For most parts of the country, the warm weather has arrived. But if there’s still a nip in the air where you live, that will soon be changing. And that means more time spent outside enjoying fun in the sun with friends and family.
Since so many folks are low on vitamin D, especially seniors, it’s a great time to beef up your levels of this critical vitamin. But sun safety is important too.
If you’re concerned about getting enough D and keeping yourself safe from skin aging and cancer at the same time, we’ve got great news. You can do all three, and we’ll show you how.
Spending some time in the sun is the best way to raise your vitamin D levels. We’ll have more details on how to do that in a moment. But let’s first talk about how to choose a safer sunscreen, starting with what you DON’T want.
Never mind the sun, stay out of the drugstore sunscreen
As the temperatures rise, more aisle space will be devoted to sunscreen and sunblock. From the cheap stuff you can pick up at your local drugstore to high-end products sold by cosmetics companies, you should carefully read the labels. Because some of the most common sunscreen ingredients are the last things you want to slather on your body.
Try to avoid any products that include the following ingredients:
Homosalate is a chemical that’s used in sunscreens to absorb UVB rays so they don’t do as much damage to your skin. But in this case, the bad news outweighs the benefits. Homosalate can disrupt three of the major hormones in your body estrogen, androgen, and progesterone. Plus exposure to sunlight breaks the chemical down into harmful byproducts.
Another UVB blocker, octinoxate is a hormone mimic and endocrine disrupter. The chemical also boosts free radical production by up to 33 percent. Free radicals can cause cell mutations and lead to cell death which, ironically, means regular heavy use of octinoxate could actually boost the premature aging and cancer risk you’re trying to avoid by using sunscreen.
Octocrylene is used to block UV rays and provide a moisturizing effect. Like its kissing cousin octinoxate, octocrylene boosts the production of free radicals when exposed to the sun. According to a University of California study, it can raise your free radical levels up to 16 percent, speeding skin aging and cell mutations.
Used to absorb UV rays, oxybenzone is bad news. The chemical is an estrogen mimic, which means your body can’t tell the difference been oxybenzone and the real thing. With regular use, it can cause endocrine disruptions and lead to cell mutations and cell death. In a study, oxybenzone sent free radical production soaring by 64 percent, when compared to a control. And when the chemical is exposed to sunlight it can trigger a severe allergic reaction in some folks.
Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A, which makes it sound like it’s safe. Don’t be fooled, it’s not. In fact, retinyl palmitate is the worst of the sunscreen ingredients we’re discussing today.
Many companies are removing this ingredient from their products, which is good, but be sure to read labels. A government study found retinyl palmitate may speed up the development of skin tumors and lesions when exposed to sunlight. Plus multiple studies have hinted that the ingredient can have negative reproductive effects, even at lower doses.
Worshiping the sun with safer “sunscreen” options
With up to 42 percent of Americans running low on vitamin D totally avoiding the sun is not the answer. In fact, you should try to get a little bare skin exposure every single day. Shoot for around 15 to 20 sunscreen-free minutes daily, with at least 40 percent of your skin exposed.
Then, if you’re planning on staying out in the sunshine it’s time to take some common-sense steps to avoid sunburns and lower your risk of skin aging and cancer. You can start by putting on a hat, opting for lightweight long sleeves, and seeking out some shade.
But if you’re going to be out in direct sunlight you’ll likely need some extra protection. Luckily there are some far safer options than the chemical sun blockers we covered above.
Look for products that include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. While any product you apply to your skin can have risks these ingredients are safer. And don’t be fooled by super-high SPF levels. They can trick you into staying out longer, without reapplying. Stick with mineral sunscreens with SPF of 20-30, and reapply often.
Sunscreens are supposed to protect your health, so don’t make the mistake of using one that can cause health problems. Choose wisely, and you can have the best of both worlds, enjoying the summer sun, worry-free. For more details on the ingredients that you’ll find in sunscreen products check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.