Killer sunscreen? What your mama never told you about sun protection.

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Oxybenzone. Found in almost all sunscreens, oxybenzone is an allergen, potential endocrine disruptor. It is easily absorbed through the skin, particularly in children, and can interphere with hormone development.

Parabens. Parabens, such as methyl paraben and butyl paraben, are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen and are linked with reproductive disorders in boys and possibly cancers in women.

Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) has mostly been phased-out of sunscreens because of high incidence of allergic reactions in response to its use. 

Retinol or retinyl palmitate. Found in many name-brand sunscreens, this type of Vitamin A is photocarcinogenic and might actually speed the development of skin tumors and lesions.

The Green Mama's advice on sun safety

The information is scary and the science inconclusive, but here is some good advice that even your mother will agree with.

  1. Look up your sunscreen on the EWG’s cosmetic database. If it isn’t safe, chuck it. Choose a better sunscreen that protects against UVA rays and doesn’t contain any of the above ingredients to watch for.  Europe has better sunscreens available.)
  2. Invest in a sun hat, consider sun protective bathing suits, and try out protective clothing.
  3. Eat your sunscreen. Foods high in carotenoids provide natural sun protection.  These include many fruits and vegetables, especially leafy dark greens and those that are yellow-orange like apricots, carrots, and yams. Other good sources include eggs, spirulina, and algae. The red pigment found in salmon, trout, and shrimp is another potent carotenoid.
  4. Get your Vitamin D. You would have to spend about 15 minutes between the hours of 10 and 2, with 85% of your body exposed for optimal Vitamin D absorption (for a fair skinned person, much more for a dark skinned person). Foods high in Vitamin D include “intestines, organ meats, skin and fat from certain land animals, as well as shellfish, oily fish and insects.” To get Vitamin D from the animal they must have be exposed to sunlight or in the case of fish have been fed on phytoplankton. Most modern diets don’t include a lot of intentional insect eating (fortunately) or a lot of animal flesh actually exposed to sunlight (unfortunately). Most people will not get enough Vitamin D from sun or diet. (You can ask your doctor to test your Vitamin D levels.) A good cod liver oil is one of the most absorbable forms of Vitamin D supplementation.  
  5. BEWARE of sunscreens labeled over 50 SPF. Most of these are disingenuous at best and are possibly loaded with more of the most hazardous ingredients. It is better to use an SPF between 15 and 30 and reapply frequently and generously.
  6. Do not apply sunscreen to infants under 6 months of age. There skin is super absorbent and even subtle exposures to their developing organs can have lasting effects AND fair-skinned babies do not have melanin proteins for sun protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you avoid using sunscreen on children younger than 6 months.


Ask The Green Mama your question or learn more about growing greener families and businesses at www.thegreenmama.com.

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As with any advice given by The Green Mama take it all with a grain of salt, participate in doing your own research (and let us know what you find), and don't do anything crazy without consulting a trusted health care professional. 

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