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Safe Sunscreen: The Safest Sunscreens with Low Health Risks

Elizabeth Renter
July 12th, 2012
Updated 11/02/2012 at 4:28 pm
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sunscreengirl 235x147 Safe Sunscreen: The Safest Sunscreens with Low Health Risks

We usually think of sunscreen as a way to prevent cancer, but growing research says some sunscreen ingredients could actually increase your risk of cancer and other problems. Knowing what these ingredients are can help you choose safe sunscreen for yourself and your family this summer. Learn what the ingredients to avoid are here, and which sunscreens are safest.

Safe Sunscreen is Essential for Your Health

Research shows that dangers of certain chemical compounds within sunscreen could be causing a variety of skin damaging ailments, especially when reacting with the sun’s intensive heat. Though the FDA had supervised and funded the studies showing key ingredients related to vitamin A as carcinogenic, they knowingly prevented the information from being released to the public whatsoever – up until recently. The synthetic vitamin A compound found in many sunscreen brands contain retinol and retinyl palmitate, both found to react negatively in the sunlight, becoming toxic to the system.

Who would think that sunscreen causes cancer? Isn’t it supposed to protect against skin cancer? According to the Environmental Working Group, people should steer clear of sunscreeens containing oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is contained within about 56% of sunscreens currently on the market. This chemical is included to absorb ultraviolet light. But instead of making a barrier on your skin, it’s actually absorbed into the body.

Research has shown a link between oxybenzone and hormone disrupton. Also, there is evidence it may cause cell damage and lead to cancer. While mainstream doctors say there’s nothing wrong with the FDA-approved chemical, we know that the FDA doesn’t always have the best interests of consumers in mind and certainly isn’t always on the cusp of breaking research.

Another ingredient that shouldn’t be found in safe sunscreen is retinyl palminate. While there is less research on this component, the Environmental Working Group says it certainly doesn’t help sunscreens work better and the effects on humans simply aren’t known—that avoiding it is the safest thing.

Retinyl palminate is a type of vitamin A. In laboratory rats, it’s been shown to actually increase risk of skin cancer. About 25% of sunscreens tested this year contained retinyl palminate.

Dermatologists and the Environmental Working Group agree that consumers should use sunscreens with broad screen protection if sunscreen is used at all. This means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Lotions are better than sprays for a few different reasons. You get better coverage when you use a lotion and you know where it’s going. Also, fine particles are inhaled when you use spray sunscreens, and these chemicals may have untold risks when taken in through the lungs.

Finally, the Environmental Working Group cautions against using anything more than SPF 50, saying the higher numbers don’t give you that much of a better effect and instead simply cost more.

When you go to the store and see the shelves upon shelves of sunscreen options, it can be a little overwhelming. According to the Environmental Working Group’s standards, only 25% of sunscreens on the market are effective and work without potentially harmful chemicals. So,a  more safe sunscreen could be out there, just take your time and look.

If you need safe sunscreen, here are a few safer options given by the Environmental Working Group:

  • Adorable Baby
  • Aubrey Organics
  • Badger
  • Burt’s Bees
  • Desert Essence
  • Maui Natural Organics
If you must use sunscreen, don’t forget to check out EWG’s list for the most safe sunscreen. But if time spent outside won’t be for hours, or if you would like to protect yourself from the sun and prevent sunburn another way, simply change your diet! Carrots, foods rich in omega 3′s, broccoli, watermelon, and other vegetables are great for natural protection against the sun’s rays. And if you do get sunburn, there are a number of home remedies for sunburn that you could utilize as well.

Additional Sources:

Kentucky Post

Environmental Working Group

From around the web:

  • Jennifer

    Arbonne also has a very safe sunblock. Its the only brand we use. Vegan, gluten, dairy, soy free, no fragrance, no mineral oil, no yucky harmful chemicals. Swiss formulated but American company

  • KatyD

    Native Hawaiians also limit their exposure to the sun during the hottest parts of the day as much as possible. On a beach on the Big Island, I ran into a guy who pointed at all the people out in the sun, and said see any Hawaiians out there? Nah, they are all in the shade, they're not idiots.
    I am also "blessed" with the Anglo combination of light skin, freckles and light eyes. I don't like wearing chemical sunscreens if possible, so I try to limit the time I spend in the sun during the most intense hours of the day.
    EWG isn't the FDA, they are independent and don't promote any brands based on lobbyists or kick-backs, as far as I know. Considering the immensely damaging drugs the FDA lets out into the world, I wouldn't trust anything they recommended.

  • Natalia

    and of course coconut oil is a fantastic natural sunscreen According to Dr. Bruce Fife of the Coconut Research Center, “one of the oldest uses for coconut oil is as a sun screen / suntan lotion. Islanders have been using coconut oil for this purpose for thousands of years. In the tropics where the climate is hot, islanders traditionally wore little clothing so that they could keep themselves cool. To protect themselves from the burning rays of the hot tropical sun they applied a thin layer of coconut oil over their entire body. This would protect them from sunburn, improve skin tone and help keep annoying insects away. Coconut oil was applied on the skin daily. When a mother gave birth one of the first things she would do is to rub coconut oil all over her newborn. Every day coconut oil would be used on the skin. As the children got older they applied the oil themselves. They would continue this practice throughout their lifetime up until the day they died. Many islanders, even today, carry on this practice.” Love and Light, NataliaPH

  • Shay

    "…simply change your diet! Carrots, foods rich in omega 3′s, broccoli, watermelon, and other vegetables are great for natural protection against the sun’s rays. And if you do get sunburn, there are a number of home remedies for sunburn that you could utilize as well."

    YEAH RIGHT!!! Maybe the watermelon could protect you from the sun's radiation if you wore chunks of it all over your body. And the home remedies for sun burn? The whole point is to not get the radiation burn in the first place. Once you're burned, the damage is done. Throwing aloe on the burn isn't going to reverse that damage.

    • Shay

      By the way… who wants to bet the FDA is promoting certain companies sunscreen over others simply for money? Why even have an FDA when no one regulates them and they can choose whomever they want to promote, and just lie about the reasoning behind it?

  • pradeep singhania

    Best sunscreen:I am using seasame oil as sunscreen since last 35 yrs ,as suggested by my grandmother.very effective , zero side effect and very economic.

    • Linda McDonald

      Really? You are Indian though correct? You probably have LOTS of melanin in your skin to protect you. I am of Irish/English descent, fair hair, blue eyed, freckles, and I don't have that protection. I seriously doubt that sesame oil would do much for me, as I believe its a "mild" sunscreen.

  • anonymous

    The lab rat experiment for Retinyl Palmitate was not done using sunscreen – instead the rats were given an oral dose of retinyl palmitate and then exposed to the sun – this does not prove at all that retinyl palmitate in sunscreen causes cancer.

    Also the fact that the mainstream media is now "confirming" that some sunscreens can cause cancer raises huge red flags for me as to the truth of this assumption.

    • Linda McDonald

      Well considering the track record of the FDA and our government, I wouldnt trust anything they say either!!