Safe sunscreens


Photo by Robert S. Donovan
Photo by Robert S. Donovan

I arrived at my son’s midday soccer game on a hot sunny day. I had remembered to pack the sports drink and snacks, and I even found the field (not always easy). But I was hatless and in tank-top and shorts, and I had forgotten to bring sunscreen for the two-hour stretch in full sun. I guess sunscreen season just kind of snuck up on me this year, and I forgot all about it.

Fortunately a fellow mom had some I could use. Although I forgot the top of my back and burned it, the rest of me was OK. There are those that say we should slather on sunscreen 24/7, 365 days a year, whether indoors or out, but I feel that for most of us some daily sun, when we can get it, is a good thing. The vitamin D and the warmth of it offer healthy benefits that include mood-lifting.

Gone are the days when we could blithely bake on the beach all day with nothing but a bikini, SPF-Nada tanning oil, and a reflective tanning screen, our sole goal by summer’s end to get as tan as humanly possible. I was like that.

Now we know that all that sun causes skin cancer. Most of us are closer to the happy medium of sun exposure, using protective lotions when outdoors for extended times. But there are different kinds of products with different ingredients and very different ways of protecting our skin. It should concern us that slathering our bodies with chemicals every two hours — exposing our largest organ to big doses of unknowns — may not always be the best thing.

I can’t tell you which are “good” and “bad” ingredients in topical products, but sunscreens are regulated by the FDA and subject to standards like medicines are.

Sunscreens are necessary for most of us who venture out our front doors. Most of these products get their efficacy from chemicals or minerals that protect the skin in different ways, usually by absorbing, reflecting or blocking ultraviolet light.

The majority of commercial sunscreens contain avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octinoxate, octocrylene or oxybenzone. The latter has been getting some extra bad press of late for effects on hormones — Google it — although some say you would have to put it on every day all day and use it for 30 years to get the effects the lab rats did. Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) sometimes added for its anti-aging properties rather than its UV-screening abilities, has been accused of increasing the risk of skin cancer. It is seen less and less.

Often the active chemicals in sunscreens appear in some combination, because each one alone is not adequate to absorb the full spectrum of UV rays, or because some make the other ones work harder.

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