Archive for Health & Beauty

The sunscreen scare

“Understanding the laws of nature does not mean that we are immune to their operations.” David Gerrold

We all know that too much UV exposure from the sun can cause wrinkles, skin damage and possibly lead to cancer. So, to combat this potential hazard we apply sunscreen; yet, according to a recent report, slathering on the wrong sunscreen can bring hazards of its own.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization using public information to protect public health and the environment, released the report that states in an EWG analysis of 1,614 name-brand sunscreens on the market in this summer, three out of five sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns.

Photo courtesy treehugger.com

Photo courtesy treehugger.com

Among these ingredients are micronized and nano-scale zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both of which provide strong UVA protection but can also have toxic qualities if absorbed through the skin or inhaled into the lungs. Another possible threat are those sunscreen ingredients that supposedly absorb into the blood; these are said to release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight, to disrupt hormone systems, to cause allergic reactions and to build up in the body or the environment.

The report did offer some good news, though: 70 percent of sunscreens this year contain strong UVA filters, compared to just 29 percent last year. Also, 19 percent fewer sunscreens contain oxybenzone, an active ingredient that disrupts the hormone system.

But before you panic, it’s important to know there is always another side to every story. In a New York Times article, some serious holes were poked in the EWG study. According to the article, “dermatologists who reviewed the group’s research say the biggest problem is that it lacks scientific rigor. In particular, they are critical of a sunscreen rating system that they say is arbitrary and without basis in any accepted scientific standard.”

The article also states the research on oxybenzone is limited. Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University (who is also a skin cancer researcher), is quoted as saying, “Nobody’s seen any problems from years of these agents being used. To call it dangerous is misleading.”

So what do you do with all the potentially scary hype about sunscreen the report has created? Dr. Sandra Read, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist and member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Dermatology, says she finds the report discouraging but says she hopes it will raise awareness of the need for sunscreen.

That seems like the right approach. There will always be new controversies arising over safety issues of ingredients and new research being conducted to try to answer what may be unanswerable questions. However, as of now, sunscreen is one effective way of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful radiation.

Photo courtesy cc-peds.net

Photo courtesy cc-peds.net

If you’re concerned about potential health hazards caused by sunscreen, stick to natural sunscreens that limit or eliminate the suspected problem-causing ingredients. The EWG offers a list of the best sunscreens to use. Among the contenders are Soleo Organics, Lavera Neutral and Purple Prairie Botanicals.

Of course, there are other ways to protect yourself from the sun. Wearing hats and sunglasses, staying in the shade, wearing lightweight clothing and avoiding being in contact with UV rays at peak hours are all important factors in keeping your skin — and the environment (think sunscreen chemicals mixing in water supplies from swimming) — healthy and happy.

For more information about sun protection, check out this video, which features advice from Dr. Sandra Read.

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