Sunscreen: Friend or Foe?

Sunscreen: Friend or Foe?

By Virginia Hendry, ND

When the sun breaks through the summer clouds, most of us reach for the sun cream to prevent sunburn and, ultimately, skin cancer. Sun creams seem like a no-brainer: who wants wrinkles and skin cancer? And they’re easy to use and smell nice. But is this the whole story?

The first problem with sun creams is that most of them don’t actually deliver what they say on the tin. The cream’s SPF (Sun Protection Factor) only refers to its ability to protect from UVB rays, which are the rays that cause burning. But UVA rays also cause wrinkles and cancer. Some creams proudly announce they also protect from UVA rays but there is still the problem of how well any of them work – and how toxic they are.

In 2021, the European Commission warned of the toxic levels of three chemical filters commonly used in sun creams – oxybenzone, homosalate and octocrylene. In fact, only two active ingredients in sun cream have been recognised as safe and effective by the American Food and Drug Administration: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and it notes that neither of these should be inhaled.

What’s more, people choose a higher SPF product thinking it will protect them for longer in the sun, but a higher SPF gives little extra benefit and decidedly greater harm. An SPF of 100 gives just 1% more protection than an SPF of 50 but will contain a higher concentration of chemicals which are harmful to humans and animals alike.

So, what to do to protect ourselves from sun? The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends staying in the shade between 10am and 2pm, wearing lightweight clothing and only applying sunscreen to areas of the skin that cannot be covered by clothing.

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