Essentials to Look for in Sunscreens
Some sunscreens prevent sunburn but not other types of skin damage. Make sure yours provides broad spectrum protection and follow Dr. Lisa's tips for better protection, including not being fooled by a label that boasts of high SPF. Anything higher than “SPF 50+” can tempt you to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburn but not other kinds of skin damage. "The FDA says these numbers are misleading," says Dr. Lisa. Stick to SPF 15-30, reapply often, and pick a product based on your own skin coloration, time planned outside, shade, and cloud cover. (Tip: Dr. Lisa says that eating vitamin A-laden vegetables is good for you, but spreading vitamin A on your skin may not be: "Government data shows that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with vitamin A-laced creams. Vitamin A, listed as 'retinyl palmitate' on ingredient labels, is in one-fourth of sunscreens on the market. Avoid them." (Also worth reading: How Sunscreen Works and How to Apply Sunscreen on Kids)
Avoid the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body. Look for active ingredients zinc, titanium, avobenzone, or Mexoryl SX. These substances protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin, with little if any penetrating into the body. Also, skip sunscreens with insect repellent – if you need bug spray, buy it separately and apply it first.
Also be sure to pick a good sunscreen. The Environmental Working Group's sunscreen database rates the safety and efficacy of about 1,800 SPF-rated products, including about 800 sunscreens for the beach and sports. "They give high ratings to brands that provide broad spectrum, long-lasting protection with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns when absorbed by the body," says Dr. Lisa.
How to Choose After-Sun Lotions
If you've gotten too much sun and you need to buy some after-sun lotions on the fly, read the ingredients list carefully and keep these attributes in mind such as avoiding after-sun lotions that contain parabens. Parabens (which includes methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butyl-parabens) are a family of preservatives that can affect the endocrine system, which produces the body's hormones. Studies have shown that some parabens can mimic estrogen in the body, though the FDA asserts that parabens are safe because their estrogenic activity is much lower than the body’s own estrogen. Choose after-sun lotions that contain plant-derived, instead of petroleum-derived ingredients such as petrolatum and mineral oil, which are derived from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource whose extraction and production cause air and water pollution, and can trigger allergic skin reactions. "The European Union has petrolatum listed as a probable human carcinogen," says Dr. Lisa. To avoid petrol-based products, look for lotions that list plant and vegetable oils as their main ingredients.
Also avoid products that list sodium laureth sulfate and those that have "PEG", "xynol", "ceteareth," and "oleth" in their names. These ingredients can contain 1,4-dioxane, which has been detected in about a third of body lotions tested by the Environmental Working Group. In scientific studies, 1,4-Dioxane has caused cancer in animals; scientists have not yet confirmed the long-term effects on humans. Avoid synthetic fragrances too. Fragrances are volatile organic compounds (VOC), which add to air pollution, are persistent in the environment and contaminate waterways and aquatic wildlife. An estimated 5.72 million Americans have skin allergies to fragrance, while around 72 percent of those suffering from asthma claim that their condition can be triggered by synthetic fragrance. (Tip: If you don't want to purchase after-sun lotions that have been tested on animals, Dr. Lisa says to look for the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo.)
Natural After-sun Lotions
Dr. Lisa recommends buying organic after-sun lotions without all the harmful chemicals mentioned above. "The only way to be sure that the product you are purchasing is, in fact, organic is too look for the USDA Organic Seal on the label." After-sun lotions Dr. Lisa recommends include Alba Botanica Kona Coffee After-Sun Lotion and Burt's Bees Aloe and Linden Flower After Sun Soother. You can also make your own lotions such as breaking off a piece of aloe vera plant and squeezing the juice onto the sunburn for almost instant pain relief. You can even cool the burn with a bag of frozen veggies wrapped in a towel.
Other Ways to Avoid Getting a Sunburn
Other things to do to avoid getting a sunburn besides wearing sunscreen include wearing sunglasses, a hat, shirt, and staying in the shade as much as possible, as well as using a sun umbrella, avoiding the most sun-intense times of the day (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), and using a more natural sunscreen (as described above). Applying natural plant based oils to the skin, including avocado oil, sesame seed oil, and meadowfoam oil, can provide mild sun protection properties, as an alternative to commercial sunscreen products.
For more sunscreen tips and after-sun care recommendations, visit Dr. Lisa's Web site Naturally Healthy with Dr. Lisa. (Tip: If you don't know what naturopathic medicine is, here is a description from Dr. Lisa: "Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care that combines centuries-old natural, non-toxic therapies with current advances in modern health care. The medicine is both an art and a science, focusing on whole-patient wellness. Naturopathic medicine attempts to find the underlying cause of a patient’s condition, rather than focusing solely on symptomatic treatment. Naturopathic treatment is tailored to the “individual” and emphasizes prevention and self-care.")