Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about protecting yourself from damaging rays, we uncovered some sneaky sun-care truths.
Slathering on sunscreen is the best way to ward off evil rays, but don’t put blind faith in its efficacy. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., reviewed nearly 1,400 sunscreens in 2010 and found that only 8 percent made the grade in terms of preventing skin cancer and signs of aging. (Scary, right?) So choosing the right one is critical. These fascinating facts and tips will help keep your skin healthy this summer and beyond.
1. Some Dangers Lurk Within
A form of vitamin A is added to some sunscreens to minimize the aging effects of the sun. What’s not to love about that? Potentially plenty: Researchers with the National Toxicology Program say retinyl palmitate–a vitamin-A compound used in at least 40 percent of American sunscreens–may speed up the development of skin cancer-related tumors and lesions when used on skin hit with sunlight. Lab animals coated with a vitamin A-laced skin cream and exposed to the equivalent of just nine minutes of midday sunlight every day for a year developed tumors and lesions up to 21 percent sooner than animals coated in vitamin A-free block.
While there’s disagreement in the medical community about whether vitamin A has the same effect on humans, it’s best to proceed with caution.
“If there’s a question about the safety of something, avoid it. Plenty of sunscreens don’t have retinyl palmitate,” says Robert J. Friedman, M.D., a dermatologic oncologist in New York City and a clinical professor at the New York University School of Medicine. Try Jason Family Natural Sunblock SPF 45 ($12, at health-food stores).
Vitamin A isn’t the only controversial ingredient slipped into some SPFs. Oxybenzone and octinoxate, common block chemicals, are linked to allergic contact dermatitis and photocontact dermatitis (irritation caused when certain chemicals are on skin that’s exposed to sunlight), as well as hormone disruption, in lab animals.
2. Sunscreen Can Harm the Environment
Twenty thousand tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers, divers, and surfers into the oceans every year, eventually affecting marine life, according to a 2008 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. And coral reefs are getting especially creamed. Researchers say sunscreens with octinoxate, oxybenzone, parabens, or camphor derivatives are killing hard corals (which could negatively impact biodiversity and reef ecosystems). None of this is a problem if you’re hiking, biking, or sunbathing on dry land. But if you plan to swim in the sea, slather on a biodegradable sunscreen that doesn’t contain ingredients that are mean to marine life. Try Alba Botanica Very Emollient Fragrance Free Mineral Sunblock SPF 30.