To sizzle or not to sizzle: Choosing the right sunscreen

With the status of our ozone layer, we sadly cannot afford not to wear sunscreen in the summer. While we have been craving the sun for Vitamin D and perhaps the improvement in general skin tone, we need to protect our epidermal layers ( or for some, the motivation is simply to avoid increased freckles ! ) to protect against the development of certain skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma ( SCC ) or actinic carcinoma ( for those who are unaware, carcinoma is a medical term to describe cancer in tissues ).

Sunscreen protection, sunscreen

Having sensitive skin myself, I have always been aware of the extra additives and ingredients in sunscreen because when the skin cannot breathe, it can be irritated and thus choosing the right sunscreen is important.

More concerning however are the chemical “ protectants ” used to formulate sunscreens which have recently been called into question with the ability to penetrate our skin barrier, influencing hormone signaling and can even be linked to cancer-related risk. The agents supposed to be protecting us from burns and cancer may now actually be causing it.

Scary, yes?

Ingredients you should be concerned with

Oxybenzone—In animal models, shown to influence estrogen and increase uterine weight. In humans to date, no significant ability shown to influence hormonal signaling however the research is still pending.

Two ingredients that are considered safer

Zinc and Titanium oxide—Inorganic metals that we know can produce a white appearance to the skin, can be fairly drying. Newer formulations reduce the size of these molecules to nanoparticles ( basically very, very small ), and have shown to protect and not penetrate the skin barrier. Some suggestion that UV exposure to these nanoparticles can change them developing free radicals. However, no data thus far is supremely conclusive.

Who is right, and what do you choose ?

The frustrating part is experts in sunscreen formulation and testing all disagree. When there is no evidence, it is always good sense to lean on the side of caution. Currently, I would lean towards the chemical sunscreens ( zinc, titanium oxide ) until further evidence is revealed.

My favourite sunscreens are Pure + Simple and Green Beaver.

If you’re still not sure, the old favourites ring true : stay covered, and minimize your sun exposure during the peak hours from 11–4 pm, wear a hat and sunglasses. Track the UV index each day with the Weather Network, which today indicates is high. Knowledge is protection itself !

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