“Protect your skin!”
“Do you want wrinkles?”
“Don’t you know about harmful UV rays?”
Our moms have been telling us to wear—or vigorously smearing us with—sunscreen for as long as we can remember. And hey, nobody likes a sunburn, so we’ve gone along with it. But the sunscreen-solves-all approach has garnered a bit of flak in recent years. Are the chemicals in sunscreen doing us more harm than good? Let’s do a little digging.
Sunscreen Is Necessary for All Skin Tones?
We won’t dispute the obvious facts. The sun is a proven carcinogen and UV damage will accumulate in your skin as you age. And so, it follows that avoiding sun damage is essential to preventing skin cancer. The misconceptions about skin cancer are rampant. For example, many people think that it is primarily lighter skin tones who need to worry. This is not the case. Bob Marley died at 36 from an acral lentiginous melanoma, a form of skin cancer that spreading from under a nail of his toe to his entire body. Research suggests that every skin tone is susceptible to the powerful rays of the sun, whether you’re predisposed to burn or tan.
Sunscreen All Day, Every Day, Everywhere?
So then—sunscreen all day, every day, everywhere? A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) did some investigation into the active ingredients in sunscreen, including: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule. They wanted to find out just how much of these compounds were being absorbed into our bloodstream. And the study found that across the board, these sunscreens all had absorption levels above the FDA’s recommended limit. Which they’ve stated could be (key word being “could”) a contributing factor to carcinogenic effects and, you guessed it, cancer. Yikes. So, we’re smearing on a product to help protect us from cancer, that could potentially be giving us cancer? Now what?
Most skin specialists agree there are choices you can make to find safer sunscreens. The FDA has commented that choosing sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are gentler and longer-lasting in UV light. Zinc-based sunscreens have gotten a bad rap due to the residual white layer on the skin, but hey, isn’t looking like a pro surfer or a tourist worth it in the name of health?
Does Sunscreen Interfere with Crucial Vitamin D Levels?
Another big concern people express about sunscreen use is whether it will interfere with crucial vitamin D levels. The most accessible source of vitamin D for the average person is simply sunlight making contact with your skin. The skin absorbs UV rays and primary organs help to form the crucial vitamin so our bodies can use it. Because sunscreen is used to block out these rays, it makes sense that sunscreen use would affect vitamin D levels. The reality is however that most people are too sporadic in their application or quantity of sunscreen for it to make much difference. Studies have shown that vitamin D levels fluctuate little between sunscreen-wearing individuals and those who refrain.
The takeaway? Wearing sunscreen is probably your best bet to keep your skin supple and safe from carcinogens. Aim to pick a sunscreen made from the least amount of hazardous materials, and apply whenever you think you’ll be at high risk of serious UV exposure.