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Stay safe and healthy in the summer sun

By Pamela Tourigny

The Canadian Cancer Society recently reported that despite increased awareness of the risks of sunlight, between 1986 and 2010 melanoma skin cancer rates increased on average by 2% every year for men, and 1.5% per year for women.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. In the USA, melanoma rates have tripled over the past 35 years, with an annual increase of 1.9 per cent per year since 2000.

These cancers are preventable. There is no such thing as a “healthy tan,” and we must all protect ourselves with appropriate clothing and hats, choosing our times for outdoors activities, and of course sunscreen.

The Environmental Working Group’s 2014 Sunscreen Guide, notes that only a third of 1,400 sunscreens on the market “offer good skin protection and are free of ingredients with serious safety concerns.”

Consumers are increasingly leery of the vast array of chemicals of which many sunscreens are comprised. Some sunscreens use specific chemicals that absorb UV light to prevent burning. Chemicals can be absorbed into the skin, and that’s where the question of safety is raised. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) warns consumers to avoid products containing oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.

Oxybenzone is found in 80 per cent of sunscreens that use chemicals to absorb the UV light before it affects our skin. The EWG recommends that consumers avoid oxybenzone because it can penetrate the skin, cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones (Calafat 2008, Rodriguez 2006, Krause 2012). The highest concerns revolve around biochemical or cellular level changes to your body.

Retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A, is an antioxidant added to many sunscreens and cosmetics. Sunscreens containing Vitamin A may irritate the skin and increase photosensitivity. Due to concerns about developmental and reproductive toxicity as well as biochemical or cellular level changes, there are serious concerns about this chemical. The EWG recommends consumers “avoid sunscreen and skin products with retinyl palmitate until the industry can prove it is safe for sun-exposed skin”.

Barrier sunscreens are made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which provide a physical reflective barrier, rather than chemical light-absorbing barrier against the sun. Barrier sunscreens offer a number of benefits, including reducing the chemical load on our bodies (and reducing the likelihood of allergic reaction), and keeping harmful chemicals out of our waterways. Many barrier sunscreens are made by smaller Canadian businesses, which do not test products on animals.

Here are some sun safety tips:

  • Limit time spent in the sun (particularly at midday), wear a hat and cover up.
  • Keep babies six months and younger out of the sun – cover them up and opt for shady spots to sit or picnic. Keep kids and children out of the midday sun to prevent burns. Health Canada studies show that people who suffered severe sunburns in childhood are at greater risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Particularly if you have sensitive skin, avoid products that contain oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate.
  • Check the label to see that the product offers UVA and UVB protection (or “broad spectrum protection”).
  • Be aware that SPF protection does not increase proportionally with an increased SPF number. An SPF of 15 absorbs 93 per cent and an SPF of 30 absorbs 97 per cent. The Canadian Dermatology Association advises Canadians to opt at least SPF 30.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
  • Opt for lotions over sprays, as lotions provide more even coverage.

Pamela Tourigny manages communications and community outreach for terra20, which offers Canada’s widest selection of healthy and sustainable consumer products, including a range of sunscreens without 15 of the most potentially harmful chemicals. See terra20 to shop online.

Also in the SPRING 2014 Issue of An Ounce

Published: June 25th, 2014


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