A complete sunscreen guide for summer

The end of the school year is in sight, and summer is just around the corner. My girlfriends and I can’t wait to hit the beach! I’m preparing with doubled up gym visits, hitting the hot yoga mat, and I have my new bikini and Tory Burch sandals ready to go… but what about sun protection? Are you ready to prevent skin damage and future skin disease or cancer, while having fun in the sun? Well, I’ve done all the research for you, and put together the DOs and DON’Ts of smart sun protection.

DO know that SPF is not an accurate predictor of protection!

The SPF number on your sunscreen only rates protection from UVB rays, the ones that cause sunburn (think ‘B’ for bad burn), not UVA rays, the ones that cause wrinkling, sagging, leathering, pigmentation, aging skin and long-term damage (think ‘A’ for aging). Crazy right? Many believe high SPFs can be even more dangerous, because it allows you to believe you can stay in direct sun longer simply because you are not getting a sunburn, while overexposing yourself to UVA rays. You need to protect against BOTH rays.

DON’T use products with chemical “active ingredient” oxybenzone and avobenzene

These chemicals do not provide UVA ptotection; they penetrate the skin and rapidly oxidize to become potent free radicals linked with cell damage, and they are also known to be endocrine (hormone) disruptors.

More: 10 Toxins found in common cosmetics

DO use a zinc oxide “mineral sunscreen” instead

The “active ingredient” zinc oxide provides broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection without those nasty endocrine disruptors or other harmful chemicals. The use of sunscreen is known to prevent the direct DNA damage that causes sunburn and the two most common forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. However, if sunscreen penetrates into the skin, like oxybenzone, it promotes indirect DNA damage, which causes the most lethal form of skin cancer: malignant melanoma. You read that correctly, your sunscreen could be causing cancer! So, use a mineral sunscreen to keep the sun protection on the surface of the skin. Think zinc!

DO be sure to avoid nanoparticle zinc oxide

Be sure that your zinc oxide is not formulated with nanosize particles. Be careful, though, because most are. Research shows that nanoparticles cross the cell barrier and enter organs, including the brain in humans. I, for one, am not willing to be a guinea pig. The problem is that safe sunscreens containing larger, non-nanoparticle minerals that reflect light also have a tendency to appear white on the skin, so they are not as popular with consumers who don’t yet understand the benefit of zinc and harm of other types of sun protection. Well, now that you do understand this, I hope you will “get over it” and be willing take a few extra seconds to apply zinc sunscreen.

DON’T use sunscreen with ingredient retinyl palmitate

The FDA released a report last spring that retinyl palmitate enhances skin cancer lesions in the presence of sunlight in animal research. Again with the guinea pig thing — I’m definitely avoiding it!

More: Many sunscreens unsafe for kids

DON’T use sunscreen with endocrine disrupting parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, etc.) 

Just last month, the physician research team at Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center released a list of the 10 chemicals that could potentially cause autism, ADHD and neurological disorders — and guess what — endocrine disruptors came in at number six on the list! Future moms — avoid it at all costs.

DON’T use the ingredient “fragrance”

Manufacturers can legally hide phthalates (thal-ates) and hundreds of other ingredients in this one “trade secret” ingredient. Guess what — yup — phthalates are endocrine disruptors, too. Stay away!

More: Interview with eco-beauty expert Ava Anderson

DO read labels and look up your sunscreen on the Skin Deep cosmetic database

The database ranks products on a 0-10 toxicity scale. Check it out. The sunscreen I used to use is an 8. What’s yours? I like to remind everyone that it is all about the ingredients — the rest is just marketing! Most big-box brand name sunscreens have multiple “hits” of endocrine disruptors in every application. Now think of how many times you reapply to yourself and your children daily. There are actually some sunscreens with all four of these endocrine disrupting offenders — parabens, retinyl palmitate, fragrance and octinoxate. Yikes!

DO reapply often and cover up

You should apply sunscreen to dry skin 30 minutes before going outdoors. Apply sunscreen liberally. Be careful to cover exposed areas. Sunscreen should be applied in the morning and reapplied every two hours, or sooner after swimming, showering or sweating. Reapply often for maximum protection, especially if you have towel-dried. Avoid exposure from the strongest sun (between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) when possible. Get covered, go wild and get a great hat!

DO give my AVA Sunscreen a try

We are really proud of this product — it is a great moisturizer that also happens to be a sunscreen, all organic and no harmful chemicals. Yes, you need to rub it in a bit, but based on all of this information, isn’t it worth it?

AVA Sunscreen ingredients: active ingredients: zinc oxide (21 percent, non-nanoparticle). inactive: beeswax (organic), theobroma cacao seed butter (organic cocoa butter), butyrospermum parkii (organic shea butter), olea europaea (organic olive oil), simmondsia chinensis (organic jojoba oil).

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