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Sunscreen Safety

By HHI Staff

Sunscreens have the ability to help protect your skin from cancer-causing rays from the sun. However, you may not know that skin that has been repeatedly treated with sunscreen solutions apparently produces lower quantities of vitamin Dā??an essential vitamin needed by the human body. There is also the concern that people using sunscreens may overestimate the protective capacities of these products and, therefore, unknowingly overexpose themselves to sunlight. For these and other reasons, one of the best defenses against ultraviolet (UV) solar radiation is to simply limit the amount of time you spend in the sun. Above all, the most important times to avoid direct sunlight are between 11 AM and 2 PM. When you are outdoors, a good way to avoid sun rays is to wear a large brimmed hat and other protective clothing. But, be aware, most clothing will not completely block UV rays.


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If you feel you must use a sunscreen, choose one that will do the job effectively. Sunscreens are rated according to their Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The higher the SPF number, the greater the protection, because each number represents how many times longer a person can be safely exposed to UV rays. So, an SPF of 6 means that a person can remain in the sun six times longer without burning than if he or she had not applied the product, while an SPF of 40 means they can remain out 40 times as long. But, that’s under what sunscreen researchers consider ideal conditions. That means there’s no sweating, swimming, or moisture applied to the skin, or any other loss of protection. Unfortunately, when you’re in the sun, it’s pretty difficult to not perspire. So, ideal conditions can be difficult to achieve or maintain. Of course, there are some SPF products designed to be worn when swimming. However, most people probably overestimate the protection provided by all types of sunscreen applications.


These days, ratings of 2 to 30 are common for sunscreens, though some products have much higher ratings. You should be aware that, until recently, the term “sun block” was often applied to many higher-rated SPF products. However, Federal regulations no longer permit this term (or the word “waterproof”) on SPF product labels. This is to clear up the public’s misunderstanding of the actual capabilities of these preparations. After all, no SPF skin product can truly “block” UV rays, nor be totally unaffected by water.


Most people who choose to use a sunscreen should pick one with at least SPF 10 or aboveā??especially if you have fairer skin. Most conventional sunscreens are made with para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), a B-vitamin analog, as their active ingredientā??although other substances can also block UV rays. Currently though, PABA is the only sunscreen absorber that can be derived from natural sources which the FDA (U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration) will validate. Unfortunately, some people do not tolerate PABA well, especially if it’s not of a high food-grade quality. So, some manufacturers are using other sun screening ingredients instead, such as sesame seed oil. (An application of just sesame-seed oil to the skin can reputedly screen out some 30% of the sun’s UV rays.)


One low-odor, skin-protecting line you might consider is from Lily of the Desert. None of their sunscreen products contain PABA, scents, or dyes. They’re nongreasy, water-resistant, and come in SPF 16 or a very high SPF 40. Lily of the Desert items are available in some drug- and health-food stores. You can also order from the company or from Frontier Natural Products. Coastline Products carries Mountain Ocean Sun Screen and Mountain Ocean Lip Trip, both unscented and undyed with SPF ratings of 15. Still another good choice is Simmons SPF Sunscreen (Simmons Natural Bodycare) formulated for sensitive skin with no PABA, mineral oil, or fragrance. Instead, it has natural sun screening ingredients as well as vitamins A, D, and E. Order it from the company’s catalog.


Vermont Country Store Apothecary offers a “hypoallergenic” oat protein sunscreen with an SPF of 30. Then there’s Mustela of Paris, a fragrance-free, non-chemical hypoallergenic product available from Harmony, Tucson Cooperative Warehouse, and on-line from Sunscreen is also sold by Perfectly Safe. You may also want to try the unscented, major hypoallergenic brands of sunscreens found in some pharmacies, or organic SPF products sold in some alternative grocery and health-food stores.


Though they have an innate natural odor (type and intensity depending on the ingredients), some prefer botanically based products. Ecozone Outdoor Skin Protector is made with sesame oil, cedar wood oil, and other ingredients. It can be ordered from Natural Animal Health Products, Inc.


Other all-natural sunscreen products are made and sold by Aubrey Organics. This company uses food-grade PABA in a vegetable-based glycerin, as well as herbs. Their line is also carried by American Environmental Health Foundation, as well as Natural Lifestyle.


(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)



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Sunscreen Safety:  Created on January 4th, 2010.  Last Modified on February 27th, 2011


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