as an ingredient. During my shopping for example I found that some of the Alba Botanicals sunscreens had “fragrance” as an ingredient, so I skipped those.
I can tell you that we used Alba & Badger brand sunscreens during our trip and we were very happy with how they performed. They were thick to put on at first, but the rubbed in fairly well and by the time we walked out of the door all of the white had absorbed. We made a point of applying them in the morning and again after lunch – it is a best practice with ANY sunscreen to reapply it during the day if you are outside all day, or after going in the water.
One thing to remember when traveling with sunscreen is to be sure to bring enough of your favorite brands. We ran out while at the beach and could not locate the natural brands and had to revert to the Coppertone Oil Free, which fortunately is OK according to the EWG and does not contain oxybenzone.
I have found it fairly difficult to remember which sunscreens are the best ones to buy, but the EWG has put their EWG Sunscreen Database out as an iPhone app called “sunscreens” to help you remember. The key facts are to avoid “oxybenzone“, “Vitamin A” and “fragrance” as ingredients. Once you’ve got that down, which brand you actually buy is less important.
Check out our 2013 updated sunscreen recommendations in Picking Safe and Effective Sunscreen for the Family.