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Staying Safe in the Sun: Nontoxic Sunscreen & Sunbathing Tips

Staying Safe in the Sun: Nontoxic Sunscreen & Sunbathing Tips | smelltheroses.com

Aloha, Smell the Roses readers! Spring is officially here and that means it’s time to start preparing for warmer weather! For some, that means wanting to slim down or get organized. For me, it means making sure I have everything I need to keep my skin healthy and protected when outside in the hot sun. ☀️️  This post outlines my sunbathing tips and recommendations for nontoxic, cruelty-free, & natural sunscreen.

The Importance of Proper Sun Protection

Skin Cancer

It is common knowledge that excessive sun exposure expedites skin aging and increases your risk of skin cancer. In the United States, skin cancer is the most common cancer. Despite this knowledge, rates of melanoma are on the rise. As seen in the graphs below, rates are steadily increasing and highest in white men and women. Although these demographics are at highest risk, anyone of any race can develop skin cancer. (Source: CDC)

Melanoma Rates (CDC) - smelltheroses.com

Sources: CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program.

Melanoma Rates (CDC) - smelltheroses.com

You may have noticed incidence and death rates are higher in men. In 2013, almost twice as many American men died from melanoma as women. A suggested explanation comes from a survey that showed only 48% of men report routine sun avoidance, compared to 68% of women. (Source: EWG)

Skin Damage

Even if you do not develop skin cancer, excess sun exposure will show in your appearance. What’s the worst part about it? The damage does not show up right away. It is a cumulative effect that develops over time and is worsened by every incidence of sun exposure.

Pictured below is a side by side comparison of the same person photographed in both regular and UV lighting. Although UV images do not predict skin cancer, they still highlight the consequences of excess sun exposure (ex. wrinkles, sunspots, red blotches, texture, pore size, etc). By visualizing skin damage normally invisible to the naked eye, these photos raise awareness to the gradual and drastic damage caused by the sun. (Source: EWG)

Canfield UV Camera Photos - Your Sun Damage Wake-Up Call - smelltheroses.com

Source: Canfield UV Camera Photos (EWG)

Vision

Growing up, we were warned to not stare directly into the sun and for good reason. The sun is extremely damaging to the eyes and can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and pterygium. To keep our eyes healthy and vision strong, the National Eye Institute recommends we wear sunglasses that block out 99 – 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation. The addition of a wide brimmed hat is helpful too! Now you have an excuse to wear more accessories! 🕶️  👒  (Source: NEI)

Infants & Children

Infants (0-6 months) – Babies under six months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight because their skin does not contain enough melanin to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays. Their skin is also too sensitive for sunscreen. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that small amounts of sunscreen can be used on infants only as a last resort when shade cannot be found.

Toddlers & Children – Proper steps should be taken to prevent sunburn.One blistering sunburn before the age of 18 can double a child’s risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF 15+ are best to use in addition to shade and protective clothing. Avoid spray sunscreens due to the dangers associated with inhalation. (Source: Skin Cancer Foundation)

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Buying & Using Sunscreen

Our skin is the largest organ of the body, and it absorbs nearly everything we put on it. Let that fact soak in for a minute. Although applying sunscreen seems like a health-conscious action, it all comes down to which one you are using. If you are not careful, I believe your sunscreen can be causing more harm than good (for both you and the environment)!

Ingredients To Avoid

Sunscreens can provide one of two forms of protection; chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens contain synthetic ingredients that are absorbed by the skin to block or reflect UV rays. These have the highest incidence of skin irritation and cellular toxicity and therefore should be avoided.

Try to avoid these harmful ingredients: 

  • Oxybenzone | Sunscreen Agent – UV light absorber
    • Hormone disruption (i.e. mimic or alter hormone levels)
    • Linked to reproductive and developmental issues
    • Endocrine disruption – associated with endometriosis in women
    • Known skin allergen
    • Accumulates in people – difficult to excrete
  • Octinoxate | Sunscreen Agent – UV light absorber
    • Hormone disruption (i.e. mimic or alter hormone levels)
    • Linked to reproductive and developmental issues
    • Endocrine disruption
    • Produces free radicles that contribute to premature skin aging and skin cancer
    • Accumulates in people – difficult to excrete (has been found in mothers’ breast milk)
    • Ecotoxicity
  • Vitamin A (aka Retinol) | Skin-conditioning Agent
    • Tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with creams containing vitamin A when exposed to direct sunlight (Source: EWG)
    • Produces free radicals that contribute to premature skin aging and skin cancer
    • Known human reproductive toxicant
  • Homosalate | Sunscreen Agent – UV light absorber
    • Hormone disruption (i.e. mimic or alter hormone levels)
    • Accumulates in people – difficult to excrete
    • Endocrine disruption
    • Ecotoxicity
  • Methylisothiazolinone | Preservative – Paraben
    • Linked to serious allergic reactions (especially in children) (Source: EWG)
    • Named Allergen of the Year in 2013 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (Source: EWG)
    • Hormone disruptor
    • Linked to reproductive and developmental issues
    • Ecotoxicity
    • Neurotoxicity

Ingredients To Look For

Physical sunscreens are generally considered the safer form of sun protection. They are made from natural minerals which sit on top of the skin and are not readily absorbed into the bloodstream. Be aware, due to the nature of these ingredients, they do tend to have a white appearance on the skin (some brands are better than others – my recommendations are listed below).

Safe sunblocking ingredient to seek: 

  • Zinc Oxide (non-nano) | Sunblock Agent – Colorant
    • Offers moderate broad spectrum UV protection
    • Low skin penetration – low health risk in lotions

Other Factors to Consider

Broad Spectrum Coverage There are two types of UV light that can harm your skin — UVA and UVB. Too much exposure to either can cause skin cancer. A broad-spectrum, or full-spectrum, sunscreen protects your skin from both. Sunscreens will have this labeled on the bottle! (Source: Mayo Clinic)

SPF Protection There is a misconception that higher SPF levels equal better sun protection. Unfortunately, SPF only applies to UVB rays (those responsible for burning) and does not take into consideration the harm associated with UVA rays (those responsible for age spots and wrinkling). For this reason, the Mayo Clinic recommends rather than focusing on a sunscreen’s SPF, choose one that is broad-spectrum. They state, even the worst burners will get adequate protection using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 when applied properly! (Read more about this topic: Mayo Clinic)

Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 but no greater than 50!

Reef Safety

Over the years I have seen first hand the effects of sunscreen on our oceans. While vacationing on the tourist-dense beaches of Waikiki, there were days you could see a film of sunscreen on the top of the ocean water. I couldn’t help but feel immense guilt as I watched little fish swimming through their chemical infested home. The pollution in our oceans from Oxybenzone has had toxic effects on our coral reefs and has contributed to coral bleaching.

Hanauma Bay Infographic - Reef Friendly Sun Protection | smelltheroses.com

Hanauma Bay Education Program | Hawaii Sea Grant

Pictured above, is an infographic from Oahu’s Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a popular snorkeling spot known for its vast coral reef and diverse sea life. I found this posted when vacationing on my most recent trip and was so happy to see them making a stand against chemical sunscreens. I hope chemical sunscreens will eventually be banned but for now all we can do is try and educate the public on the importance of reef safe sunscreen.

Zinc Oxide has no known negative effects on our oceans and its inhabitants.

Application Types

Lotions | good for dry skin, best for application on large areas, can be messy

Stick | good for application on areas that require precision (i.e. around the eyes)

Spray | extremely dangerous if inhaled (apply in a well-ventilated area and be conscientious of those around you), easy to apply (especially on children), must apply a generous/even coating to ensure proper coverage and to tell where it was applied, great for quick reapplication after an initial coat of lotion

How To Apply

  1. Pick one you like because you’ll be more likely to use it. If it’s hard to apply or messy, I doubt you will be reaching to reapply it as often as your should!
  2. Apply your sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure. Physical sunscreens are typically effective immediately where chemical sunscreens need time to be absorbed.
  3. Reapply at least every 2 hours and after swimming or excessive sweating.

Extra Sun Bathing Tips

  • The best sun protection is avoidance! Always have a beach umbrella or shaded area to retreat to during the hot hours. ⛱️
  • Sunscreen should still be applied on a cloudy or overcast day! ☁️️
  • The sun is strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. At these times, try to avoid direct sun exposure! (This is the perfect time to go grab lunch in the shade or indoors). To put it into perspective, the following exposures may result in the same amount of solar energy:
    • one hour at 9:00 a.m.
    • 15 minutes at 1:00 p.m.

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Non-Toxic Sunscreen

Search for Non-toxic Sunscreen

Listed below are two databases that offer a color-coded rating system for product toxicity. Scores are applied based on each products’ ingredient composition. As a general rule, any product that falls in the green range is a safe choice!

EWG Rating System | smelltheroses.com

EWG Rating System

Think Dirty Rating System | smelltheroses.com

Think Dirty Rating System

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My Recommendations!

Beauty by Earth Sunscreen | smelltheroses.com

Beauty by Earth

Facial Sunscreen SPF 20 | Sunscreen SPF 25 | Face & Body Bundle | Aloe Vera Gel 

*Code “SMELLTHEROSES” saves you 15% on your online purchase

Badger is made in the USAEWG Rating | smelltheroses.cpm

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Badger Sunscreen - smelltheroses.com

Badger

Rose Face Sunscreen SPF 25 | Unscented Sunscreen SPF 30Sport Sunscreen Stick SPF35

Badger is made in the USAEWG Rating | smelltheroses.cpm

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I put a lot of time and research into this post because I am so passionate about this topic.  I hope you learned something new and will improve your sunbathing habits as a result of this post! If so, please let me know in the comments section below!

xoxo Caitlyn | smelltheroses.com

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