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With summer just around the corner, sunshine filled days will beckon us outside for summer-time fun.  Protecting your skin is a major concern given the potential hazards of too much sun exposure. Many sunscreens on the market today contain hazardous chemicals that penetrate the skin and go directly into the bloodstream. By choosing a natural sunscreen made from mineral and plant-based ingredients rather than chemicals, you can protect your skin and avoid harmful chemicals.

Natural sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. These active ingredients offer broad-spectrum effectiveness, do not disrupt our body’s natural hormones, don’t break down easily in the sun, and cause few allergic reactions.

Though the FDA monitors the ingredients in sunscreens, health watchdogs have found many of the ingredients approved by the FDA have unwanted and harmful side-effects. The Environmental Protection Agency (EWG) evaluated US-approved sunscreen chemicals for both their ability to block UV radiation and for toxicity. Following are just a few examples of what is lurking in traditional sunscreens:

  • A study conducted by The Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, found that many widely used sunscreen chemicals mimic the effects of estrogen and trigger developmental abnormalities in rats. In lab tests, the chemical  ingredients benzophenone-3, momosalte, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC), octyl-methoxycinnamate and octyl-dimethyl-PABA, behaved like estrogen and made cancer cells grow more rapidly. 4-MBC  also causes a doubling of the rate of uterine growth well before puberty. “That was scary,” said Margaret Schlumpf, lead researcher, “because we used concentrations that are in the range allowed in sunscreens.”
  • Concerns over the most common chemical ingredient Benzophenone-3 (Oxybenzone) peaked when a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2008 revealed that oxybenzone readily absorbs into the body and is present in 97% of Americans tested. This chemical was detected in the urine of nearly every study participant and is shown to cause hormone disruption, cell damage, and allergic skin reactions. A companion study published just one day earlier revealed that this chemical is linked to low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy. The EWG calculated that the majority of sunscreens and at least 567 other personal care products sold in the US contain this chemical. Sadly, the last safety review for oxybenzone was done in the 1970’s, and does not reflect a wealth of information developed since that time indicating increased toxicity concerns and widespread human exposure.

This summer, be sure to check your sunscreen labels. To find a list of chemical ingredients to avoid and the top rated natural sunscreens available, check out the EWG Sunscreen Guide.