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Natural Sunscreen, an Alternative for Preventative Skin Care

By Shannon Sinsheimer, ND

Summer is upon on us and with summer comes more time in the sun. Spending more time in the sun can be uplifting for many reasons: more Vitamin D production, enhanced mood, and more opportunities for outdoor activities and exercise. However, as we all know, spending too much time in the sun can also be damaging to the skin, causing rapid skin aging and, potentially, skin cancer and abnormal skin growths. 

Applying sunscreen daily is a great way to reduce the harmful effects of the sun; however, some sunscreens are laden with harsh chemicals. These chemicals are absorbed into our body through our skin and have the potential to have long-term health consequences. The chemicals in sunscreen can disrupt hormonal systems in the body including estrogen and thyroid hormones, and their high toxicity can also congest the liver.1-3

So what do you do if you want to spend time in the sun and avoid the ill effects of sun exposure but don’t want to lather yourself in harmful chemicals?

Below are lists of the most potentially harmful chemical agents in sunscreen to avoid along with acceptable alternatives. By using less toxic topical ingredients, you can still protect your skin from the sun without adding to the overall toxic burden in the body.

Sunscreen ingredients to avoid:4-6

Avobenzone: Penetrates the skin easily for absorption into the bloodstream, unstable in heat and degrades easily, decreasing its effectiveness; interaction with heat causes an increase in free radicals

Oxybenzone: Penetrates the skin easily for absorption into the bloodstream; potentially enhances estrogen 

Octyl Salicylate/OCS/Octisalate: Enhances estrogen, disrupts thyroid function, alters brain cell signaling, penetrates the skin easily for absorption into the bloodstream; makes the side effects of other ingredients more potent 

PABA: Forms free radicals in the sun, potentially increasing the risks of skin cancer 

Retinyl Palmitate: Forms free radicals in the sun, potentially increasing the risks of skin cancer 

Oxy-methoxycinnamate/OMC/Octinoxate: Enhances ‘bad’ estrogen, disrupts thyroid function, increases free radicals potentially causing cellular damage, as well as increasing the side effects of other ingredients 

Safe sunscreen ingredients are available in many sunscreen products and include: zinc oxide, titanium oxide, spirulina, green tea, vitamin E, shea butter, cocoa butter, and beeswax. 

The Environmental Working Group recently released its 2014 list of the most effective sunscreens with the lowest amount of toxic effects. Sunscreen products with more natural ingredients can be less convenient as they may need to be applied more often, can be thicker and therefore harder to apply, and more expensive. However, as always, the trade off for taking a more natural approach to your lifestyle can often be a short-term inconvenience for a long-term health pay off. 

Please take a moment to read the labels of the products you use on your skin. It is easy to forget that what we put on our bodies can alter our health in the same way as what we put in our bodies.

Dr. Sinsheimer is Optimal Health Center’s naturopathic doctor and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.

References: 1) McCutcheon, J 2014, Is Sunscreen Safe? |http://eluxemagazine.com/magazine/is-sunscreen-safe/#sthash.zkXfso6J.dpuf/; 2) The trouble with sunscreen chemicals. www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/; 3) Exposure to chemicals in sunscreen. http://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/sunscreen; 4) Damiani E. Carloni P. Biondi C. Greci L. (2000). “Increased oxidative modification of albumin when illuminated in vitro in the presence of a common sunscreen ingredient: protection by nitroxide radicals – fractionated studies”. Free Radical Biology and Medicine 28 (2): 193–201; 5) Hanson KM, Gratton E, Bardeen CJ (October 2006). “Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin”. Free Radic. Biol. Med. 41 (8): 1205–12. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2006.06.011.; 6) Hanson KM, Gratton E, Bardeen CJ (October 2006). “Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin”. Free Radic. Biol. Med. 41 (8): 1205–12

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